Literary Analysis: Protagonist and Antagonist Greek tragedies, like many other plays and stories, typically focus on aprotagonist, or main character, and an antagonist, the character who isin conflict with the protagonist. In fact, these two literary terms were firstapplied to Greek tragedies such as Antigone. In a play, the struggle between a protagonist and an antagonist may takethe form of a dramatic life-or-death conflict. At the same time, the twocharacters may stand for larger conflicting ideas or values. The characters’struggle may reflect deep questions of concern to people of all times andplaces. Here are some of the conflicting ideas in Antigone: • Antigone, the protagonist, breaks the law because she believes that the laws of the gods are higher than human laws. • Her antagonist, Creon, insists that everyone must obey the law. He believes that no one is above the law.
Literary Analysis: Shakespeare’s TragediesLike other tragedies, Shakespeare’s tragedies are plays that tell of areversal of fortune, from good to bad, experienced by a man or woman,usually of noble birth. Shakespeare’s tragedies also have these distinctivefeatures: • They are sometimes based on historical characters. • The hero often displays a tragic flaw, a characteristic that brings about his downfall. • Shakespeare emphasizes the hero’s internal conflict. • Commoners often play key supporting roles and provide comic relief in humorous scenes that serve as a break from the intense emotions of the play.Shakespeare’s plays are structured in five acts. In his tragedies, the crisis—the turning point that determines how the play will end—occurs in Act III.The climax, or point of greatest emotional intensity, often occurs in Act V,when the catastrophe, or disaster, befalls the hero.
Using the Strategy: Plot DiagramRecord the events of a play on a plot diagram such as this one. Act III The Crisis Act II Act IV Rising Action Falling Action Act I Act V Exposition The Catastrophe— often, the Climax
Literary Analysis: Blank VerseThe Tragedy of Julius Caesar is written in blank verse. Blank verse is apoetic form characterized by unrhymed lines written in iambic pentameter. • An iamb is a foot (unit of rhythm) in which an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable: da-DUH. • Pentameter refers to a rhythmic pattern in which each line has five feet. In iambic pentameter, the typical line has five iambs, or five stressed syllables each preceded by an unstressed syllable: • And THERE | fore THINK | him AS | a SER | pent’s EGGShakespeare’s “upperclass” characters speak in iambic pentameter.Lower-born characters speak in prose. Sometimes, Shakespeare breaksthe rhythmic pattern in a line to add contrast or emphasis.
Literary Analysis: Dramatic SpeechesIn plays, most of the information is expressed through characters’words and actions. Plays feature the following types of dramaticspeeches: • Dialogue: the conversations between characters • Soliloquy: a long speech in which a character, usually alone on stage, speaks to himself or herself, unheard by any other character • Aside: a remark a character makes, usually to the audience, that is not heard by other characters on stage • Monologue: a long speech by one character usually heard by the other characters As you read, notice characters’ traits that are revealed in dramatic speeches.
Literary Analysis: External and Internal ConflictConflict, a struggle between opposing forces, creates drama: • In an external conflict, a character struggles with an outside force, such as another character, or a force such as the weather. • In an internal conflict, the character struggles with his or her own opposing beliefs, desires, or values. The Tragedy of Julius Caesar involves a number of differentconflicts both internal and external. In many cases, these types ofconflict are directly related. For instance, earlier in the play, theexternal conflict between Brutus and Caesar creates an internalconflict for Brutus—he wishes to check Caesar’s ambition, but healso considers Caesar a friend.
Literary Analysis: Tragic HeroesTraditionally, a tragic hero is a person, usually of noble birth, who suffersa catastrophe. The hero’s choices leading to the catastrophe may reflect apersonal shortcoming, such as pride, called a tragic flaw. WhileShakespeare’s tragic heroes incorporate these traditional elements, hedevelops them in new ways: • He adds complexity to his heroes, who may have opposing desires and who may suffer hesitation and doubt before acting. • He presents a character’s inner turmoil directly, through devices like the soliloquy, a speech in which a character thinks aloud. • He focuses on the choices characters make rather than on fate. • His character’s problems often concern the difference between the reasons for an action and its outcome. For example, Brutus acts for reasons of honor—the right reasons—but in a world of men who are less than honorable, the results are disastrous.