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The Rise of Princes?

A discussion concerning a possible existence of unbalance in the theory of "de casibus" tragedy in the emphasis given to the rise and fall of its protagonist

von Tom Kräplin (Autor)

Essay 2010 20 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Gattungen


Table of Content

0. Subject of the discussi

1. Introducti
1.1. Defining the Subje

2. Arguments for and against the statement
2.1. General Notes
2.2. An attempt to find an instrument to measure emphasis
2.2.1. Method
2.2.2. Indicators for rise and fall of the protagoni Baldwin’s “Tragedy of Lord Mowbra Result Higgins’ “Tragedy of Madan Result
2.3. The shift of emphasi

3. Conclusion

0. Subject of the discussion

The following statement is the subject about which the discussion in this essay is about:

The problem with the theory of de casibus tragedy is that the

poems to which it is applied generally give more emphasis to the rise of their protagonist, than to their fall.1

1. Introduction

1.1. Defining the subject

To discuss this statement it is important to analyze mentioned words to make clear the way in which I try to approach to this topic and out of which perspective I will come to a possible answer.

The quoted statement is made out of a particular point of view. One has a “problem” with the unbalanced proportion between the rise and the fall in the theory of de casibus tragedy. But is that really a problem? What could have been meant by this term?

Another difficult word is “emphasis”. It is said that the rise is given more emphasis than the fall. One can only take that as a reliable argument if one has an instrument which measures the quantity of emphasis to finally decide what is in the majority. Here it seems to me to be necessary to work out how it is possible to make a decision about which amount of emphasis is bigger.

The statement also suggests dissatisfaction concerning the expectation, which is made up by the most titles of books which dealing with de casibus tragedy e.g. The Fall of Princes by John Lydgate, where the reader may expect more moments of falling than rising. I want to discuss a possibly existing relation between tragedy and the fall of the protagonist in a plot.

When speaking about de casibus tragedy and its theory one has to make clear what is meant by the term. When I am speaking about de casibus tragedy I refer to the genealogy, which assumes the original source of these tragedies in Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium (ca. 1358)2. Laurent de Premierfait’s Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes (ca. 1409)3 is based on Boccaccio’s work. And John Lydgate’s The Tragedies, Gathered by Ihon Boachas, of All Such Princes as Fell from Theyr Estates (1554)4 uses Laurent’s and Boccaccio’s works as an example for his own works. But Lydgate’s works were also be influenced by Chaucer’s The Monk ’ s Tale (ca. 1387)5, which has been influenced earlier again by Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius’ (ca. 480-524)6 De consolatione philosophiae (On the consolation of philosophy). The original concept of de casibus tragedy has gone through at least two transformations, when authors use the idea of former works. I am convinced that these two layers of reproduction of the original concept of de casibus tragedy caused changes in what was intended since it came into existence. To have a base on which I can refer in my explanations I quote one of the central classical definitions of de casibus tragedy by Chaucer: “I will bewail in manner of a tragedy / The harm of [them] that stood in high degree, / And [fell] so that there [ne was] no remedy / To bring [them] out of [their] adversity”7. Concerning this in a nutshell de casibus tragedy deals with the harm of people, who are in high positions, and who fall down from them without any help from others to stop their fate.

2. Arguments for and against the statement

2.1. General Notes

I think it is not a problem that the proportion between rising and falling moments of a protagonist is unbalanced and I rather consider it more as a certain characteristic for each tragedy.8 However, it is subjective to categorize one plot as a part of the rising description and the other as a falling part of the narration. It depends on the personal interpretation of every single reader. That means the disproportion will be always difficult to describe properly and is even impossible to identify correctly. It is also a question what the author wants to put into the centre of his narration, whether the rising part is more important for the whole tragedy or the part of falling. Maybe this is meant in the statement; that the authors writing scenes differ from what the theory of de casibus actually requires.

As it is mentioned in the statement, we are talking about a theory about a literary genre. What is illustrated in the actual tragedy can be different to what the theory of de casibus tragedy is about and what the theory assumes.9


1 Statement made up by Michael Pincombe.

2 Winston, Jessica, ‘”A Mirror for Magistrates“ and Public Political Discourse in Elizabethan England’, Studies in Philology, Vol. 101, No. 4 (Autumn 2004), 381-400, here p. 382.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 "Canterbury Tales, The"The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature. Ed. Margaret Drabble and Jenny Stringer. Oxford university Press, 2007. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Newcastle University. 10 April 2010

6 "Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus"The Oxford Dictionary of English (revised edition). Ed. Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2005. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Newcastle University. 10 April 2010

7 Chaucer, Geoffrey in The Monk’s Tale, quoted after Mike Pincombe, powerpointpresentation for ‘De casibus Tragedy (1. A)’ (lecture given on 26 January 2010), slide nr.

8 See: ‚Aristote, La Poétique‘, Philosophie générale et philosphie esthétique. Ed. Jacques Darriulat. 14 April 2010

9 See: ‚Aristote, La Poétique‘, Philosophie générale et philosphie esthétique. Ed. Jacques Darriulat. 14 April 2010


  • Tom Kräplin (Autor)

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Titel: The Rise of Princes?