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Children like to hear a story that makes them cry; the novel-reader considers no seal of the author's ability so certain as tears shed at the concluding chapter; and it is a compliment even to a sermon that it has made the hearers wipe their eyes. The success of a tragedy lies in this delicious commotion of feeling which it excites in the last act, where the most prominent personages usually come to a violent end, the carnage being sometimes very extensive indeed.
"The tears of things” are the themes of tragedy. The hero is a person apparently destined by nature for happiness, but who somehow misses it and sinks under an accumulation of misfortunes, while others also are dragged down in his fall. The brighter his prospects have been and the more he has seemed to deserve a happy lot, the deeper is the pity stirred by his fate. What could exceed the pathos of the end of Othello? The hero is of a noble nature, as even his worst enemy confesses, and has served the state during a lifetime of danger and sacrifice, while Desdemona wins all hearts by her breeding, her frankness, her gaiety, her innocence, her wifely devotion; yet the happiness they might have enjoyed together is turned into mortal horror. The tears caused by the drama must not be too bitter; and so, while the fortunes of his heroes are sinking in the night of disaster and death, Shakspeare generally allows the faint dawn of a better day to become visible at the back of the clouds, to suggest
that good will yet come out of present evil. This is most manifestly the case in Romeo and Juliet, where, it is evident at the close, the death of the youthful lovers will lead to the reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets and the banishment of civil broils from the state.
But the most characteristic feature of the Shakspearean tragedy is that the catastrophe is always the outcome of some defect in the character of the hero. In Macbeth, which is in some respects the most tragic of all these productions, this is perfectly manifest; for it is ambition that ruins the hero, who is, at the outset, a brave and honoured soldier of his king and country. In Othello jealousy is the passion which plays havoc with the character of the hero and the fortunes of those around him. King Lear's overfondness is at the root of all his misfortunes. It has been denied that in Romeo and Juliet Shakspeare at all disapproves of the conduct of the hero and the heroine; but again and again, not only through the mouth of Friar Laurence but even through their own mouths, he indicates that their love has been too rash and precipitate to come to good. As Friar Laurence says, giving the moral of the whole,
violent delights have violent ends And in their triumph die; -like fire and powder, Which, as they kiss, consume: the sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
Yet the catastrophe is not due solely to the defects of the hero: there is always a conspiring cause outside. For it is the nature of temptation that, when there is a defect within, it is made to quicken and grow by influences from without, and sin is always a birth from the union of inclination and opportunity. Evil is embodied not only in the individual heart, but in everyone's environment; and external influences may bring guilt so near that it is almost inevitable-never, however, quite inevitable; for it always requires the cooperation of our own evil will to bring the act to birth. The tempter may be a man or a woman. In Macbeth it is Lady Macbeth, in Othello it is Iago. Or temptation may arise from something more remote and general. Thus, in Romeo and Juliet the co-operating evil is found in the feuds of the rival houses and the feebleness of the sovereign power, which has allowed these to go on unchecked. Thus the Prince says, in the final scene :
Capulet, Montague, See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate, That Heaven finds means to kill your joys with love; And I, for winking at your discords, too, Have lost a brace of kinsmen, All are punished.
But there may be a cause of the catastrophe even more remote. This is made manifest especially in Macbeth, where, behind Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, there is the sinister influence of the Witches, who stir up the latent ambition in the hero's mind and suggest to him the crime which proves his ruin. These mysterious beings belong to a world of evil, lying outside the circle of humanity, in which, under one form or another, mankind has always believed ; and there can be no doubt that such beliefs are due to a feeling that in misfortune there is an element not wholly accounted for either by the faults of the sufferers or by the wills of their human tempters. It is as if there were invisible wills, mixing unaccountable drops in the cup
of man's destiny, as the Witches mingle the queer ingredients in their pot:
Fillet of a fenny snake
Let the hell-broth boil and bubble. Here the Shakspearean drama approaches to that of the Greeks, in which the catastrophe is generally due not to the fault of the hero or even to temptation proceeding from those around him, but to fate, to the
envy of the gods at the excess of human happiness, or to the nemesis of some unexpiated crime, which has come down as an heirloom to the hero without his having participated in its commission or even perhaps being aware of its existence. The greater wholesomeness of the moral taught by the modern poet is unquestionable, when he holds men and women to be responsible for their own misfortunes, because they bring them on themselves either through defects in their own character or by yielding to temptation. This is his usual procedure, though occasionally he plays with other influences to which human beings have ascribed their calamities, such as those of the heavenly bodies. In King Lear he makes one of his characters say: “This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune-often the surfeit of our own behaviour-we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon and the stars; as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves and traitors by spherical predominance, drunkards, liars and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence, and all that we are evil in by a divine thrusting-on".
The central interest of these Tragedies, then, is to show how the defect in a noble character, partly by the force of its own inherent tendency and partly by the force of circumstances, grows and grows, till it becomes predominant, placing the hero at variance with