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Shakespeare's World: The Tragedies: A Historical Exploration of Literature
Pagexx1(21 of 256)
xx Introduction: The Renaissance in England As Shakespeare and fellow playwrights rediscovered, created, and expanded theater as an art form, the plays they produced were initially categorized according to the original Greek classifi cations of comedy and tragedy. Along with Christopher Marlowe—born in the same year as Shakespeare and the most successful London playwright when Shake- speare began his career—Shakespeare pioneered another genre: the English history play. Late in his career, Shakespeare also wrote in a genre that became known as romance, which some consider a branch of comedy. The generic classifi cation of Shakespeare’s plays is far from an exact science. For example, Troilus and Cressida has been classifi ed variously as a com- edy, a romance, and a tragedy. Even Shakespeare’s titles can blend genres for example, the full title of Richard III , always classifi ed as one of Shake- speare’s 10 English history plays, is The Tragedy of Richard III . As with how we generically classify plays, the dating of plays is not pre- cise. Because Renaissance publication and copyright records were quite lax, scholars try to approximate the likeliest date of composition for a work based on whatever data are available. Sometimes we have a record of a per- formance sometimes we have a published version of an individual play. Sometimes neither is available, and we work from what seem to be refer- ences within a play to recent events. Thus, scholars try to narrow down the earliest and latest possible dates for the actual composition of a given play. Depending on who is making the list, Shakespeare wrote about 10 trag- edies, 4 of which are the subject of this volume. These appear chrono- logically in terms of the best assessment of their dates of composition. The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is the second earliest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, written in about 1594 and fi rst published in 1597. The play is also notably his most domestic tragedy. That is, every other Shakespearean tragedy deals with people of great status in society: kings, queens, princes, generals, and the like. Whereas the main characters of Romeo and Juliet do come from upper-class families, only the Prince—who serves mainly as the authority fi gure trying to keep the peace—comes from that high echelon of society. Instead, the play focuses on the tragic results of young love foiled because of the senseless ongoing feud between the Montague and Capulet families. Unlike Romeo and Juliet , The Tragedy of Julius Caesar —composed around 1599—most defi nitely features main characters of the highest social strata, who are also true historical fi gures. Shakespeare wrote three other tragedies based on Roman history: Titus Andronicus, Coriolanus , and Antony and Cleopatra the four are often subclassifi ed as “the Roman plays”—with some scholars adding Cymbeline , which is set in Roman