Each of the four greater tragedies, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth, ends with the death of the protagonist, but they are not very like each other. One difference is in how far the protagonist is responsible for his situation. Hamlet begins with a good man in a bad place from which there is no good way out, a humanist prince in a Gothic prison. In the other plays a pronounced mismatch exists or soon develops between an admired leader and a time which is out of joint. Othello is the victim of intrigue and calumny. In the Britain of King Lear, innocence has to go into exile or disguise if it is to survive; yet it was Lear himself who foolishly opened the box of evils. Macbeths tragedy is almost entirely of his own making: on a hint from the Weird Sisters, and egged on by his wife, a general murders his king and disjoints a whole country.
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Prof. Michael Alexander
- Macmillan Education UK
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