To move in one stride from Sophocles to William Shakespeare may appear historically licentious, or else merely silly. The not-so-covert presumption of this book, that tragedy is somehow One Thing, is at last exposed for the absurdity it is; in fact there are Greek tragedies, Roman tragedies, Elizabethan, Jacobean, neo-classical; each of these kinds is distinct; Aristotle was talking about one of them and one only; there is no reason to suppose that his remarks will be applicable in any way to the others. Certainly the fact that they are all called ‘tragedies’ does not mean that they must share a common essence. Elizabethan tragedy differs from Greek, but Shakespearean tragedy differs from Marlovian, King Lear is utterly distinct from Othello, and the Quarto and Folio texts of King Lear actually furnish the readers with two plays, not one. In tragedy, the irresponsible pleasure of arousal is joined with bonds of iron to the responsibilities of probable knowledge and intellectual assent.
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