This paper discusses the matter of agency and intention in Shakespearean tragedy from a perspective defined by akrasia, or the perplexity which is posed by a character who wilfully makes a decision (either for action or passivity) the effect of which is contrary to his/her interests —even when everything (in this case, the dramatic situation) indicates s/he should be aware of its consequences. This discussion explores and questions notions of irony as they have traditionally emerged in tragic theory, and will give particular attention to the imbrications between akrasia, irony and gender typecasting in Othello and Antony and Cleopatra. Indeed, the paper will examine the extent to which akratic traits come to prevail in Shakespeare’s delineation of the tragic in these plays, and how such traits also become integral to the playwright’s ambivalent positing of gender profiles. These are represented at their clearest through (in)action and its results, as the tragic plot progresses to its outcome.
Shakespeare, William; Theatre; Akrasia; Irony; Gender