Estimate Shakespeares contribution to English drama, especially tragedy?history of english literature

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Shakespeare gave expression to the values and philosophy of the Renaissance: honor, courage, heroism, and the struggle between fate and free will.  His plays are very humanistic and without religious or political ideology.  Where other poets and playwrights of the period have polemical and hard-line religious overtones to their plays, presaging England's Protestant religious wars, Shakespeare stands alone as a secular voice who refused to take solace in or umbrage against the church.  As such, he has the most open mind and the biggest heart--a unifying vision like no other literary artist.

His drama is a synthesis of the Greeks and Romans.  He honors the religious aspect of the Dionysian festival and Aristotle's concept of tragedy, but he extends it further, breaking the three unities by adding more settings, more complex plot structures, and longer time frames.  He brings the revenge violence from Seneca to the stage, showing murder, suicide, and swordplay without sacrificing artistic quality.  No audience had seen such a masterful combination of word and action on the stage.

He brings a black man on stage for the first time as tragic hero in Othello.  He places a bed on stage too.  Both were unheard of at the time.  More, Shakespeare gives voices to strong female characters who comment on the sexism and double standards of the time.  Viola is he greatest feminine hero.

Artistically, Shakespeare is a first generation playwright in the resurgence of the theater.  Like the early Hollywood film directors, Shakespeare lays the groundwork for all to follow.  He is the gold standard for every playwright and poet hence.

His comedies are as good as Aristophanes.  They are social satire on the time period, lampooning and parodying society's sexism, religious dogma, fears, and foibles.  Falstaff is his greatest comic hero.