From Shakespeare's Pathos by J. F. Pyre. In Shakespeare Studies. Madison: University of Wisconsin.
Thus far we have been concerned, for the most part, with the general nature of pathos as a quality of dramatic representation. I turn now to a
brief consideration of the particular aspects of human life with which the Shakespearean pathos
is most frequently associated. It would be tedious to catalogue methodically all of the "seven ages
of man", with their varieties and activities, that appear in the theater of Shakespeare; it will be
helpful to collect into somewhat orderly form such few of life's phenomena as have especial
significance from our point of view, and so regard them.
The stage of human life to which Shakespeare most consistently attaches a pathetic significance
is, of course, childhood and early youth. The young princes in Richard III, Arthur in King
John, Falstaff's page in Henry IV and Henry V,
the boy, Lucius, in Julius Caesar, in Macbeth, the
son of Macduff, and the youth, Fleance, over whose unconscious head a royal destiny "broods
like the day", with whose escape begins the fatal ravelling of Macbeth's ill-wrought ambition, young
Marcius in Coriolanus, Mamillius in The Winter's Tale, and Imogen's brothers, the stolen princes of
Cymbeline, are all introduced or developed in some degree for pathetic enhancement of the scene,
though in varying degrees connected with its motivation.
Of the same character are the earlier and fainter sketches of "young Talbot", "pretty Rutland", "young Henry, Earl of Richmond" in
the Henry VI plays, and young Lucius in Titus
Andronicus. All of these, it will be noticed, are
boys and nearly all are instruments of comedy
as well as pathos. How well Shakespeare understood the principle
that life is not exclusively a serio-solemn business
and that those who lay hold of our affections do
so, in part, by amusing our lighter fancy, not by
eternally edifying, these childhood sketches clearly
demonstrate. Childhood, by its innocence and
helplessness, its perilous buddings of untimely
spring, its physical sweetness, its playfulness of
spirit, and its invitation to the mind to look toward
the coming years, childhood, when it meets with
misfortune, suffering, or dissolution, is of the very
essence of pathos. To the examples already enumerated some would doubtless add the Fool in King
Lear, as being a child in heart, at least, if not in
And, finally, Shakespeare's awakenedness to the sympathetic promptings of tender years
is shown by his exclusion from Othello of any reference to the child of lago which plays so striking
a part in Cinthio's story, and by the almost hectic
charm of seeming youthfulness with which he
invested Romeo, his prince of lovers, and Hamlet,
his most beloved of princes.
How to cite this article:
Pyre, J. F. Shakespeare's Pathos. In Shakespeare Studies. Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1916. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2011. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/shakespearepathos1.html >.