The Shakespeare Effect
From Londonhua WIKI
- 1 The Shakespeare Effect
- 2 Abstract
- 3 Introduction
- 4 Section 1: Background
- 5 Section 2: Deliverable
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 References
- 8 External Links
The Shakespeare Effect
This milestone looks at four of Shakespeare’s tragedies, Hamlet, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, and Macbeth, and examines a theme in each work. Certain reoccurring themes can be attributed to events that had a profound effect on Shakespeare’s life which will not be covered on this page. In the Timeline of Shakespeare page, there is a timeline that compares what had happened in Shakespeare’s life and what had been happening in London from Shakespeare’s birth to his death. The themes of betrayal and madness was then implemented in a comparison with examples from the works themselves. There are also visual examples of how these themes are exhibited in the plays. This project informs the reader that Shakespeare’s works have common themes especially in his tragedies.
This project provides an overview of the four plays and a large theme that is covered in each play. For the deliverable, I chose two themes, betrayal and madness, that were overarching between the 4 plays and wrote a comparison of how the themes are seen in each play. The deliverable also provides a small amount of information about what influenced Shakespeare's writings in terms of writing style and each play's plot as well as what influences he has had on society today which is provide as a link in the abstract. I also created several info-graphics displaying several common themes and how much the common themes appear in the play. This project incorporates all the information of tragedies and their main themes into a writing piece and an original visual example of the two themes.
In high school, I had read and wrote many papers about Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, A Thousand Acres (based off of King Lear) and Macbeth. Then when I started WPI, I helped with the sound engineering of Taming the Shrew. I have taken two theater classes in my freshman year. In my Introduction to Drama class, I preformed several lines from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.
Shakespeare is a topic that is covered by may colleges and high schools, but many schools neglect to thoroughly explore the themes in his works. My objective was to discover what themes were in four separate Shakespeare tragedies. Based on my research, I found that Hamlet, Othello, and Antony and Cleopatra share a common theme of betrayal. Many of the characters betray or are betrayed their own conscience, or a trusted friend or family member. This often leads to their own downfall as a person. I also found that Hamlet and Macbeth share the common theme of madness. Macbeth power-hungry nature leads him to give into his madness while Hamlet's madness is spurred from his inability to accept the loss of his father as well as his lack of resolve for action. This milestone has helped me get in touch with my inner Shakespeare fangirl and has taught me quite a bit on Shakespeare's themes in his tragedies.
Section 1: Background
Hamlet is centered around the prince of Denmark, Hamlet, who's father unexpectedly dies under mysterious circumstances. The play begins on a cold night when two watchmen and a scholar Horatio see a ghost that resembles the recently deceased king Hamlet. Hamlet is brought to see the ghost who reveals that he was murdered by Claudius, who usurped the throne and married his brother's wife, and asks that Hamlet seeks revenge for his murder. This begins his journey to seek revenge on his uncle for murdering his father. Throughout this journey, he begins to have doubts about whether he should kill the king and delays doing so because he fears the repercussions of such a crime. He finally confronts his uncle in a duel which results in the death of his uncle, mother, friend and himself, but he does fulfill his father's wish to seek redemption on his killer.  For a more through summary, click this link.
The Power of Knowledge
The tragedy Hamlet sets a precedent of what is now known as the Hamletean predicament and question of "to be or not to be"  Should one take action against their oppressors or should they ignore it is happening and go back to what life was in the past? Ligui Yang, the author of Cognition and Recognition: Hamlet's Power of Knowledge believes that the predicament concerns the body and the mind regarding human knowledge. The play itself points to the power of knowing and the quintessence of social realization. She states that the play is based on the what a human may know and the predicament that knowledge may cause. In the lines Hamlet states, "What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties... how like an angel in apprehension, how like a god!... And yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?" (II.ii.280-283). For Hamlet, the idea of knowing such pertinent information causes him much suffering, however there is a considerable disparity between knowing and reacting to the knowledge. When Hamlet was in college, he did not have to take any action which makes that part of his life ideal. Upon leaving college, he has to step into the real world and face the harsh realities of death and betrayal. Yang states that, “Hamlet is perplexed by the gap between the material world and the ideal world and by the impotence of reality.” He hasn’t yet realized or accepted that the ideal world is not permanent. The only way to permanently stay in the ideal world is death. In his famous "To Be or Not to Be" soliloquy, he states “To die, to sleep—/ No more—and by a sleep to say we end/ The heartache and the thousand natural shocks/ That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation/ Devoutly to be wished!” (III.1.61-65). Hamlet believes that in death he can end all of his problems, which is what he desires. Yet, he worries that if he dies with this knowledge that his father has imparted onto him, his suffering in his afterlife could be prolonged. However, if he takes action, he may be destined to suffer the repercussions of his actions. He does not desire to accept responsibility regarding either decision he chooses, which is the main cause for his delay of action. In the end, Hamlet must accept responsibility for the decision he finally chooses, which forces him to use the power he had been given by the knowledge of his dead father.
