Examine the presentation of tragic dilemmas

Analyze the presentation of tragic quandary in Shakespeare ‘s ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Titus Andronicus.’

The nature of quandary dictates a state of affairs in which a hard pick has to be made between two options, frequently conveying unwanted effects regardless of which alternate is chosen. Dilemmas are frequent in Shakespeare’s calamities and frequently concerned with a struggle between moral responsibility and emotions governed by retaliation or aspiration. What makes these dilemmas tragic is the overruling feeling provoked in the audience that events could non perchance turn out any otherwise.

In the instance of Macbeth, his tragic quandary is superficially raised by the three enchantresss and involves a determination on whether to be proactive in taking the throne from King Duncan. The intercession of the enchantresss leads many to believe that Macbeth is really left with no determination to do whatsoever as their prognostication has far great an influence on his fate. Many read their characters as goddesses or destinies that seal Macbeth’s hereafter and this is to propose that Macbeth simplybelieveshe is posed with a quandary. However, Bradley argues that this type of reading, or a reading that heralds this influence on the action as of import ‘because they are simply symbolic representations of the unconscious or half-conscious guilt in Macbeth himself, ’ [ 1 ] are merely unequal. In resistance Bradley suggests that there is small in the drama to give the feeling that these adult females should be read as symbolic or ultimate powers of destiny. Shakespeare was known to hold researched the pattern of witchery and accordingly presented images of adult females that would hold been present in the 17th century. Therefore, Bradley argues that ‘while the influence of the Witches’ prognostications on Macbeth is really great, it is rather clearly shown to be an influence and nil more’ and that ‘not merely was he free to accept or defy the enticement, but the enticement was already with him.’ [ 2 ] The statement that Hamlet was free to defy the enticement of prosecuting the throne prematurely is clarified by the character of Banquo. He excessively was witness to the prognostications of the three enchantresss but is mostly apathetic to the content of their message. Although their words chiefly pertain to Macbeth, as a good friend of his, Banquo could easy hold initiated a secret plan to break his ain place in the favor of the ‘new’ King. Besides, the enchantresss do do a mention to his inheritors going male monarchs, yet he still does non move on this prognostication either. As it is, merely Macbeth takes the message to bosom and is led by its message, ‘Good sir, why do you get down and look to fear / Thingss that sound so just? ’ [ 3 ] The usage of prognostication can clearly non cleanse Macbeth wholly of incrimination, even if witches’ prognostication is valid, no timescale is given – proposing that Duncan could merely hold easy provided Macbeth with the Crown through natural decease. The result of other parts of their prognostications proves that the information given does non ever intend what is first understood, for illustration, Macduff’s caesarean birth and the motion of Birnam Wood. However, this ‘riddle’ component emerges a small excessively tardily for Macbeth to take into consideration.

If we regard Macbeth’s tragic quandary as one of his ain creative activity, so what persuades him to show himself with such a determination as a consequence of what he hears from the three enchantresss? The fact that Macbeth ‘starts’ and ‘seems to fear’ their words suggests that the ideas they induce are non new to him ; he is a powerful, successful and above all, ambitious adult male. Having proposed to kill King Duncan, Macbeth’s chief concern over the title is that Duncan is a virtuous, well-liked leader. Besides, Macbeth is both his topic and invitee, places that require the presentation of regard, trueness and obsequiousness towards his male monarch and host. The tragic component of Macbeth’s quandary is besides brought to our attending in this scene ( I.vii ) where the tragic hero ponders on the nature of requital for such ugly Acts of the Apostless and their inclination to ‘return / To blight th’inventor.’ [ 4 ] His declaration that perpetrating slaying would be easy if he could vouch there would be no effects merely serves to supply a sense of premonition, insinuating that there will necessarily be awful effects. Macbeth concludes that his merely true motive is aspiration. The corrupting and destructive power of unbridled aspiration so becomes one of the chief subjects of the drama. Macbeth is unable to harness his aspiration with the influence of his moral values and so commits slaying of the highest signifier. Although it is against his better judgement – as proved by his drawn-out internal struggles – finally his desire for power and promotion wins the conflict.

However, Macbeth can non be held wholly responsible for the manner he chooses to cover with his tragic quandary. The character of Lady Macbeth has a powerful influence over her husband’s pick, pitilessly promoting him to be strong and reminding him to maintain up his guard during the wake of the offense, ‘But screw your bravery to the sticking-place.’ [ 5 ] When Macbeth hesitations, she often argues that his involuntariness to utilize force is a direct remark on his deficiency of maleness. She even goes so far as to propose that his ability to follow through with the slaying is straight aligned with his ability to transport out a sexual act, ‘To be the same in thine ain act and valour / As thou art in desire? ’ [ 6 ] Equally ambitious as her hubby, the lone thing that holds Lady Macbeth back is her sex. In her celebrated address of Act I, Scene v she equates slaying with manhood and wishes off her female features and hence, enable herself to slay Duncan. Clearly Macbeth ponders his quandary for much longer than his married woman would, and accordingly she is forced to step in if she wants Macbeth to lift to power, fearing that he is excessively full of ‘th’ milk of human kindness’ [ 7 ] to transport out the title entirely. She is mostly successful in her enterprise to spur Macbeth on to move, so, to such an extent that he no longer needs her aid in cabaling to kill Banquo, and even uses his married womans technique of oppugning manhood in carrying hired work forces to perpetrate slaying. The statement that adult females are the root of pandemonium and immorality in the drama – the chief perpetrators being the enchantresss and Lady Macbeth – can be seen as baseless in the visible radiation of Macbeth’s actions after Duncan’s slaying. Lady Macbeth is mostly pushed to the background as she struggles with her scruples, and is no longer of usage to her hubby.

Another facet of calamity in the quandary Shakespeare presents Macbeth with, is the nature of force gyrating out of control. Once the first measure has been taken towards aggression and bloodshed, immoral actions become easier options to take. In Macbeth’s instance, the death of Duncan by no agencies creates a clear way to the throne ; there are legion other rivals for Macbeth to dispose of: Banquo, Fleance, Macduff to call but a few. The same form can be identified inTitus Andronicuswhere a decease in the really first scene sets a hideous rhythm of retaliation in gesture and so creates the largest decease count of all Shakespeare’s dramas.

Whereas Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are driven by aspiration, inTitus AndronicusShakespeare focuses on the power of retaliation and its influence on the quandary of the tragic hero, Titus. The drama begins Titus’s return from conflict and attendant determination of who should go the new Emperor, holding declined the rubric himself. He must take between the brothers Saturninus and Bassianus, a quandary that introduces the struggle of tradition and virtuousness ; although Saturninus is the first-born and rightful replacement, Bassianus is presented as the obvious pick with respect to virtue. Titus’s committedness to political legitimacy dictates his determination and so Saturninus becomes the new Emperor. This is non the lone quandary Titus is faced with in this first scene, he besides decides to give Tamora’s eldest boy, provides Saturninus with Lavinia as his married woman, and kills his ain boy. At this phase of the drama Titus appears more concerned with doing the right determination in relation to the Roman Empire, disregarding moral concerns and emotional household ties. His belief that Mutius is a treasonist to the Roman Empire and its power forces him to kill in cold blood, ‘My Godhead, you are unfair ; and more than so, / In unlawful wrangle you have slain your son.’ [ 8 ] With this in head it is hard to spot whether Titus is subsequently driven by retaliation as a consequence of losing household members, or whether he is more concerned by the easiness with others are able to exercise power over him.

