So we’re off to a great start. You might notice how some of Shakespeare’s language can be different and you might find some of his characters saying things that you’ve probably heard before. That’s because a lot of what you hear in Shakespeare’s plays has made it into a lot of common usage. You may not have even heard of Twelfth Night, but how many times have you heard the saying, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them?” You probably can’t even count. Then there’s Henry V’s speech that contains, “band of brothers” which most people associate with a famed WWII series with David Schwimmer. You probably have heard of “the dogs of war,” but you probably don’t know that it’s from Mark Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar. In this selection, I’ll go over Shakespearean figures like Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing, Coriolanus, Othello, Emilia, and Desdemona from Othello, Hermia from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rosalind from As You Like It, Portia from The Merchant of Venice, Cordelia from King Lear, as well as Henry V, Margaret of Anjou, and Richard III.
Pro: He’s a brave and capable warrior who’s loyal to his king and has a relatively happy relationship with his wife.
Con: He has a consuming ambition which becomes more apparent when he hears the witch prophecies and is pressured by his wife into committing regicide. May have some insecurity with his masculinity which his wife exploits. However, once he kills Duncan, he becomes increasingly paranoid and plots a series of murders to secure his throne. This makes his enemies see him as a murderous tyrant and surround him in hopes to bring him down. Also tends to take witches’ prophesies more seriously than he should in his own interpretation.
Fate: Killed by “a man of no woman born” MacDuff because he had no idea such prophecy actually meant, “man born via emergency Caesarian section.”
From: Romeo and Juliet
Pro: Well, he seems like a nice kid that Lord Capulet doesn’t seem initially bothered by him. Seems to really love Juliet more than anything almost from the time he meets her. He’s also loyal to his cousin Benvolio and his friend Mercutio. Also can be quite a badass and a fierce fighter. Then again, considering his family’s involved in a feud….
Con: Let’s face it, this guy is incredibly impulsive and is strongly idealistic toward love and romance that he pined for a girl named Rosaline and gave up on love when she rejected him. But when he first lays eyes on Juliet, he completely forgets about her and in just hours he decides he wants to marry her. And he ties the knot with her the day after meeting her only to be involved in a gang war that results in him killing Tybalt for killing Mercutio an hour later before being kicked out of Verona (though he at least feels bad about killing the guy). Sure he may love Juliet, but you can’t deny his motivations for being in love with her and being with her by any means necessary was extremely selfish which caused nothing but heartache and suffering, not just for him but for Juliet and everyone else. Oh, and he kills Paris, too sometime later. And when he thinks Juliet died (while she was only faking it), he poisons himself.
Fate: Commits suicide after thinking that Juliet is dead mostly because the information Friar Lawrence intended for him never arrived.)
From: Much Ado About Nothing
Pro: Despite what you see of him in the beginning, he’s actually not as a bad as he initially seems. And once he suspects that Beatrice might like him, he starts to open up and grow up even if it means attracting ridicule from his friends for his reversal of his well-known attitudes. But he might enjoy shocking them by shaving off his beard and professing his undying love for Beatrice. And we know his love for her is genuine when he challenges Claudio to a duel to the death over his accusation of Hero’s unfaithfulness as well as his value on justice even at the risk of loyalty. Excluding the priest, he’s the only male character in the whole play who doesn’t participate in Hero’s public shaming. Nevertheless, he and Beatrice tend to have a healthier relationship than some Shakespearean couples since they have a lot in common as well as bring out the best in each other.
Con: He starts out as a misogynist who refuses to marry and disparages Claudio for wanting to marry Hero. But his insult barbs with Beatrice tend to reveal that he’s in total denial of his feelings to her. Can also be kind of an attention whore who’s said to perform for the benefit of others that for a time it’s hard to tell whether he’s been in love with Beatrice all along or falls for her suddenly.
Fate: Ends up married to Beatrice in a double wedding with Claudio and Hero.
