Shakespeare's Characters: The Commencement Of William Shakespeare's Essay

Length: 5 pages Sources: 5 Subject: Sociology Type: Essay Paper: #741845 Related Topics: Antony And Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing, Character Analysis, Merchant Of Venice
Excerpt from Essay :

¶ … Shakespeare's Characters:

The commencement of William Shakespeare's work can be traced to the latter quarter of the fifteen hundreds when he started writing and performing plays. In his work, Shakespeare basically considered the current issues, which contribute to debates among scholars on whether his works should be regarded as contemporary writing or universal philosophical statements. His focus on current issues was mainly geared towards reconstructing the existing political and social concerns and universal concepts and issues. Notably, one of the major issues raised by scholars regarding his work is the significance of historical depiction. Some scholars argue that Shakespeare's historical depiction of his characters should not be overlooked. This depiction plays an important role in understanding the characters themselves as well as gaining important insights from his works. In this case, Shakespeare's characters fall into two major categories i.e. heroes and heroines and villain characters.

Analysis of Shakespeare's Characters:

Shakespeare's works provide unique perspectives of societal functions like politics, gender, and race. These dramas also provide important insights on the universal themes of honor, love, betrayal, and loyalty. Notably, an analysis of his characters requires a study of the historical and contextual setting of the play. The historical setting of the plays is that Shakespeare conducted his work between 1588 and 1613, which was partly known as Elizabethan Age and Jacobean on the other hand. During this period, children of certain classes schooled in the classics while others in higher classes proceeded to study in universities and colleges (Sandoval par, 16). Wealthy people in the society would take travels to Europe as vacation or work trips, though many did not travel. Most of the overseas trips were made by scholars, artists, and ambassadors. In addition, most of his audience, especially those at Globe Theater had never traveled overseas. While Shakespeare's initial plays were staged at court to benefit Queen Elizabeth I, later plays were similarly viewed by King James I.

The understanding of Shakespeare's characters is a process that requires recognizing and analyzing characterization techniques by identifying symbols, important lines, attributes, and internal and external perspective. This process also requires identifying the figurative language used in developing the character and the main psychological changes in the character (Sandoval par, 5). One of the main reasons for understanding these characters is that it helps in developing complete analysis through creation of a complete portrait based on the character's major aspects. Secondly, this process helps in understanding the character's motivation through the identified symbols and words.

The visual portraits of particular characters from each of the dramas are developed through focus on physical attributes, motivation, symbols, figurative language, important lines, and internal and external perspective. While physical attributes represent the character's own heart, symbols represent the abstract themes and aspects of the character. The character's motivation is shown through symbols and words while important lines represent the character's motive or intentions. Furthermore, the use of figurative language and poetic devices by Shakespeare provides important insights about his characters.

Shakespeare's Heroes and Heroines:

Heroes and heroines are concepts that are not only thematic to the fabric of a particular historical and social perspective but also subject to huge variations, even within an established set of standards (Ward, p.12). The heroes and heroines figures in Shakespeare's plays can be understood from factual, interpretive, and evaluative views. The central characters in Shakespeare's dramas are Cleopatra, Macbeth, Othello, Antony, Olivia, and Orsino.

Generally, Shakespeare's heroes and heroines characters are usually Royal personage and from the upper class. Some of these characters include Othello (in Othello), Hamlet (in Hamlet), Antonio (in Merchant of Venice), and Claudio/Benedick (in Much Ado About Nothing). Notably, most of Shakespeare's heroes were tragic heroes who ended up dying by the end of the play or


The main characteristic of these heroes include being from Royal personage and upper class i.e. An individual of some stature or high position like nobleman, general, or king. Secondly, the individual must basically be a good person who matters to the society that views him as a worthwhile person. Third, the individual's actions usually have far-reaching effects because of his position or status in the society. Fourth, the character must possess a personality trait that is normally a virtue but proves to be a fatal flaw in special circumstances. Fifth, while the individual is a great man, he usually demonstrates potential of further greatness. Sixth, he must generate both pity and fear from the audience while he suffers inwardly and outwardly (Johnston, p.1).

