This book attempts to trace the course of English tragedy from its beginnings to the middle of the nineteenth century, and to indicate the part which it has played in the history both of the theatre and of literature. All tragedies of the sixteenth century are noticed, because of their historical interest and their close relationship to Shakespeare, but after 1600 only representative plays have been considered.
drama as well as in Shakespeare, in plays imitating the Greeks as well as in plays revolting from their models. After a time this modification of the classical tradition came to have a distinct place in literary theory. Hegel gave it philosophical elaboration, and, in the romantic movement, when dramatists in different languages turned to Shakespeare for a model, they naturally assumed what may be called the Shakespearean definition. This important amendment to the tragic tradition may be briefly stated:--
The action of a tragedy should represent a conflict of wills, or of will with circumstance, or will with itself, and should therefore be based on the characters of the persons involved. A typical tragedy is concerned with a great personality engaged in a struggle that ends disastrously.
In the Aristotelian tradition thus amended by the Shakespearean or modern conception we have a definition of tragedy that, in spite of differences of theorists and variations in practice, is extraordinarily co