Othello follows the Moorish general Othello whose downfall is listening and believing the evil, crafty Iago. Iago is angry that Othello passed over him and gave the military lieutenant position to a man inexperienced on the battlefield and believes he should have received the position. He plots and schemes to have Cassio's, the man who received the military lieutenant position, name smeared and ruin Othello's life by having him lose faith in his wife, who he kills for a supposed infidelity. The result of Iago's chaos is the death of Desdemona, Roderigo, and his own wife Emilia.  For a more through summary, click this link.
Race leading to alienation
Othello is the only play that has a man of a darker colour as his main character. Many readers tend to overlook how big of a role race place in this play with many critics stating that it is a fact that is not important to the plot. A.C Bradley, who was a Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, states that "in regards to the essentials of his character", his race is unimportant. Jane Adamson, the author of Othello As Tragedy, says that the Moorishness of Othello "matters only in so far as it is part of a larger and deeper" issue. But there is a different reaction to Othello's race in the beginning of the play by Iago and Rodergio. One can see their blatant viscous racism when Iago references Othello as "an old black ram" (I.i.88), "the devil"(I.i.91), and a "Barbary horse" (I.i.111). He even regards the consummation of Othello and Desdemona's marrige as creating "the beast with two backs."(I.i.115-16) All these names he calls Othello are said within one conversation. He keeps offending Othello's race to his friend Rodergio who also is quite racist. Rodergio, who lusts after Desdemona, states that she is in the "gross clasps of a lascivious Moor"(I.i.126). Edward Berry, the writer of Othello's Alienation, believes that "the poisonous image of the black man, as we shall see, later informs Othello's judgment of himself." He believes that Othello is filling a stereotype and points out that Brabantio, the father of his betrothed and later wife, sees his race first. He accuses Othello as a "foul thief" and for using witchcraft to win Desdemona's affection. Berry believes that Iago and Brabantio's comments get to Othello and he starts to believe that his skin colour is the cause for Brabantio's opposition to the marriage and the reason for Desdemona's supposed infidelity.  This racism leads to his seclusion because all anyone sees when they look at him is his colour, which they believe to be evil and beneath them. Othello only wants to assimilate but after all the comments, he internalizes his anxiety about himself and thinks falsely that it dehumanizes him from a person to an animal. He becomes what he thinks society views him as by killing Desdemona. 
Antony and Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra is about the internal struggle Mark Antony has between love and his career as statesman and military officer. After the death of his wife , who he had been cheating on with Cleopatra, and the looming battle, Antony is compelled to return to Rome. When he arrives, he needs o solidify an alliance with Caesar and agrees to marry Caesar's sister. When Cleopatra hears of this she becomes jealous and plans to win him back. Caesar breaks the alliance with Antony when him and his new wife leave for Athens and secretly create a large army to defeat Caesar even after being begged not to by his wife Octavia. When building his army he allows Cleopatra to lead a ship, but she deserts. After then thinking she betrayed him again, Antony vows to kill Cleopatra. She feigns suicide and he, stricken by grief falls on his own sword, but to fails die immediately. Caesar then takes Cleopatra planning to display her in Rome as a demonstration of his power. She kills herself and is buried next to Antony who had died from his wound. For a more through summary, click this link.
Macbeth revolves around the ambition of a Scottish lord, Macbeth, to seize the throne from the current king, with the constant persuasion of his scheming wife. The play begins with Macbeth and his friend Banquo meeting with King Duncan after defeating two armies. When leaving to their homes, they see three witches as they cross a moor. They have three prophesies including that Macbeth will be made a thane, and will eventually be the King of Scotland. The two are skeptical until Macbeth is approached by Duncan's men stating that the previous thane had betrayed Scotland. This begins Macbeth's extreme lust for power, which is only increased by his wife. He gets to a state where he will do anything to become king including killing Duncan, who had done nothing wrong. When he finally kills the king, he fears opposition of his ascension the throne and goes back to the witches who prophesized that his downfall will be from a man not born of a woman. He doesn't realize that the witches’ prophesies are not straight forward and lets his guard down. The man, Macduff, who kills his was not born of a woman because he was "untimely ripped" from his mother's womb. After the death of Macbeth, Macduff ascends the throne.  For a more through summary, click this link.