From: King Lear
Pro: Refuses to flatter her old man in order to get a piece of his real estate because she thinks the idea is stupid and is pissed at her sisters’ insincerity. Later raises an army in France to fight her wicked sisters and take back her ungrateful daddy’s land. Easily forgives her dad when he comes to his senses. Is the only one of Lear’s daughters who truly cares about him.
Con: However, her loveliness, honesty, integrity, and sincerity don’t keep her from getting imprisoned and eventually executed. Should’ve spent more time with her new hubby in France.
Fate: Executed through strangulation.
From: The Merchant of Venice
Pro: She’s got beauty, brains, grace, quick wits, and is one of the richest heiresses in Belmont. Loves Bassanio and is willing to do anything for him, even save his best friend Antonio by offering money to Shylock and dressing up as a lawyer in court (despite a lack in legal training). Has fun twisting the rules to her own advantage and ends up outsmarting everyone.
Con: Is basically subservient to her dad’s will beyond the grave that she has to marry the guy who chooses the right casket (fortunately, she marries the guy she wants to be with anyway). Still, she could do better than Bassanio who basically married her for money in order to help his friend. Also, despite her speech on the quality of mercy, making Shylock lose everything is just awful. If she only had Shylock give up his demand for a pound of flesh, it would’ve been fine. Regularly shows prejudice toward non-Christians and foreigners.
Fate: Married to Bassanio in a double wedding with Gratanio and Nerissa.
From: Romeo and Juliet
Pro: She’s more practical and level headed than Romeo. Though she may be really in love with him, her willingness to marry him a day after meeting him is more understandable (like a desire to escape an arranged marriage with Paris). Not to mention, she can be quite determined as well as very brave since she disobeys her parents, follows her heart as well as braves disownment and being trapped in a tomb to stay true to the man she loves. She even devises her and Romeo’s escape plan which would’ve worked if there wasn’t a plague going on.
Con: She tends to be idealistic and naïve as well as doesn’t think things through. Also, taking a knockout potion in order to fake her death was a really bad idea, especially when there’s a plague going on. Comes from a rather dysfunctional family. Oh, and she tends to mature way too quickly through this play.
Fate: Commits suicide through stabbing herself in the family tomb once she finds Romeo dead.
Pro: Well, she loves Othello and is willing to defend her choice in front of her enraged and disappointed folks in front of the Duke of Venice. Is beautiful, honest, and stands by her man. Is kind enough and willing to plead Cassio’s case to get him re-instated when he falls from favor after getting involved in a fight.
Con: Unfortunately, her devotion to Othello doesn’t help her situation no matter how many times she tells her husband she didn’t cheat on him. Also doesn’t seem to have a lot of common sense. Thinks everything will be fine after losing her handkerchief when it really gets worse as her husband starts physically and verbally abusing her. Feels the best thing to do when confronted with accusations of infidelity is to continually assert her innocence but Othello doesn’t believe her. What she should’ve done is confide in Emilia about why he’d think that and get to the bottom of it.
Fate: Is smothered to death by Othello in her bed. But at least he later finds out she’s innocent like she said.
From: As You Like It
Pro: Is admired for her quick wit, intelligence, and beauty. Puts on a brave front when it comes to being separated from her dad and eventually being exiled. Incredibly self-aware, especially on matters of the heart. Willing to take a chance on Orlando even though she knows that love isn’t all chocolate and roses. Can be bossy, opinionated, and gutsy. Can be in love with a man without being a fool. Stays true to her family and friends throughout the play.
Con: Dressing as Ganymede really put a big obstacle in her dating life. Her being Ganymede in front of Orlando in order to practice the moves on “him” yet you wonder why she doesn’t just take her clothes off to reveal herself to him. Then there’s that her drag disguise ends up attracting unwanted attention from a shepherd girl named Phebe who falls for her as Ganymede.
