It appears that Henry IV is trying to teach Prince Hal a lesson. Sure all he wanted was to go on a crusade to atone for Richard II’s death. But rebelling nobles, civil wars, and parenting won’t let him.
So we’re about halfway through. While you might think that Shakespeare is suited for high-brows, in his day, it was not. In fact, he had to satisfy a large audience. A lot of the Bard’s plays are full of adult humor, bawdy jokes, and double entendres but you probably never noticed in high school because the English language has changed so much since the 16th century which can seriously impact the comedies. Also, your high school English teacher probably didn’t tell you for obvious reasons. But let’s just say that when Hamlet is telling Ophelia to “get thee to a nunnery” he’s not telling her to join a convent and nor does calling Polonius a “fishmonger” have anything to do with his fishing skills. In this selection, you’ll meet Shakespearean figures like King Claudius, Queen Gertrude, Polonius, and Laertes from Hamlet, Cassius from Julius Caesar, Titus Andronicus, Feste from Twelfth Night, Helena from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Leontes and Autolycus from The Winter’s Tale, the Duke of Cornwall from King Lear, Lord Capulet from Romeo and Juliet, Imogen from Cymbeline, Hotspur, and Henry IV.
61. King Claudius
“What if this cursed hand/Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood, —/Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens/To wash it white as snow?” – Act III, Scene 3. Basically, in this scene he’s saying, “Yeah, I killed my brother, took his throne, and married his wife. Do I regret it? No.”
Pro: You have to admit, this guy’s a scheming Machiavellian bastard to a T. I mean the guy killed his brother, took the Danish throne, and married his widow. Seems to be nice to Gertrude. Not to mention, he probably has a lot of charisma since he managed to get nobles to accept the whole thing. Also, might be an okay king, despite how he got into power since avoids war with Norway. Talks his way out of Laertes’s rebellion, too. Even calms him down to convince the guy he’s innocent of Polonius’s murder even when Laertes has invaded the palace.
Con: Unfortunately, his nephew and stepson Hamlet isn’t really happy with him offing his dad, assuming the throne, and marrying his mom on short notice. So when his nephew puts on a play to call him out, he decides to kill him while playing the loving stepdad. He’s not successful, at least initially. He’s unapologetically selfish and has no qualms into manipulating people and using them as pawns. Hell, he probably has no conscience or doesn’t let it get in the way of what needs to be done. Probably has no remorse for what he did.
Fate: Is stabbed by a sword and forced to drink a poison that he devised for Hamlet by Hamlet.
“Men at some time are masters of their fates:/The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” – Act I, Scene 2. Cassius may be right. But he’s going to stab Julius Caesar in the back anyway because he thinks the guy has it coming.
From: Julius Caesar
Pro: Very politically savvy and a manipulative bastard. Also, he’s not entirely wrong about Caesar’s political ambitions.
Con: Resents the way the Roman people treat Julius Caesar like a rock star and how he acts like a god. Talks Brutus into joining the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar which eventually leads to all hell break loo. But he does this mostly to further his own political interests and is basically using Brutus as a pawn that he could manipulate as he pleases. Strengths make him an unlikeable character.
Fate: Commits suicide after the Battle of Philippi.
63. Queen Gertrude
“Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted color off,/And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark./Do not for ever with thy vailèd lids/Seek for thy noble father in the dust./Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,/Passing through nature to eternity.” – Act I, Scene 2. Gertrude is basically telling Hamlet, “Your dad’s dead. Get over him already.” After all, she’s moved on to marry Claudius, which her son’s not happy about at all.
Pro: She tends to be fairly meek and submissive for most of the play which might seem bad but makes her a more interesting character in regards to her motivations for marrying Claudius. So it’s probably for the best. Loves her son Hamlet though their relationship just got a whole lot complicated.
Con: While Hamlet may seem like a dick to Ophelia, his tirade toward his mother is much more understandable since she married her brother-in-law a month after her husband died. Doesn’t help that Claudius murdered her previous husband either. You have to wonder whether she and Claudius were having an affair. Whether she knew anything about or had any complicity in her husband’s murder. Or if she just married Claudius because she didn’t want to be a widow shut up in some corner of the palace. Or if she was being practical and just wanted to avoid a power vacuum that would invite usurpation to the throne, according to Roger Ebert. Or perhaps she was forced into it. Also, we’re not sure of how much she cares about her son since she didn’t seem to speak up when Claudius was trying to kill him. Then there’s the fact that her marriage to Claudius really messed up Hamlet’s view on women. May have also killed Ophelia.