The Distortion of Masculinity
Jarold Ramsey, the author of The Perversion of Manliness in Macbeth, argues that throughout the tragedy of Macbeth, many of the decisions the Scottish lord makes are based on his wife questioning his masculinity if he fails to decide in her favor, thus skewing his definition of manliness. The definition of manliness is constantly questions and changed. Jarod states that Lady Macbeth is the one who instigates the distortion of what is manly by, “calling Macbeth’s manhood (in the narrowly sexual sense) into question”. By pursuing his desire for power and to ascend the throne, Macbeth, in the eyes of Lady Macbeth is continually redefining his manliness distorting rationale and becoming less human. This power struggle and identity crisis leads to his renouncing all that that would be considered human in resemblance and all that is moral to embody “aggressive masculinity.” The three witches see this and translate it into their own words as “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (I.i). This translate to Macbeth as something will change, but the true meaning lies within the distortion of the meaning of masculinity. It displays that man becomes monster and monster becomes man. In scene V, Lady Macbeth contemplates whether her husband’s lack of manliness is holding him back from his true desires. She says
“It is too full o' the milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,/ Art not without ambition, but without/ The illness should attend it. What thou wouldst highly,/ That wouldst thou holily-wouldst not play false/ And yet would wrongly win”
Lady Macbeth wrongly sees that the only way to become great is to lose humanity and morals. Macbeth’s struggle with manliness leads to the questioning of his morals, even though Lady Macbeth has already rid herself of them to pursue what she wants. After given the opportunity to express this manliness with the constant goading by his wife’s word, he murders Duncan and Banquo. Their deaths mark the decline of Macbeth. Ramsey believes that in the ending of the play after the death of Macbeth, the audience almost pities the dead king because his own degeneration into a monster was solely caused by the distortion of his masculinity. Macbeth, when confronted by Macduff, “recoils momentarily with an unwonted remorse” (Ramsey 289) and states “get thee back, my soul is too much charged/ With blood of thine already" (V.viii.5-6). In this moment, he has a realization and says “hath cowed my better part of man,” for he sees that the masculine lifestyle he tried to live brought him to because an abhorred monster. The audience fully see with Hamlet’s head being placed on a steak, they see he was a human monster. Human because he died. He made mistakes and believed wrong assumptions which turned him into what he became. Because of this, the audience is led to ask themselves what defines a monster and what defines a man. 
Section 2: Deliverable
Common Themes among Shakespeare's works.
The themes of betrayal and madness are common themes that many journal writers, literary critics see within the plays of Hamlet, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, and Macbeth. In the book Hamlet’s Absent Father, Avi Erlich suggests that Claudius betrays Hamlet in an indirect way, but does betray him by sending his friends to spy on him.Maria Macaulay (2005) suggested in her article When Chaos Is Come Again: Narrative and Narrative Analysis in Othello, for the Style, that Iago plays with Othello’s insecurities and leads him to believe his wife is cheating on him, which leads to him betraying and killing his wife because he believes she is impure.  In his article called The Time Sense of Antony and Cleopatra, which was written for the Shakespeare Quarterly, David Kaula states that Antony is thrown into a quandary of what to do when he supposes that Cleopatra had betrayed him and the many others she draws after her.  Frank McGuinness, a contributor to Irish University Review in his article Madness and Magic: Shakespeare’s Macbeth examines how the desire for power leads him to madness by believing in the dark powers of magic.  In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s (1818) Lecture on Hamlet, he states that there is a necessary balance “between our attention to the objects of our senses, and our meditation on the workings of our minds”, which suggests that Hamlet loses his perception of the real world and his resolve for action. 
Betrayal by trusted friends and family
The works of Shakespeare are notorious for having common linking themes among several of the plays he has written. When one breaks down each play down to its basic element, one can find that characters in Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, and Othello all have been betrayed by trusted friends or family members which subsequently leads to their ultimate downfall. The downfall of the character could have been prevented if the character was not blinded by their trust for that person or people.
