You may have noticed in this series that some of these characters are actually historical figures. Well, Shakespeare did write history plays which were not really true to the historical record and more or less used as Tudor and Stuart propaganda. Nevertheless, his play Richard III is a major reason why there’s a Richard III Society since Shakespeare’s Richard was almost nothing like the real thing. For instance, the real Richard III married Lady Anne Neville after her dad and husband died simply because he loved her. In fact, they might’ve been childhood sweethearts. And his marriage to her wasn’t very popular among his family since she was the widow of Henry VI’s son. He also renounced claims to the Earl of Warwick’s lands because George of Clarence was married to her sister. Not only that, but he certainly didn’t poison Lady Anne either despite rumors because he’s said to cry at her funeral as well as took her death hard. But he was also trying to marry a Portuguese princess towards the end of his life because well, he’s king and that’s part of his job. So anyway, in this selection I’ll bring you Aaron the Moor from Titus Andronicus, Edmund and Edgar from King Lear, Claudio, Hero, and Don John from Much Ado About Nothing, Caliban, Ariel, and Miranda from The Tempest, Richard II, Angelo from Measure for Measure, Shylock and Antonio from The Merchant of Venice, Ophelia from Hamlet, and Iachimo from Cymbeline.
46. Aaron the Moor
From: Titus Andronicus
Pro: He’s smart and a badass. Loves his baby son and puts him first even if it means revealing the entire revenge plot to the Romans so his kid could live. Being the only parent in the play to do so, he’s quite admirable, especially since he’s the bad guy.
Con: He’s a diabolical mastermind who convinces Demetrius and Chiron to rape Lavinia and responsible for framing Martius and Quintus for Bassianus’s murder. Oh, and he convinces Titus to cut off his own hand so his boys won’t die (they’re killed anyway). Though he might cause suffering so he could help Tamora get revenge, he also enjoys being bad and wreaking havoc on other people’s lives.
Fate: Captured by Lucius who has him buried up to his neck and left to die.
From: King Lear
Pro: Well, he has a point on how blatantly unfair society treats out of wedlock children, how foolish it is to trust fate and luck, and people’s tendencies to blame their troubles on anyone but their own actions. Yes, primogeniture is a total bitch. Is also quite charming and handsome. Also, you can’t blame him for having to hear his dad say how his mom’s a whore as a standard father-son conversation and being the butt of his old man’s jokes. Tries to save Lear and Cordelia in the end.
Con: He’s a real piece of work as well as short-sighted opportunist. Gets his older brother Edgar thrown out by telling his dad the guy is trying to kill him and cuts his arm to make it seem they were fighting. Betrays his dad by willingly and easily leaving him vulnerable to Cornwall’s anger. Bangs both Goneril and Regan which intensifies their rivalry (though he doesn’t show much affection to either of them. Also leads to Goneril killing Regan). Shows no hesitation or concern about killing Lear or Cordelia. Too bad he didn’t have his brother Edgar killed for good measure.
Fate: Killed by Edgar. If his brother hadn’t intervened, he would’ve become ruler of at least half (if not all of England).
From: King Lear
Pro: Is a bookish loyal, dutiful son and brother. Once he’s a fugitive, he not only saves his dad and Lear, kill Oswald in combat, nurses his old man’s wounds, and tricks him out of a suicidal depression, uncovers Edmund’s treachery, defeats him, and wounds him. Had he been caught and killed or remained in hiding, his brother would’ve gotten away from his scheme. Spent some time having to dress as a crazy homeless man to protect himself.
Con: Starts out as quite naïve, clueless, and privileged that makes him vulnerable to Edmund’s scheme that puts him on the run from the law. Also despite saving his blinded dad, doesn’t tell him who he is. Thinks his dad’s blindness is punishment for his adultery (even though it’s really producing Edmund). May not care much for women.
Fate: Kills Edmund at the end as revenge for practically ruining his life. Not sure what happens to him after that.
49. Richard II
From: Richard II
Pro: Well, once he gets depose, you can’t help feel sorry for him. Loves his wife. Can be quite poetic. Has some measure of dignity.
Con: Is a capricious, ineffective, and unpopular ruler. Thinks he’s God’s gift to the world and that He has specifically chosen him to lead England. Wrongfully assumes that no man could bump him off the throne and that he doesn’t need to defend himself from insurgents (this leads him getting deposed by his own cousin). Surrounds himself with a bunch of suck up advisers and loses touch with his critics and his people. Refuses to listen to constructive criticism and doesn’t learn from his mistakes. Also feels like he doesn’t have to answer to anybody for his mistakes. Exiling Henry Bolingbroke for 6 years and seizing John the Gaunt’s property after his death weren’t good ideas. Might’ve had his uncle Thomas of Woodstock killed. Mismanages money and leases out royal lands. Not to mention, when nobles are declaring each other traitor and there’s lots of behind the scenes maneuvering and murder threatening your crown’s stability, the last thing you should do is invade Ireland. But he does just that.
