Plays written during the Renaissance often show how an individual is shaped by that person’s deepest ambitions, such as the desire to know, to rule, or to love, and how these aspirations can lead people down dramatic paths. Christopher Marlow’s Doctor Faustus and William Shakespeare’s Macbeth both involve noble protagonists who are portrayed as true subjects – tragic heroes; their selfhood is defined by their ambition and the decisions that they struggle with while attempting to reach their goals. Knowledge and power are the key objects of their desires: Faustus’ desire is intellectual, he seeks omniscience, and Macbeth wants to rule Scotland, absolutely and unconditionally. The desires that Faustus and Macbeth follow lead them to keep striving after more and more. Both protagonists embark on a classic Renaissance pursuit – the consummate desire for knowledge and power, and these plays depict the tragedies that can arise from over-reaching toward those desires. An example of over-reaching on the part of Doctor Faustus and Macbeth is that, to fulfill their ambition, both characters look to activities that go against the prominent religious beliefs of the time, and that were considered offenses to the Crown. They engage in transgression through unorthodox disciplines such as witchcraft and black magic, and supernatural elements exist within each play that help to define both protagonists as human beings.
The Prologue of Doctor Faustus presents the themes of transgressions and overreaching when the chorus says, “his waxen wings did mount above his reach” (Prologue.21). This line alludes to the prover…
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…beth as key figures to represent the tragic consequences that can result from over-reaching toward goals, and through their unorthodox endeavors to fulfill their personal desires, Faustus and Macbeth are defined as subjects with humanistic qualities. Both protagonists attain heroic status by their tragic flaw – excessive ambition and determination to pursue what they have undertaken to the bitter end
Marlowe, Christopher Dr Faustus in ed. WB Worthen The Harcourt Brace Anthology of Drama, 2nd edn., Texas: Harcourt Brace 1996.
Shakespeare, William. “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Prentice Hall Literature: Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes. The British Tradition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall 1999.
“William Shakespeare.” BBC Homepage. Online. Available http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/culture/shakespeare.shtml. 26 Mar. 2004.
Comedy in I Henry IV and II Henry IV by William Shakespeare
Comedy in I Henry IV and II Henry IV
In I Henry IV and II Henry IV, William Shakespeare brings together drama and comedy to create two of the most compelling history plays ever written. Many of Shakespeare’s other works are nearly absolute in their adherence to either the comic or tragic traditions, but in the two Henry IV plays Shakespeare combines comedy and drama in ways that seem to bring a certain realism to his characters, and thus the plays. The present essay is an examination of the various and significant effects that Shakespeare’s comedic scenes have on I Henry IV and II Henry IV. The Diversity of Society
Perhaps the first and most obvious effect of Shakespeare’s use of comedy in the two Henry IV plays is the resulting diversity of characters. The plays can be seen to be divided into three general scenes or settings, the court, the tavern, and the rebel’s camp, and it is largely the tavern scenes which introduce characters not found in the plays’ historical bases. In doing so, Shakespeare of course draws in a more diverse audience, who can perhaps see something of themselves in the full variety of society’s characters found in I Henry IV and II Henry IV. Shakespeare’s mastery of language and dialect help to acheive this, for his characters’ speech resounds with realism. The tavern crowd’s lines, for example, are filled with colloquialisms and double-entendres:
Falstaff. Welcome, Ancient Pistol. Here, Pistol, charge you with a cup of sack. Do you discharge upon mine hostess.
Pistol. I will discharge upon her, Sir John, with two bullets.
Falstaff. She is pistol-proof, sir; you sha…
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…in themes similar to those found in the two Henry IV plays, such as usurpation, rebellion, and the issue of lineage of royal right. But Richard II and King Henry V are decidedly more serious in tone, and in comparing them to I Henry IV and II Henry IV, the argument can be made that it is these two latter plays which resound with greater realism with the broader spectrum of life which they present. Shakespeare carefully balances comedy and drama in I Henry IV and II Henry IV, and in doing so the bard gives us what are perhaps the most memorable characters in all of English literature.
Bevington, David, ed. The Necessary Shakespeare. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2005.
Shakespeare, William. “The First Part of King Henry the Fourth.” The Necessary Shakespeare. By William Shakespeare and David M. Bevington. New York: Longman Group, 2004.