With Shakespeare we finally see the supernatural fade from the forefront of Tragedy.
Instead of gods punishing men for their transgressions or disobedience, or Fate playing cattily with human fortune, Shakespeare put the main causes and effects of their downfall onto Men and their actions.
Sure there’s a ghost or two and a few witches here and there. The supernatural does continue to be present as a plot device, but compared to Greek and Medieval Tragedy it’s positively humanist.
Most of the other basic elements are kept. The hero is a person of high status and notability who undergoes extreme calamity, suffering and reversal of fortune almost always ending in their death (and the death of almost everyone around them. In the case of Hamlet, i believe everyone he ever so much as says hi to. If you ever come across Hamlet in real life, RUN. )
Shakespeare, who clearly defined Tragedy for the next several centuries, usually utilizes a balance between a conspiracy of enemies in place of the will of the gods, and the protagonist’s Fatal Flaw.
Strong men in positions of great power usually have something within their personality that gives them such great strength necessary to attain and hold their position (except Hamlet who’s basically a shmuck). This very strength requires some personality trait to be greater and more marked than normal men. However, this very trait, this immense passion, is usually what is turned against them. The Fatal Flaw.
However, with all this said, Shakespeare still employs a good deal of Chance and misfortune. There is an element of fate one can feel present in plays such as Macbeth and i might argue King Lear (my personal favorite). From the beginning of the play we can feel these men are doomed. The play has already been written and they are indeed the stars of the Tragedy to come. The fact that this sense is gotten across is brilliant, but also fills us with a sense of fate.
It is undeniable, though, that compared to the concept of Tragedy as it has developed in Western culture thus far, Shakespeare places the emphasis firmly onto Men themselves. The most pertinent forces which bring about the devastation of the poor bastard’s life are the combination of their enemies and their Fatal Flaw (In almost every case Hamlet is a strange exception) with a supernatural element or sense of fate lurking in the backdrop.
It is here that we begin to arrive at the concept of Tragedy i’m utilizing in the Steampunk Opera. I agree with Shakespear’s assessment, but wish to subvert it in 2 ways. My protagonists are unquestionably the instruments of the their own destruction. However, there are no “enemies” or villains in the opera. The protagonists in all 3 generations make a fatal choice, always connected to flawed love, which brings about their downfall. In addition, there are supernatural elements present, but they do not bring about the course of the Tragedy. In fact, the protagonists are the ones who manipulate the supernatural. They twist the supernatural aspect, causing suffering on that level, instead of the usual course, which is the supernatural causing the twisting and suffering of their lives.
More on this tomorrow when we finally finish this series on Tragedy by examining Modern Tragedy. (for all 5 of you probably still following this. For the rest of you, i will have lots of awesome pics and vids of cool steampunky things coming. I promise. As Bill Hicks used to say, “Don’t worry, there’s dick jokes on the way.”
This page has pics and vid from an AMAZING production of the Opera Macbeth by Verdi. (it’s a real opera, too.) I highly recommend clicking the link.