Inevitability and the Nature of Shakespeare's Tragedies

In Greek tragedy, inevitability plays an important role, portraying the protagonists as pawns of the fates, whose roles in the tragedy are distributed arbitrarily and without justice. The outcomes of these roles are decided before the play even begins, for example in Sophocles' Antigone, and thus any actions of the characters during the play are futile, as they cannot affect the outcome. In the worst tragedy of all, the characters must return again and again to play out the same roles, as the wheel turns.

Of course, Shakespeare and the other Jacobean playwrights were not subject to the conventions of Greek tragedy, but nevertheless would have been aware of it and been influenced by it. Inevitability is important in Shakespeare's tragedies too, both as a dramatic device and as a tool in conveying the play's message. A feeling of inevitability keeps the audience enthralled as it watches apparently hopeful events in the knowledge that there is an inexorable downturn sometime in the near future. This leads the audience to sympathise more with the tragic hero, as one caught up in circumstances beyond his control, although of his own making (I will return to this point later). There is an important difference between...

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