Fate: Murdered by Exton in prison, possibly under Henry IV’s orders. Henry IV would regret this for the rest of his life. At least he gets a royal funeral though.
50. Don John
From: Much Ado About Nothing
Pro: Well, he doesn’t say much in the play which might be for the best. But he’s also quite charming.
Con: Due to his illegitimacy, he tends to have a massive beef with this half-brother Don Pedro. Because he fought a whole battle against him that he’s been forced into reconciliation. Basically cooks up a plot to smear Hero just to hurt Claudio and embarrass his brother. They’re duped and Hero is put through a world of pain. Luckily he forgets to pay Borachio and didn’t account for the night watchmen overhearing his plans.
Fate: Don’t worry, he gets arrested but he’s not sorry for what he’s done.
51. Count Claudio
From: Much Ado About Nothing
Pro: He’s said to have won great acclaim fighting under Don Pedro in recent wars. And it seems that he’s really in love with Hero to distraction in Messina. Well, at first.
Con: He’s incredibly immature who’s gullible and easily manipulated. Nor does he have any capacity for modesty and real apology. He may really love Hero or might want her since she stands to inherit Leonato’s fortune. But he’s also capable of publicly shaming her when he allows himself to be deceived by Don John into thinking that she’s cheating on him. And this happens not just once, but twice. Yet, when he has chance to apologize for his lack of critical thinking, he struggles to cover his ass instead. Nevertheless, unlike Benedick, by the end, he doesn’t really grow up and is willing to concede to whatever marriage plan is presented to him.
Fate: Marries Hero in a double ceremony with Beatrice and Benedick. However, after what he did during the play, do you think we could really root for him getting the girl? Seriously, he’s just lucky that Hero and her folks are willing to forgive him and accept him.
From: Much Ado About Nothing
Pro: Well, she’s sweet, gentle, loving, and pretty. So much so that she’s somewhat of a saint who’s easily willing to forgive Claudio for publicly shaming her for being unchaste. However, she’s right about setting Beatrice and Benedick up since they’re right for each other.
Con: Unfortunately, she’s too nice for her own good that she doesn’t seem to possess a spine. Nor does she put up a strong defense when Claudio publicly denounces her, or at least violently enough to inspire anyone to really question his claims. Instead she faints. And despite Claudio’s insane wrath on her, she’s just happy to accept him as her husband again. Not to mention, she has a tendency to do what she’s told and has no real character depth.
Fate: Marries Claudio in a double ceremony with Beatrice and Benedick. However, at this point, you kind of wish she’d leave at the altar and find someone better. Or perhaps be pretending to be chaste so she’d be a more interesting character.
From: Measure for Measure
Pro: Can self-analyze and be honest with himself. Also, apparently repents his hypocrisy. May be sincere in his prayers.
Con: He’s a major hypocrite who sentences Claudio to death for knocking up his fiancée (he was willing to marry) while trying to bang his sister who’s a novice nun. Oh, and when he believes they’ve done it, he has Claudio’s execution proceed anyway. Dumped his fiancée Mariana after her dowry was lost when her brother’s ship sank. Carries a façade of righteousness but has a penchant for deceit and corruption as a deputy to the Duke of Vienna. Has a Javert like tendency to enforce the law while ignoring mercy but with a more draconian streak.
Fate: Marries Mariana in the end, which is probably what he deserved.
From: The Tempest
Pro: Well, he does have some legitimate complaints about Prospero enslaving him (after establishing a decent relationship with him). And you can’t blame him for challenging his authority either. Helped Prospero survive on the island for 12 years. Can be quite poetic once he was able to learn how to speak.
Con: However, he did try to rape Miranda when she tried teaching him how to read. This makes Prospero and Miranda hating him rather understandable. Also, he’s kind of a despicable creature.
Fate: His fate after the play is left ambiguous.
From: The Merchant of Venice
Pro: Well, you can’t really blame him from wanting to kill Antonio for insulting and spitting on him. Loves his daughter Jessica and is genuinely upset when she runs off with Lorenzo and his money as well as exchanges her dead mom’s turquoise ring for a monkey. Can sometimes be insightful on human relations, especially in the realm of Christian hypocrisy. Other than trying to use law to get away with murder, he doesn’t do anything particularly bad…at least what you’d expect of anyone else in a Shakespeare play.
