The development of tragedy
Classical literary theory established tragedy and epic as the dominant literary forms, for which certain standards were defined and prescribed as necessary. Tragedy has passed through many interpretations in its long history, but has dominated recognized periods of literary excellence. William Shakespeare’s implied comment on categorizing pedantry no doubt found a ready response from his audience. But however difficult tragedy is to define, Shakespeare’s relationship to the genre is worth pursuing, not because he should have conformed to the theory but in order to illuminate his practice. The primary importance of plot is insisted upon, and this is described as the life and soul of tragedy, taking precedence over character, which became so much the concern of later criticism, particularly of Shakespearean tragedy. The difficulty of reconciling Shakespeare’s achievement in tragedy with the supposed rules of classical orthodoxy explains the desire for interpretations with a different emphasis.