Fate: Drinks a cup of poison while toasting Hamlet (which was intended to poison him).
“This above all — to thine own self be true;/And it must follow, as the night the day,/Thou canst not then be false to any man.” – Act I, Scene 3. Those not familiar with Shakespeare might find this touching and sentimental. Real Shakespeare fans would find this hilarious since it’s to be taken in irony. Since he doesn’t follow his own advice.
Pro: Loves his kids. Gives good advice to Laertes. Gives good one-liners and can be pretty hilarious. Must be doing something right as chief counselor to the king.
Con: Despite giving solid advice to Laertes in the beginning, he’s a complete idiot as well as a terrible and embarrassing parent. Sure he’s self-absorbed, long-winded, and dull. His advice is often tone-deaf and clichéd. Has elaborate attempts to keep tabs on Ophelia and Laertes such as spreading rumors so Laertes could confide to Reynaldo, who can report back to him. You might call him a helicopter parent, but that might be more of a compliment because he’s much more of a control freak. He’s also all too willing to use his daughter to get good with the king and his manipulative tactics leave Ophelia prone to Hamlet’s abuse, which can be partly to blame for her tragic end. Sure he may seem to love Ophelia, but would any good dad try and test if a relationship was real by making his daughter pretend to dump a guy? No but he would. Not to mention, he has some concern on whether she’s a virgin which is unhealthy. Also, hiding through a curtain to eavesdrop on a private conversation between a mom and son is a very bad idea. Then again, he has a nasty habit of spying on pretty much everyone along with kissing royal ass.
Fate: Is stabbed by Hamlet through a curtain while eavesdropping on him and Gertrude. Yeah, I know Hamlet killed him. But the guy was too dumb to live. And he kind of had it coming.
“O, treble woe/Fall ten times treble on that cursèd head,/Whose wicked deed thy most ingenious sense/Deprived thee of!—Hold off the earth awhile,/Till I have caught her once more in mine arms.” – Act V, Scene 1. Okay, Laertes, you love your sister, I get it. However, jumping into her grave to hold her one last time? May I say creepy?
Pro: He’s a go-getter and a loyal brother and son. Worries about Ophelia getting involved with Hamlet (for good reason). Forgives Hamlet eventually.
Con: Has serious anger issues. His telling a priest to go to hell, making a big deal about Ophelia’s “unpolluted flesh,” leaping into her grave, and picking a fight with her boyfriend does not seem like appropriate behavior for a guy at his sister’s funeral. In fact, it’s creepy. Also, when receiving news about his dad’s death, he should’ve just rushed home to the funeral and checked on his sister’s well-being. Not raise a crowd of armed followers, storm a castle bent on committing regicide, and ask about what happened to your dad later. Is also easily manipulated into a scheme by King Claudius.
Fate: Fatally stabbed by his own poisoned blade by Hamlet in a duel.
66. Duke of Cornwall
“Though well we may not pass upon his life / Without the form of justice, yet our power / Shall do a court’sy to our wrath, which men / May blame but not control.” – Act III, Scene 7. Of course, he’s only gouging Gloucester’s eyes out for kicks because he can get away with it. He’ll get stabbed by a servant later.
From: King Lear
Pro: Well, he and Regan seem made for each other.
Con: He’s a sadist who enjoys causing people pain and likes being in power so nobody would be allowed to stop him. Puts Kent in the stock for failing to show a little respect. Has the Earl of Gloucester’s eyes gouged out for giving Lear shelter near his castle as well as for the pleasure of it. Treats his servants like shit.
Fate: Is killed by one of his servants for blinding Gloucester.
67. Titus Andronicus
“In peace and honour rest you here, my sons;/Rome’s readiest champions, repose you here in rest,/Secure from worldly chances and mishaps!/Here lurks no treason, here no envy swells,/Here grow no damned drugs, here are no storms,/No noise, but silence and eternal sleep:/In peace and honour rest you here, my sons!” – Act I, Scene 1. Sure this guy might love his sons. But I think he should’ve honored them with a tombstone and some flowers. Instead, he has Tamora’s oldest son sacrificed.