Con: Initially seen by many as a greedy materialistic Jewish stereotype due to his profession and his faith. And he can be at best stingy, selfish, and puritanical. Is rude and base in his interactions such as being abrupt with his daughter and mean to his servant. His home is a mess. Okay, he might love his daughter but he tends to have funny way of showing it such as locking her up and treating her with little kindness and affection. All the while, he tends to take her for granted as well as neither knows nor understands her. This is why Jessica runs away from him and tries to milk him for all his worth. While he’s certainly a victim of antisemitism, asking for a pound of some guy’s flesh isn’t a great way to deal with it. Oh, and having Antonio arrested and brought before court to claim a pound of his flesh will sure turn out well (sarcasm). Also, he should’ve just taken Portia’s offer and reject the claim.
Fate: Is forced to sign over his worldly goods to his ungrateful daughter who betrayed him and to convert to Christianity which makes him become a broken man who’s lost everything.
From: The Merchant of Venice
Pro: He’s very good friends with Bassanio and is willing to do anything for him. He’s kind, generous, honest, confident, as well as loved and revered by all the Christians who know him (Jews not so much).
Con: Is an unapologetic Anti-Semite who treats Shylock like shit that the Jewish moneylender wants him dead. He even gives interest-free loans to his Christian friends in order to undermine Shylock’s business. Might possibly be in love with Bassanio but he’s straight (according to some interpretations. However, Jeremy Irons said he sees Bassanio as a surrogate son). Pressures Bassanio to give away Portia’s ring even after he’s off the hook. Actually, he might play the “self-sacrificing friend” card a little too thick possibly to guilt trip Bassanio into leaving Portia and Belmot. Tends to be depressed a lot, mostly due to Bassanio’s relationship with Portia.
Fate: Well, he lives but he can’t spend as much time with Bassanio as he used to since he’s married now.
From: The Tempest
Pro: Has a warm and loving relationship with Prospero whom he tricked into saving his life. Though he happily serves Prospero, he does want his freedom but knows he’ll have it someday. He’s capable of empathy and goodness that he’s willing to get Prospero to see the shipwrecked survivors and their pitiful state and talks him into forgiving his brother. Skilled in magic and speaks in beautiful verse. Stops a conspiracy to kill King Alonso as well as a Caliban’s plot to turn the sailors against Prospero and murder him.
Con: Though addressed as a guy, can be mistaken for a girl (then again, we’re not sure what he is).
Fate: Is freed by Prospero just as promised.
From: The Tempest
Pro: Well, she knows how to read and is a very nice girl who cries for the storm victims before calming down when her dad assured her that nobody was hurt. Once she’s in love with Ferdinand, she’s willing to do what she wants even if it means getting into trouble with her dad.
Con: Since she has been on the island for almost her whole life, she has no real life experience to speak of. Falls in love with the first good looking guy she meets (though this is understandable). Has no idea Prospero is using her for a pawn.
Fate: Ends up with Prince Ferdinand and goes to Naples.
Pro: She’s pretty, sweet, and gentle. She does nothing wrong to him but we’re not sure whether she loves him (probably). She tries to get along with her dad and brother. Calls out Polonius for wanting her to be chaste while saying nothing about rumors pertaining to Laertes frequenting brothels. Knows more than she seems to.
Con: Well, she’s kind of a pushover with no agency and is mostly defined by her relationships with Polonius, Laertes, and Hamlet. For one, her dad uses her to spy on Hamlet. Second, she puts up with Hamlet verbally abusing her which leads her getting crushed. Always defined by the men in her life by her sexuality (including by her dad and brother) and lets herself be treated like shit. As a result, she goes mad, sings a bawdy song about a woman who’s tricked into giving her virginity on a false marriage proposal, and drowns herself.
Fate: Found dead in a river. Said to be an “accident” most likely suicide. Some say that Gertrude had her killed because she knew too much.
Pro: He’s cunning, clever, and a force to be reckoned with. At least apologizes and confesses to what he’s done in the end even though his actions get no one killed.
Con: He’s a slimy and sociopathic con artist who exploits Posthumus’s fear of Imogen cheating on him for all its worth. Also has fun being evil and making bets that ruin people’s lives. And if loses a bet, then he’ll cheat to win. For instance, he makes a bet to Posthumus that he could seduce Imogen. Except he can’t because she flat-out refuses him. So he just breaks into her bedroom, takes a peak under her nightgown, steals her bracelet, and commits an eye full of things that should be private. Back in Italy, he hands Posthumus the bracelet and provides details on Imogen’s room and her naked body. This makes Posthumus ask Pisanio to kill her (luckily he doesn’t comply and convinces her to fake her death and go after him in drag).
Fate: He gets forgiven but if it weren’t for Pisanio, he would’ve caused much more harm.