In tragedy, the boundaries between antagonists and protagonists are continually blurred. Explore to what extent you agree. Analyse closely Keats’ Authorial methods in two of the texts.
Keats’ desire to be remembered in history as a great literary writer lead to him taking on inspiration from traditional tragedies such as Shakespeare’s plays. However he wanted to make his own mark in history by advancing his own ideas in his literature. The influence of both traditional tragic literature and his own new ideas meant that the boundary between antagonists and protagonists were blurred. Aristotle set out that a true tragedy must have a tragic hero and a villain, however some of Keats’ poems are far more open to interpretation.
A key example of where that boundary between antagonists and protagonists is blurred, is in the poem ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci.’ At the start of this poem Keats attempts to identify the tragic hero as the ‘knight-at-arms’, the fact that he’s knight establishes a medieval setting, this is also reinforced through archaic language such as ‘Woe betide!’. Keats uses the fairytale stereotype of a heroic knight to set him up as the protagonist, the repetition of the first line (‘O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms’), in stanza two emphasises this. We are also told through Keats’ use of language that the knight is dying (‘palely loitering’) additionally the world ‘loitering’ explicitly implies that this knight is waiting to die, making the suffering seem more drawn out and his death more tragic. Despite this when the knight tells his story the ambiguity in his language leads us to doubt his character. The knight tells the narrator ‘And sure in language strange she said - “I love thee true”’. The ambiguity around the fact that La Belle Dame spoke ‘in language strange’ reminds us that we don’t know the whole story. We as the reader have no idea whether the knight is telling the truth or not, in this poem, Keats’ lack of authorial intervention emphasises this point of ambiguity. The structure also backs up this point. The metre is iambic tetrameter however the last line in each stanza is always only three stressed syllables. This reflects the idea that the poem is not as black and white as it seems and the shorter lines implies there’s more to the story than we are told. Certainly from looking at this poem I strongly agree that the boundary between the two characters are blurred as Keats doesn’t give us the full picture and leaves it up to interpretation.