The great classicist Edith Hamilton, writing in 1930, explained that tragedy is the beauty of intolerable truths, and that real tragedy is not the triumph of evil over good but the suffering caused by the triumph of one good over another. When the ancient Greeks realized that there is “something irremediably wrong in the world,” while such a world must be judged “at the same time as beautiful,” tragedy was born. “The great tragic artists of the world are four,” Hamilton announced, “and three of them are Greek”: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. The fourth, of course, was Shakespeare. Precisely because Periclean Athens and Elizabethan England were periods of “unfathomable possibilities”—and not periods of “darkness and defeat”—the idea of tragedy could flourish....


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