There is a elusive sarcasm in the action that Titus takes in giving his boy: although it is the Goths that symbolise brutality, such behaviour aligns him more with their character than the Roman civility he should show. Tamora observes this as she pleads for her son’s life, ‘Was ne’er Scythia so brutal! ’ [ 9 ] Lucius besides brings this struggle between action and belief system by juxtaposing a Latin phrase with a rough demand to ‘hew his limbs and on a heap /Ad Maness fratumgive his flesh.’ [ 10 ] Minola suggests that Lucius’s words ‘expose a cardinal tenseness in the proceedings: It suggests that Roman rite is barbarian savageness and blood lust.’ [ 11 ] Titus’s attachment to custom and jurisprudence really consequences in order interrupting down, with a sense of predicting guaranting us that pandemonium and ferociousness will result.

Faced with the offenses against his kids, Titus becomes a determined tragic hero. However, he does non look to exhibit the same inner convulsion that we witness in the character of Macbeth. In this regard we are presented with a barbarous rhythm of retaliation being met with retaliation, as Titus provinces, ‘Rome is but a wilderness of tigers.’ [ 12 ] It comes as no surprise to the audience when yet more blood is shed in the concluding act, mirroring the really first scene of the drama. AlthoughTitus Andronicusis most frequently described as a retaliation calamity, many believe that its presentation of extra lampoons, instead than copy the authoritative Elizabethan retaliation play. Despite the fact that Titus fits the mold of the hero who pursues retribution and dies holding succeeded, the sheer excess of force and frequently unneeded excess seems to go forth small clip for characters to see any other option to their moral quandary. The natural patterned advance from a offense against household is to transport out a worse offense against the culprits. The character of Aaron – unlike Titus and Tamora, who are at least given sufficient grounds for their actions – appears to hold no motive for his actions whatsoever. Even when he risks being killed, he refuses to demo compunction for his workss and a distinguishable deficiency of consciences, ‘Ay, that I had non done a 1000 more.’ [ 13 ]

The act and influence of retaliation has an all-consuming consequence on the drama, with a tragic component apparent from the beginning of the drama, in the sense that cipher can of all time acquire the upper manus. When Tamora believes she has eventually got the better of Titus, he is really feigning insanity and is plotting against her at the same time. Ultimately nobody wins by rejecting moral values and taking retaliation, a fact evident from the decease of both Tamora and Titus in the concluding scene. The minute when Titus is requested to chop off his manus in exchange for the safety of his two boies clarifies the solidness of the rhythm of retaliation. No affair which determination Titus makes, it is clear that his boies will be killed. Titus is finally overwhelmed by the downward spiral of events, wishing to, ‘like a rummy must I vomit them.’ [ 14 ] The ‘consuming sorrow’ [ 15 ] of Lavinia’s status and his inability to help his captive boies necessarily lead to his decease every bit shortly as he has exacted retaliation, ‘These wretchednesss are more than may be born’ [ 16 ] It seems the rhythm of retaliation can merely stop by destructing its participants and brushing up others in its way. And once more there seems small clip in this concluding scene for characters to chew over the best class of action ; many are caught unawares and must move on impulse alternatively, ensuing in slayings left, right and Centre. The cyclical nature of retaliation prompts Lucius to support his family’s actions in Act V by naming all of the offenses that have been committed by the Goths against the Andronici, turn outing that the atrociousnesss can merely stop when those involved have killed each other.

Tragic quandary are described as such because there is seldom a good result, irrespective of the determination made. Equally detrimental is the character’s inability to detect the tragic nature of their quandary. This raises the inquiry of whether they should really be regarded as quandary. In the instance ofTitus Andronicus, the result of each new struggle is presented as a foregone decision, and existent slaying of Duncan is ne’er truly in uncertainty. The passions of each character, be they related to aspirations, retaliation, moral responsibilities etc. finally dictate their behavior for the worse. The unhappiness of these results lies in the fact that results can non be altered ; the purportedly powerful influence of outside beginnings and internal struggle is simply superficial.


Shakespearian Calamity, A.C Bradley ( Macmillan, 1992 )

Shakespeare’s Rome, Robert S. Minola ( Cambridge University Press )

The Norton Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt ( Norton, 1997 )


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