From: Titus Andronicus
Pro: He’s a general and a war hero who’s loyal to Rome. Loves his kids but has a very funny way of showing it that doesn’t help his case.
Con: For one, he must’ve been a busy boy to have at least 26 kids (because that’s an unrealistic number of offspring so he’s probably not monogamous). Second, he’s a pretty lousy dad for what gets him into trouble usually causes much of his and his family’s suffering even if his actions are in the name of Roman tradition. I mean he fought a war with the Goths for 10 years and lost 21 sons. And thinks sacrificing Tamora’s son Arabus should be ritually sacrificed in order to appease their spirits even after she pleads to spare his life. Also thinks Saturinus should be Emperor of Rome because he’s the last guy’s firstborn son despite that the guy threatened him, doesn’t seem to be a good ruler, got dumped by Lavinia for his brother, and making Tamora his empress. Doesn’t think twice about killing Mutius for interfering with Lavinia’s engagement to the new Emperor. Kills Lavinia so her shame and his sorrow over her rape will die with her. His service to Rome matters more to him than the lives of his own kids. His quest to right some kind of injustice that was probably his own fault calls his morality in question. Also, while you can’t blame him for killing Chiron and Demetrius for what they did to Lavinia, the guy also serves them in a pie to Tamora.
Fate: Gets killed by Saturninus and perhaps justifiably so. This is what happens when you kill somebody else’s kid as a human sacrifice.
68. Lord Capulet
“Hang thee, young baggage, disobedient wretch!/I tell thee what: get thee to church o’ Thursday,/Or never after look me in the face./Speak not; reply not; do not answer me.” – Act III, Scene 5. Man, this guy really hates it when he doesn’t get his way. Obviously doesn’t care about Juliet’s feelings does he?
From: Romeo and Juliet
Pro: He seems like an okay guy at first who doesn’t seem to mind Romeo so much. Can be a rational man who tries to talk Juliet and Tybalt out of some bad decisions. Tries to calm Tybalt down as well as control his temper.
Con: Can turn from okay dad to dad from hell if his advice is ignored. Also threatens to throw Tybalt and Juliet out of the family if they don’t tow the line. Believes he knows what’s best for Juliet. While he initially seems like he’s willing to be happy with what his daughter wants, once she’s with Romeo, then he’s basically forcing her to marry Paris. In addition to threatening disownment, he also threatens beat Juliet and send her to prison for disobeying him. Nevertheless, his actions reveal that what his daughter wants are irrelevant all the way up when he sees her unconscious and later, dead. Is tyrannical, violent, possessive, and implied to beat his wife.
Fate: His asking Lord Montague for his hand to end the family feud might show that he’s learned his lesson. Maybe not.
“Two faults, madonna, that drink and good counsel will amend: for give the dry fool drink, then is the fool not dry; bid the dishonest man mend himself; if he mend, he is no longer dishonest; if he cannot, let the botcher mend him; any thing that’s mended is but patched; virtue that transgresses is but patched with sin; and sin that amends is but patched with virtue.” – Act I, Scene 5. Of course, don’t ask him to look after Sir Toby Belch.
From: Twelfth Night
Pro: Well, he’s a middle aged jester who’s still has the wit to carry off good fooling when he needs to and a good singing voice. He’s also quite charming to be in Olivia’s good graces. Not to mention, he tends to be smarter than most of the characters think.
Con: For one, despite being in Olivia’s employ, he tends to leave and return at her house at his pleasure (rather too freely for a servant though he might be doing some free-lance gigs). Also what he did to Malvolio along with Sir Toby Belch and Maria was cruel. But then again, he tells jokes for a living so you really can’t hold it against him. Still, don’t ask him to watch over Sir Toby.
Fate: Well, he’s still in Olivia’s household as far as we know.
“There cannot be a pinch in death/More sharp than this is.” – Act 1, Scene 1. If you keep sleeping showing your boobs, you might soon find out what’s worse than seeing your husband banished.
