William Shakespeare Questions and Answers

William Shakespeare book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Why did Shakespeare use a black flag for tragedy?

Expert Answers info

litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write15,967 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

The black flag indicated a dark subject matter. 

Tragedy is a genre that usually involves serious themes and high drama.  In Shakespeare's day, different flags flown over the Globe Theatre indicated different subject matter.  The black flag was used for tragedy because tragedy is “dark” and black is a dark color.  I suppose you could use red for tragedy because it involves blood, but the red flags were used for history plays.  I guess they thought that history was bloody! 

The black color is more symbolic.  It demonstrates that there is going to be a brooding subject matter.  By contrast, a white flag indicated a comedy.   A comedy is light, so it gets a white flag, and a tragedy is dark, so it gets a black flag.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial