Efforts to describe Shakespeare’s tragedies and place them within the history of the genre have been long misled by dubious assumptions about Shakespeare’s secularism dating back to the influence of German Romanticism. The use of concepts drawn from Aristotle’s Poetics has been compromised, as well, by patterns of misinterpretation, reflecting the influence of Renaissance Protestants such as Melanchthon, who sought to reconcile classical tragedy with Christianity. As Aristotle uses the terms, hamartia does not mean sin; anagnorisis does not mean repentance. Using these terms as euphemisms for these Christian concepts has allowed critics to avoid recognizing Shakespeare’s indebtedness to the moral vision of Christianity. Tragedy for Shakespeare, as in medieval biblical drama, is the failure of a sinner to repent. Shakespeare represents repentance as a process that requires engagement with other people: an intersubjective transformation Stanley Cavell calls “acknowledgment.”

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