Pro: Well, she’s intelligent, honest, beautiful, and resourceful. While she might mourn her husband’s banishment and moan about having foolish suitor, she doesn’t wallow in self-pity. Keeps her husband’s vow no matter what the circumstance whether it be Iachimo trying to cheat on a bet, her evil stepmother trying to kill her, her bratty stepbrother trying to rape her, her dad banishing her husband from the kingdom, finding her two long lost brothers and their kidnapper, and more. Not afraid to take advice and get the job done herself as well as goes after what she wants. When Pisanio presents her with men’s clothing, she just puts it on and hops on a boat to Rome. Sees through the Queen and tells her dad about it (though he doesn’t listen). Doesn’t accuse first and ask questions later. Stays calm and collected even when slandered. Her actions stop the war between Rome and Britain.
Con: Unfortunately, despite being a princess, she lives in an era when security cameras were unavailable. Also, while she may love Posthumus to prove her fidelity to him, the guy basically put a hit on her the moment Iachimo convinces the guy she cheated on him (luckily his servant gave her men’s clothes instead). This action is grounds for divorce and/or a witness protection program. Should’ve married Pisanio instead. Comes from a very dysfunctional family.
Fate: Lives happily ever after with Posthumus and reunites with her dad and brothers.
“Mark and perform it, see’st thou! for the fail/Of any point in’t shall not only be/Death to thyself but to thy lewd-tongued wife,/Whom for this time we pardon. We enjoin thee, /As thou art liege-man to us, that thou carry/This female bastard hence and that thou bear it/To some remote and desert place quite out/Of our dominions, and that there thou leave it,/Without more mercy, to its own protection.” – Act II, Scene 3. Don’t worry, the baby lives. But the guy who’s charged with abandoning her exits, pursued by a bear. Still, Leontes here is played by Sir Ian McKellen whom you may know as Gandalf and Magneto.
From: The Winter’s Tale
Pro: Eventually repents his sins and endures 16 years of suffering.
Con: Goes berserk when he wrongfully suspects his pregnant wife of fooling around with his best friend that he plots to murder King Polixenes, puts Hermione on trial for adultery, and orders his men to ditch his newborn daughter in the woods. His behavior destroys everything that matters in his life like his family and friendships. Thinks most women are promiscuous by nature and doubts whether Hermione’s baby is actually his. Luckily the abuse on his family isn’t permanent. Also, he didn’t seem to take some time to look after his daughter Perdita. Thinks that his friendship with Polixenes when they started getting interested in girls.
Fate: Is reunited with his daughter and wife in the end.
72. Henry “Hotspur” Percy
“And shall it in more shame be further spoken/That you are fooled, discarded, and shook off/By him for whom these shames ye underwent?/No, yet time serves wherein you may redeem/Your banished honors and restore yourselves/Into the good thoughts of the world again.” – Act I, Scene 3. Sure he wants to uphold family honor. However, this gets him killed because he’s kind of a hothead.
From: Henry IV Part 1
Pro: Loves his wife and is loyal to his family. He’s such a badass that he’s considered England’s best warrior because he eats enemy soldiers for breakfast. And he sure loves to fight as well as talk. Said to be the quintessential manly man of his day that even Henry IV wishes Hal were like him.
Con: He may seem like an ideal man in the play, but he’s kind of a dumbass (explaining why he’s not necessarily the right guy for the throne). Can be quick to anger and rants so hard that his allies have to interrupt him. In fact, his hot-blooded ranting even stops him from entering the action he loves because he’s too busy fighting a battle in his imagination. Also is fighting for his family to take the English throne for themselves. Not only that, but he also tends to be rash, impetuous, incapable of strategy as well as has a habit of alienating his colleagues. When he hears that Glendower won’t be joining his rebel forces at Shrewsbury, he forges ahead anyway because he thinks winning an impossible victory would attract more to his cause (while half his army is absent). This is because he antagonizes Glendower over his mystical beliefs which doesn’t help him. Prefers fighting to sex to his wife’s dismay and doesn’t see the value of prison exchanges. Tends to be overestimated by Henry IV who wishes his son to be more like him. Has sexist and obnoxious views as well as acts like a jerk around his wife. Also underestimates Hal, and you know how that turns out.
Fate: Killed by Prince Hal at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Luckily, Hal feels bad about it and gives him a nice send off.