Fate: Ends up married to Orlando in a wedding ceremony with Oliver and Celia, Touchstone and Audrey, and Silvanus and Phebe.
24. Margaret of Anjou
From: Henry VI Parts 2 and 3 and Richard III
Pro: Is pretty, smart, charming, and knows how to do her husband’s job better than him as well as would do anything to keep him on the throne. Knows what she wants and passionately goes after it no matter who’s in her way. Has a real affection for Suffolk and is really upset when he’s banished and executed. Is completely devoted to her husband’s career. Leads armies and has courage in battle. Doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her. Loves her son and would do anything for him. Realizes the horror in wars when her son is killed.
Con: Has something on the side with Suffolk (to be fair, this was a Cyrano de Bergerac situation so what did you expect?). But her relationship with him plays like a medieval version of House of Cards. It’s not known whether they love each other but they don’t seem to love anything more than power (though there’s some affection between the two). Is basically cold to her husband Henry because she sees him as too weak and pious and mostly supports him for power. And when it comes to consolidating power, she doesn’t care about a man’s life, justice, or the common people. Is so ruthless that she’s willing to kill people and does a lot of nasty things. Loves her son but isn’t necessarily nice to him. Loses it when her son gets stabbed in front of her eyes. As a widow, she’s quite bitter and is mostly cursing everyone near her but some of her curses come true.
Fate: Fated to live in the York castle (though in real life she was ransomed by the French king and lived in France as a poor royal relation).
From: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Pro: Loves Lysander so much that she’s willing to risk a death sentence in order to be with him. Is beautiful but is no fool realize that Lysander might break his promises and she’s willing to take that chance anyway. And even when he seems to like Helena, she holds on to it no matter what the consequences or circumstances. Is also bold to stand up for herself.
Con: Doesn’t like being called short. Does not have a great relationship with her dad. Probably shouldn’t have told Helena about her and Lysander’s plans to elope. And when Lysander seems like he’s into Helena, the claws will come out and she will fight Helena.
Fate: Marries Lysander in a triple wedding ceremony with Demetrius and Helena and Theseus and Hippolyta.
Pro: He really loves Desdemona and is a brave as well as competent general. Also, was certainly right to appoint Cassio over Iago as we see in the play.
Con: Has a lot of insecurities pertaining to his ethnicity and age which makes him unable to completely trust his own wife, which Iago exploits for all its worth. Can be emotionally volatile and has a tendency to believe in his own fears (even if they’re backed by only circumstantial evidence like Desdemona’s handkerchief at Cassio’s or Cassio’s bragging). Once his emotions are inflamed and he makes up his mind of what’s going on, he becomes disastrously blind towards everyone else’s intentions or the truth. Let’s just say that he really needs to calm down. Also, tends to believe “honest” Iago when he really shouldn’t (at least over his own wife) who ends up playing him for a sap. When he suspects his wife’s cheating on him, he starts verbally and physically abusing her and eventually kills her in a homicidal rage.
Fate: Commits suicide after finding out that Desdemona had been faithful to him all along.
Pro: She’s sensible, smart, and is the only character in the cast who sees Iago for what he truly is. Also, she single-handedly foiled Iago’s plans by telling Othello that his wife wasn’t cheating on him because she gave Desdemona’s handkerchief to her husband who planted it at Cassio’s place. Even more amazing is that she exposed him when Iago threatened her with a knife before stabbing him.
Con: For one, she’s in a very unhappy marriage with Iago and puts up with his misogynistic jokes. It has also made her quite cynical that she contemplates adultery. Second, she steals Desdemona’s handkerchief and gives it to Iago and doesn’t tell Othello about it until after he kills his wife. In fact, she even lies about it, saying that she didn’t know where it is. Had she come clean and exposed Iago to Othello while Desdemona was still alive, she could’ve prevented a whole tragedy based on a complete misunderstanding.
Fate: Stabbed by her husband but she dies triumphant since it shows how much of a bastard Iago truly is.
