Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsLet's take a look at the three kinds of plays

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsthat Shakespeare wrote: tragedies, comedies, and histories. In the film about Shakespeare's London, Dr. Chris Laoutaris mentions some of Shakespeare's great tragedies that were performed at The Globe. During the first six or seven years of the opening up The Globe, he produces some of his most memorable plays,

Skip to 0 minutes and 31 secondsincluding the great tragedies: "Hamlet," "Othello," "King Lear," and "Macbeth." Tragedies are plays which usually have a sad story. The main characters in tragedies often have the kind of personality which gets them into trouble. One of the tragedies that we'll look at on this course is the play "Hamlet." Prince Hamlet of Denmark is a philosophical and intelligent young man, but he has problems. He suffers from depression, and his behaviour is unpredictable.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 secondsIn the play, we observe Hamlet after the sudden death of his father. Hamlet has to discover who killed his father, and then decide what he's going to do about it, with tragic consequences. Hamlet is shocked that his mother didn't know that his uncle killed his father. He doesn't sort of believe it. Of course, many Shakespearean tragedies involve death, often violent death, and there are no fewer than 13 suicides in Shakespeare's plays. Three of the plays that you're going to look at on this course

Skip to 1 minute and 47 secondsare tragedies: "Romeo and Juliet" in week two, "Macbeth" in week three, and "Hamlet" in week six. Actors will tell you what happens in the plays, and you'll explore some of the themes together.

Shakespeare’s tragedies

In these steps we’ll find out more about the different types of play that Shakespeare wrote.

In this video, watch Anthony and Dr Chris Laoutaris talk about Shakespeare’s tragedies.

Read this definition of tragedy in drama:

The simplest definition of a tragedy would be “a play with an unhappy ending”. While this is true, it is probably just a bit too simple.

Tragic plays can be traced back all the way to the beginnings of drama in Ancient Greece. In Poetics, one of the first books of literary criticism, Aristotle set out the key features of tragedy. He stated that tragic plays would involve a protagonist (the leading central figure) who is usually of royal or noble birth. In the course of the play, the protagonist reveals a fatal flaw (a character defect) which causes him or her to go from success and happiness to failure, misery and, often, death at the hands of an antagonist (his opposite). Tragedy set out to stir up feelings of fear and pity in the audience – this is known as catharsis.
BBC Education guides

  • What do you know about Shakespeare’s tragedies?
  • What tragic plays and stories are there in your language or culture?

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This video is from the free online course:

Exploring English: Shakespeare

British Council