Shakespeare's depiction of heroines was fueled by inspiration from the character of Elizabeth I through which he developed and adapted many extraordinary female heroines. As part of developing and adopting remarkable female heroines, Shakespeare did not represent female characters as weak. For instance, he portrays Cleopatra (in Antony and Cleopatra) as a positive and more compassionate than her portrayal in the source and represents her as strong by depicting Antony as the weaker character (Magnusdottir & Regal, p.2). Rosalind (in As You Like It) is depicted in an increasingly respectable way as an intelligent woman who is in control. Portia (in Merchant of Venice) is portrayed as a strong woman who demands equality with the husband though she is weak and submissive in the source. Beatrice, a created character by Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing, is represented as an independent and outspoken female character who also demands to be treated and considered as equal to her male partner.

Most of the characteristics that he used to represent heroes are also used in representing heroines, especially choosing characters from Royal personage and upper class. The use of female characters from such status was geared towards changing the society's attitudes towards women. During Shakespeare's time, women were believed to be physically, intellectually, and morally inferior to men (Magnusdottir & Regal, p.1). In light of the portrayal of female characters in the sources as well as the attitudes towards women and their image, Shakespeare chose remarkable women as his heroines. Since these heroines did not fit the ideal image of women at the time, they were quite controversial as they protested against the repression of women in the society.

Shakespeare's Villain Characters:

Apart from depicting his heroes and heroines as individuals from Royal personage and upper class, Shakespeare definitely knew how to write a great villain. His villain characters were characterized with huge contradictions and several human flaws to ensure that the audiences could relate to them and even consider them as monsters. Actually, Shakespeare's most fascinating and enduring characters are villains who exhibit inhuman actions. Most of them are motivated by heartache, jealousy, ambition, and revenge, which are the most human of emotions.

Generally, Shakespeare's villain characters are usually from other peoples who are enemies of his people like the Jewish and the Arab. The fascinating nature of these characters and their display of mix of emotions are attributed to their considerations as from other people who are the enemies of his people. As the enemies of his people, Shakespeare's villain characters are inherently evil and undergo situations that force them to do evil deeds and are at the mercy of an evil society.

Some of Shakespeare's villain characters include Iago, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Richard III, Hamlet, and Oberon. Iago, a character from Othello tragedy, starts his journey of evil when Cassio, his colleague is promoted over himself. As part of his revenge mission, Iago develops a trick to make Othello believe that his wife, Desdemona, has an affair with Cassio. His plan succeeds at a time when Othello has murdered Desdemona because of jealousy and finds out about Iago's betrayal and villainy (Berkoff par, 8). Macbeth, a Scottish general, is led to wicked thoughts based on the prophecies of three witches who lied to him that he will be king one day. As he is motivated by his wife's ambition, Lady Macbeth, they develop a plan to murder the king of Scotland, Duncan, which would leave him as next in line to the throne. After succeeding in the plan, Macbeth finds it easier to commit more crimes including murder while Lady Macbeth eventually commits suicide due to guilt. In his journey of evil deeds, Richard III murders his elder brother, wife, and the two young princes and their supporters. In a course of revenge, Hamlet ends up responsible for the killing of his mother and other characters.

The main characteristics of Shakespeare's villain characters include people who are entirely and purely evil, motivated to gain ultimate power, haunted by nightmares of past evils, seemingly frightening, and display considerable contradiction of emotion. These characteristics enable them to serve as enemies of the people such as Jewish and Arabs.

In conclusion, Shakespeare's plays were based on the existing historical and contextual setting to highlight and address some of the major issues in the society as well as present important universal themes. Shakespeare's success in achieving these goals was partly attributed to his ability to depict his characters in ways that fit the…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited:

Berkoff, Steven. "Shakespeare's Villains: A Masterclass in Evil" British Council. British Council, n.d. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <>.

Johnston, J. "Characteristics of a Shakespearean Tragic Hero." Sussex Regional High School. Sussex Regional High School, n.d. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <>.

Magnusdottir, Lilja D.S, and Martin Regal. "Shakespeare's Heroines: An Examination of How Shakespeare Created and Adapted Specific Heroines from His Sources." Skemman. Skemman, n.d. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. <>.

Sandoval, Jennifer. "Shakespeare's Characters: A Visual Analysis." Yale National Initiative. Yale University, 1 Aug. 2004. Web. 21 Dec. 2013. .

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