It is really much more difficult than is always recognized to be sure what constituted Shakespeare's view of the tragic satisfaction or even that he believed in it. It is possibly true that Lear is a better man at the end of the play than he was at the beginning, and that without his suffering he would not have learned sympathy with his kind; but this does not apply either to Hamlet or to Othello, and even in the case of King Lear it does not explain the aesthetic appeal. That depends on something more profound.
The student, after getting the story of the tragedy quite clear, should concentrate first on the character of the hero. Ask yourself whether his creator considered him ideally perfect -- in which case the appeal probably lies in the spectacle of a single human soul defying the universe; or flawed -- in which case the defect will bring about the catastrophe. It is true that in the Revenge Play type we have frequently the villain-hero, but the interest there depends rather on his courage and independence of man and God than on his villainy. This is particularly true of pre-Shakespearean plays. It is remarkable that the post-Shakespearean drama was apt to combine plots involving unnatural crimes and vicious passions with a somewhat shallow conventional morality.
History plays seem in Shakespeare's hands to represent the compromise of life. They may end in catastrophe or in triumph, but the catastrophe is apt to be undignified and the triumph won at a price. Again, we may say that in the Histories Shakespeare is dealing with the nation as hero. The hero in this case is immortal and his tale cannot be a true tragedy; while on the other hand there can never be the true comedy feeling of an established and final harmony. Apart from