73. Henry IV
“O that it could be proved/That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged/In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,/And called mine ‘Percy’, his ‘Plantagenet’!/Then would I have his Harry, and he mine.” – Act I, Scene 1 in Henry IV Part 1. Basically he’s saying, “I wish Hotspur were my son instead of Hal.” For God’s sake, your son’s a teenager. Besides, Hotspur has his faults, too. For your son kills him.
From: Richard II and Henry IV Parts 1 and 2
Pro: Well, he’s an ambitious, energetic, charismatic, inventive, and capable king who had to work hard to get his throne and knows he has to be good at his job (though he initially fought a war to get his stuff that Richard II seized from him). He’s a cunning strategist, a capable decision maker, and popular with the English people. Doesn’t count on divine right to guarantee his support of his people. And he knows that if his son should inherit a kingdom, he should behave in such a way to show himself worthy of it. Is a noble warrior to boot since he had to raise an army to get his throne and retain it without ever losing his majesty. Has a good relationship with his dad and in his prime was the best jouster in England.
Con: Things would’ve been much easier for him had he not tried to fight a duel with Mowbray and he got off easy with 6 years exile because he’s Richard II’s first cousin (yet this allows Richard being able to seize his dad’s lands to fund an ill-considered war in Ireland). Also, he probably wasn’t fighting Richard so he can have his dad’s lands (because he ended becoming king once he had the guy cornered). His refusal to ransom Mortimer starts a rebellion, too. Not to mention, the Percys see him as an ungrateful bastard when they’re outraged by his demands to surrender valuable Scottish hostages to him (after they joined him in exile and helped him get his throne). Though he loves his son, he tends to underestimate him and thinks of him no more than a mere fratboy even after the Battle of Shrewsbury. Also, killing Richard II was one of the worst decisions he ever made in his life (that he ends up regretting). Not to mention, since he had to seize the throne to get it, his trouble tends to stem from his own uneasy conscience and his uncertainty about the legitimacy of his rule and lacks the moral legitimacy that every ruler needs. This makes it difficult for him to blame the Percy family for wanting to usurp his throne for themselves. Thus, he can’t rule as the magnificent leader his son will become after he dies.
Fate: Dies in his bed in Henry IV Part 2. But at least he and Hal have reconciled by this point.
” I must confess to you, sir, I am no fighter: I am
false of heart that way; and that he knew, I warrant
him.” – Act IV, Scene 3. Don’t be fooled by his wares. This guy is a con artist and a very good one, too.
From: The Winter’s Tale
Pro: Will do anything to make a buck and is very good at his job. He’s also very likeable because he’s so straight forward and well, honest (with the audience anyway). Also very entertaining with his lying and cheating interspersed with singing and dancing. Has a lot of cool disguises like a robbery victim, a peddler, and a helpful nobleman. Helps Florizel escape to Sicily. Quite cunning.
Con: He’s a con artist who roams around the Bohemian countryside taking advantage of any poor sap he happens to come across. His motives usually tend to be self-serving when he helps somebody.
Fate: Stops being a rouge after entering the Sicilian court.
“Ay, in the temple, in the town, the field,
You do me mischief./Fie, Demetrius! Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex./We cannot fight for love, as men may do./We should be wooed and were not made to woo.” – Act II, Scene 1. Sure she probably shouldn’t be pursuing Demetrius. Then again, he shouldn’t be pursuing Hermia either.
From: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Pro: Well, she loves Demetrius enough to go to hell and back with him. Also cares about her friend Hermia. Besides, her chasing Demetrius may not be altogether unjustified and might work in everyone’s best interests. And you have to agree with her about how it’s stupid that women have to be passively wait for the man of their dreams to notice them as well as worry about violence if they resist any unwanted male attention.
Con: She’s so pathetic that she’s happy to be with Demetrius even if he treats her like a dog. Also seems rather unconcerned when he threatens to rape her. Not to mention, running into the woods to chase a guy who’s mad at you and has a very short fuse isn’t a good idea. Oh, and she’s not great at keeping secrets. Full of self-pity and tends to whine. Also when Demetrius and Lysander seem to be in love with her, she thinks it’s a joke.
Fate: Marries Demetrius in a triple wedding with Lysander and Hermia and Theseus and Hippolyta. Sure he may love her at this point, but it might be the love potion talking. So she has a right to be skeptical.