Beyond Tragedy

A Stranger on the Banks of Green LakeIn her final lecture on Shakespeare’s tragedies, Clare Kinney posits that the Bard, in his late plays, “writes beyond tragedy.”

An aging Shakespeare takes the material of his earlier plays–usurped thrones, suspected infidelity, a banished daughter–and reworks it.

Classic tragedy is all about choice and the irrevocable consequences of those choices. Time unfurls in only one direction, linear and irreversible. Unremitting. And the external forces that direct characters to their fates are cruel, even capricious.

But in plays like The Tempest and A Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare writes like someone who has lived long enough to know that life is cyclical. Spring always comes again. And when it does, it’s as if winter never was.

Kinney calls this “cosmic grace.” And for these characters, it bestows healing, reconciliation. Like a kiss upon the forehead. Shakespeare’s endings in these plays restore lives that have been torn asunder. “And it’s heartbreaking,” she says, “but in quite a different sense.”

She assures her students in the final moments of her lecture that Shakespeare’s tragic vision is “superb”.

“But it’s not his final word as an artist.”

And I was grateful to be sitting at home, in front of my laptop for the whole lecture. Because I was sobbing like a forgiven sinner, just granted a new lease on life.

Which in fact, I was.

For years, I’ve doubted the possibility of healing and growing beyond those tragic choices and their consequences. I’ve doubted the worth of human life itself. And all the losses that pile up. And so, I was writing into tragedy. Digging that black well deeper. Telling the stories of irremediable wrongs–and the lives they destroyed. And the ending of  my novel offered only despair and destruction.

But it doesn’t have to.

I can give my characters the reconciliations, the healing that so rarely come to us in life. Shakespeare learned, through his craft, that it is possible to forgive and possible to heal. It is possible to open the palm and let go. The butterfly will emerge from the chrysalis. The buds will blossom.

And spring will come again.

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One thought on “Beyond Tragedy

  1. This is a very beautiful reflection. I thought of my own work. In my first published short story, the main character commits suicide and blood is splattered on the page. In my most recent one, a reconciled couple curls up in bed together and falls asleep in each other’s arms.

    Perspective can come with age, as long as there is a generous portion of faith mixed in.

    Thanks for the post.

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