Shakespeare’s career moves from an explicit concern with theatrical drama to an increasing concern with what John Vyvyan called “the science of life.” This article argues that this increased concern with ethics led Shakespeare to stop writing tragedies. Shakespeare’s plays indeed point to the pastness of tragedy — the pastness of the hope that formal embodiments of ethical traumas can be directed at a beholding audience in the hope of rectifying them. That is, Shakespeare thought that the formal representation of social and ethical crisis, before an audience — the work of tragedy — could no longer, as such, hope to ameliorate it. Shakespeare understood that tragedy was not historically immune to the social- ethical crises it presented, and this recognition led to Shakespeare’s more radical presentation of the pastness of art in his late plays, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest.

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