28. Henry V
From: Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V
Pro: Despite what his dad thinks of him, he’s clearly intelligent and capable of psychological machinations required of kings as well as a brave and noble warrior. Has a lot of admiration for Hostspur. Wants to really please his dad and everyone else. Great with giving speeches before getting into battle mode. And doesn’t do too bad with a French princess after winning the Battle of Agincourt either.
Con: He starts out as a disreputable frat boy which earns his dad’s displeasure even though it might be more of an act to shock the people when he emerges as his true, heroic self in order to win his dad’s and the country’s admiration. Yet, his heavy measure of deceit involved in his plan calls his honor to question, especially since his treatment of Falstaff further sullies his name. He’s quite capable of humiliating and tormenting and later disowns him altogether. As king, he uses a gift of tennis balls from the French in order to declare war on their country. Also, how is he entitled to the French throne again? Not to mention he threatens a city governor to surrender or else he and his soldiers would rape, murder, and loot. Yes, the guy can be quite despicable.
Fate: Dies between Henry V and the Henry VI Trilogy.
29. Richard III
From: Henry VI Parts 2 and 3 and Richard III
Pro: He’s smart, suave, cunning, and politically savvy as well as a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. He’s also very personable and entertaining that you just can’t hate him despite how despicable he really is. Certainly has the balls to woo Lady Anne and take her as his wife despite not being Prince Charming. Doesn’t give a shit about what people think about him. Has quite a sense of humor (well, a sick sense of humor but it’s pretty compelling). Wonderful with words. Wasn’t as bad a guy in real life as he is in this play.
Con: Is an unapologetic villain who enjoys being evil and is only out for himself that he’s willing to turn his brothers against each other as well as uses his allies (and Lady Anne) as pawns. May have insecurities due to his deformed appearance that make him feel so inadequate and unloved that made him prone to being hated and belittled throughout his life (according to Freud). Also a manipulative and pathological liar since he pretends to be godly and moral but stops at nothing to get what he wants. He seduces and marries Lady Anne (despite killing her dad and husband) with every intent on discarding her later (in real life, he certainly loved her since they were kids and was devastated when she died). Has his brother George of Clarence sent to the Tower of London and murdered (in reality, it was clearly Edward IV who wanted him dead while he was against executing him). Drives his brother Edward IV to an early grave so he could imprison and murder his kids in the Tower of London. Even poisons Anne and has his allies killed (in reality, he did not poison Anne). Though seen as a true Machiavellian, he tends to ignore Machiavelli’s one crucial rule from The Prince on how to retain power (like never be hated).
Fate: Knocked off his horse and killed during the Battle of Bosworth Field but he went down fighting.
30. Caius Martius Coriolanus
Pro: He’s a brilliant Roman general and war hero who saves Rome from its enemies as well as helped banish the tyrant king Tarquin. Earns the name “Coriolanus” when he leads an army and defeats the city of Corioles. Is a real mama’s boy who’s willing to spare Rome when she wants him to.
Con: He’s a lower-class hating snob who thinks plebeians don’t deserve any political power or even any food and a poster boy for aristocratic arrogance dominating the play. He also has a seriously bad temper, an unwillingness to compromise, and a tendency to say the first thing that comes to mind. This doesn’t help that the play kicks off with a food riot with plebeians going threatening to go after him with clubs, pikes, and whatnot. Or if he’s pursuing a career in politics after he gets out of the Roman Army. Not to mention, he’s so unlikeable that it’s hard for audiences to connect with him. He’s so offensive and obnoxious that he can’t pretend he likes a group of people whom he hates. Has a very freaky relationship with his mom. Oh, and when he’s forced out of office, he ends up betraying his people to the Volscians. Can also be emotionally immature and lets himself be bullied by his mom.
Fate: Killed by the Volscians while trying to arrange a peace treaty between them and the Romans.