DOES SHAKESPEARE HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THE SECOND HALF OF HIS TRAGEDIES? The argument in Jesse Green’s article that I found thought provoking was his assertion that the first halves of Hamlet, MacBeth, King Lear, and Richard III are complex and exciting, but that the complexity and excitement “seem to dissipate around the middle of Act Three”. They are replaced, Green says, by a series of violent acts—“pageants of frenzied murderousness”.
I think that Green’s observation—that the first halves of some plays, including these, are more interesting than the second halves—is consistent with some of my experiences. I also think there are structural reasons why the second halves of plays are different. The first half of a play will often present a number of possible sequences of future events. The second half will narrow those sequences to a single series of actions. The audience will also have a strong expectation that all the loose ends from the first half will be tied up and that there will be a stable conclusion. A series of violent acts can be helpful to a playwright in solving the problems of the second half—the problems of spelling out the consequences of the events in the first half.