Great Tragedy, in One Word

Here’s a game to play.  I’m curious if you’ll all indulge me, or think I’m nuts. Take a tragedy, and tell me what it’s about….in one word. I’ll steal the easy one:   Macbeth is about ambition. Who’s next?   Feel free to repeat if someone else uses your play, especially if you have a different word in mind. (The tragedies, for whoever needs a reminder:  King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus, Timon of Athens.  I’m only really expecting folks to hit on the first 7 or so, I think the last three are less well known to casual readers.)   [The idea springs from a conversation with a coworker where Anthony and Cleopatra came up, and I was trying to explain why although I read it in high school I think I would better appreciate it now, later in life.  I tried for a comparison, “If Romeo and Juliet is _______, then Anthony and Cleopatra is ________” and found that while I had the answer straight in my head, I couldn’t adequately explain it in as few words as possible. So I wondered if we could collaboratively come up with a single word that would encapsulate each of the great tragedies.]

9 thoughts on “Great Tragedy, in One Word

  1. Lear is about chaos. Well, most of them are about chaos, but “Chaos” is what Kurosawa called his samurai Lear. There is no more gripping picture of the disintegration of civilization in the canon–first the family, civilization in little, then civilization at large.

    Macbeth is about fate, I would say, as much as ambition–how horrible it is to catch a glimpse of fate.

    Hamlet is about impossibility–the impossibility of action, of living a life you would chose to life, of having a world worth living in.

    Othello–do I need to even write “jealousy?”

    Romeo and Juliet…doesn’t really suggest a single world. I think it’s mostly about how old men start and sustain conflicts that destroy their children.

    Julius Caesar, I would say, is the one about ambition. Also about law, and what happens when law breaks down. How do people deal with that? “Badly,” is the answer.

    Coriolanus: pride. Timon: money, and not confusing it with love. Titus: retribution, circular nature of. Antony: indolence. Troilus: corruption.

  2. Hey, I didn’t create the exam; I’m just looking for a passing grade. Next, each of the comedies, summed up in one vowel.

  3. Duane – YOU try being a bored pre-graduate student. I’m kicking around this house like it ain’t no thang, and three years of Shakespeare blog posts is just the thing to cure me…

  4. Damn, Madeline, pace yourself! You’ve got about 3 years of posts to comment on :).

    Welcome to our little group. Don’t let Alan scare you off. 😉

  5. It is certainly a challenge to keep to one word (except for Othello & Coriolanus), but here is my list:
    Lear: Dotage
    R&J: Love
    Hamlet: Existentialism
    Othello: Jealousy
    Macbeth: Fatalism
    Julius Caesar: Patriotism
    A&C: Lust
    Coriolanus: Pride
    Titus: Revenge
    Timon: Greed
    See, I didn’t cheat!

  6. It is an interesting exercise to attempt to describe the subject of a Shakespeare play in only one word. I am currently reading King Lear and so I will try it with that play. If I had to choose one word I would chose “honesty”. King Lear is about “honesty”. When Lear has given up his power and influence, it is revealed that the daughters who gave the best speeches about their love for Lear – Regan and Goneril – actually loved him least and that the one daughter who chose to “love, and be silent” – Cordelia – had the truest and most enduring love.

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