Hamlet, from the play Hamlet, is betrayed by a person he had trusted and loved, his uncle, Claudius, who betrays him before the play even begins. In the beginning of the play, Hamlet is an oblivious college school boy who has believed that his mother and father’s relationship was unbreakable and that his life had no troubles. He is blinded from the responsibilities he has to face and of the betrayal of his uncle towards him and his family. However, the death of his father opens his eyes to suffering and responsibility he has to take up from his father’s death. The downfall and eventual madness of Hamlet is directly caused by his betrayal by his uncle. The betray of his uncle sends Hamlet to suicide stating, “O cursed spite! That ever I was born, to put it right." (I.5 215-216). Hamlet automatically thinks that dying is the best choice and thinks the only way to avoid another betrayal is by killing himself. After thinking suicide through, he decides that his redemption can only come from killing his betrayer. This betrayal then leads to Hamlet’s ultimate death when he tries to put things right and kill his uncle. During the final dual fabricated by Claudius between Hamlet and Laertes, the son of Polonius, whom Hamlet had killed, Hamlet is struck and dies of his wounds. His downfall is his ultimate death during the fight to put things right.
Unlike Hamlet in Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra from Antony and Cleopatra must decide whether the betray each other or their political alliances. In the end, Antony kills himself because he betrays his own honor and regrets not being true to his most noble self. Similarly he realizes that he cannot be loyal to Rome, Cleopatra and his own honor simultaneously. This realization is what leads him to kill himself. Cleopatra’s suicide is a bit different because of not loyalty, which was specifically expressed when Cleopatra betrays Antony and leaves him in battle. She manipulates him the entire time to get what she wants and promises the world to him. This however she never delivers because she would betray him whenever she thought it was opportune for her. Cleopatra is selfish and this is seen when she says:
Nay, ’tis most certain, Iras. Saucy lictors
Will catch at us like strumpets, and scald rhymers Ballad us out o’ tune. The quick comedians Extemporally will stage us, and present Our Alexandrian revels. Antony Shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness
I’ th’ posture of a whore. (V.ii.210–217)
She does not want to be portrayed as a whore by a young boy actor for the Romans to make fun of. Her motives are always unpredictable and on a whim. The downfalls of both characters are caused for different reasons and both die in the end for their own causes.
In Othello, Othello is betrayed by Iago because he is angry that Othello appoints Cassio to the position of post lieutenant. He states angrily states that, “there are others/ who putting on a good show of duty/ are really looking put for their own interest” (I,1 50-52). This hints the readers to the fact that Iago is looking for revenge and will stop at nothing to get back at Othello. Iago gets his wife to steal Desdemona’s, who is Othello’s wife, handkerchief so he can convince Othello that his wife is sleeping with Cassio. Othello trusts that Iago is telling the truth about his wife and Cassio and ends up killing his own wife. He trusts the wrong person. His wife, as he tries to kill her begs and pleads with him telling him that she had done no such thing, but he only believes Iago. The betrayal of Iago and his lies leads to the death of his own wife Emilia, and Desdemona and is the downfall of Othello. In the end, he realizes that he had been betrayed and lied to and that he has no one left and kills himself.
Macbeth’s madness is caused by his insatiable need for power and recognition. His weakness and desire is what allows the witches to get into Macbeth’s head and allows them to feed his hunger with their promises of a plentiful reward. Because Macbeth listens to the witch’s words and then subsequently believes the words of the magic, representing the murder of the king, he is allowing himself to commit the deed, which to Shakespeare is a crime of one’s own conscious. The witches in some interpretations could represent voices in his head. By listening to those voices, he is succumbing to the madness. He allows himself to listen to the voices of death just to get power and recognition. After allowing the voices in, he is permitting the destruction of his own self. We can see his disintegration when he says:
If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination Could trammel up the consequence, and catch With his surcease success; that but this blow Might be the be-all and the end-all here, But here, upon this bank and shoal of time, We'ld jump the life to come. But in these cases We still have judgment here; that we but teach Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice To our own lips. He's here in double trust; First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, Strong both against the deed; then, as his host, Who should against his murderer shut the door, Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been So clear in his great office, that his virtues Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against The deep damnation of his taking-off; And pity, like a naked new-born babe, Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, horsed Upon the sightless couriers of the air, Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye, That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other. (1,VII,1-28)
These lines display the loss of Macbeth’s sanity as he violently goes through the pros and cons of his choices. He thinks of all the different situations he could pursue and their outcomes. Here Macbeth makes sense of his situation by continuing to find the right word or phrase to delay the inevitable outcome, but he is hesitant to act.
