A Matter of Life and Death: the Fourth Act in Shakespearean Tragedy

For those of us who love potentiality and resist commitment to a course of action – do we prefer fourth acts to fifth?

Edinburgh University Press Blog

By Lisa Hopkins

Having an associative mind is often a source of shame, but it does occasionally have benefits. Two separate moments of mental abstraction came together to help me think about the fourth acts of Shakespearean tragedies. Watching King Lear at the West Yorkshire Playhouse with a worry at the back of my mind about the parking meter and how much longer there was to go, it suddenly dawned on me that I knew perfectly well that we were in the fourth act. Asking myself how I knew that, I realised that it had to do with tonality, and specifically a feeling of calmness and openness, as if the play saw many directions lying open before both it and its hero, even though I knew that all those possibilities were about to be abruptly and brutally cut off. The idea of writing something about fourth acts immediately felt theā€¦

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