Hamlet’s madness is cause by his inability to cope with the fact that his father is dead. It leads Hamlet to debate suicide and begins Hamlet’s descent into madness. This madness enables him see the ghost of his father, which in some interpretations is the manifestation of his own guilt. His madness brought on by guilt leads him to say, “ Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,/Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,/Or that the Everlasting had not fixed/His canon 'gainst self-slaughter!” (1.3 129) Hamlet is so distraught that he feels that suicide is the only way to end the pain. The loss of his father made him uncleansed and the only way to cleanse himself would be killing himself. In the To be or Not to be speech, Hamlet debates whether suicide the best option. “To die, to sleep--/To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,/For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.” The only thing holding him back from committing suicide is uncertainty of what lies on the other side of death. He can’t make the decision and spends a considerable amount of time debating this point. His father was his whole life and he practically worshipped the ground he walked on. “Possess it merely. That it should come to this./But two months dead—nay, not so much, not two./So excellent a king, that was to this /Hyperion to a satyr. So loving to my mother.” (1.2 138-141) His thoughts are always consumed by his father’s death and how superior his father was to his uncle. These thoughts move from obsession to the fixation on how to exact revenge on the murderer. This fixation blinds him and from seeing any trutshs around him and he doesn’t see his own decline into madness.
Visualization of the Two Common Themes
In many of Shakespeare's plays, there is the use of symbols to forebode the future and express themes that have a profound effect on the overall tone of the work. I decided to use infographics because the background was a lot of information to take in at once and they say a picture is worth a thousand words. By using my research and background information, I was able to identify several symbols that convey the common theme found within several plays. Some symbols I found using journals and literary critics's analyses. In her articles for the English Literary Renaissance, Lynda Boose stated that the handkerchief was a sexual symbol “for the promise of generation” meaning the consummation of a couple’s love. The promise referring to Desdemona’s purity and abstinence before marriage. Walter Forman states “Clouds have various shapes, lives have various shapes, plays have various shapes, and to show this variety and evanescence of shape, this seemingly ever-shifting order of things…” in his book The Music of the Close: The Final Scenes of Shakespeare's Tragedies . This relates to how Cleopatra changes her decisions so quickly to whatever suits her needs. These symbols and others were then used in an info-graphic and I selected the specific colour scheme and layout.
The first info-graphic displays betrayal in its many forms through out Othello, Antony and Cleopatra and Hamlet. For Hamlet, which is represented in letters b,e,t,r, I choose to use a green vile of poison, the poison which Claudius used to betray his brother and betray Hamlet. The colour green is used to symbolize the jealousy that Claudius had towards his bother for being king instead of him and the skull shaped bottle symbolizing how he will die in the end. I also chose to use a sword through a crown symbolizing how Clausius metaphorically took the crown. Even though he took the crown by poisoning the king, I felt that it was just as if he had stabbed the king in the back. The colour red is for the metaphorical blood that is on Claudius's hands. For Othello, which is represented in the letter a, I chose to use the handkerchief that Iago used to make Othello think Desdemona was cheating on him. The handkerchief is white and the background is baby blue to represent her innocence and purity even as she died. For Antony and Cleopatra, which is represented in the letters y,a,l, the changing of the clouds symbolize the changing of alliances and how Cleopatra betrays Antony deserting him in a naval battle. In the play, he speaks of how the clouds change shapes forms dragons to lions and believes that they are just illusions. He does not realize they are foreboding his future. For this info-graphic, the medium used was watercoulour and permanent markers.
The second info-graphic displays the madness of Hamlet and Macbeth. For "Hamlet", which is represented in the background of the first three letters, I used the ghost of Hamlet's father which is what initially causes his madness. If the dead king did not alert Hamlet to the true circumstances of his death, Hamlet may have not gone mad. I also used the skull of Yorick, which is the scull he talks to during his ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ soliloquy when he is deciding whether suicide it the answer to end his madness. For Macbeth, which is represented in the background of the last four letters, I used the three prophesies and the three witches because the represent Macbeth giving into the madness and believing anything to feed his insatiable need for power. For the lettering of the entire word, I chose a chaotic font that someone could automatically think disorganization and madness by just glancing at the image. The colour red represents the blood that is shed from those who are affected by the character's madness. For this info-graphic, the medium used was watercoulour and permanent markers.
Shakespeare had so many themes that has stretched across many of his plays. I only covered a main theme in each work and the an the overarching themes of madness and betrayal in all four of the works. These theme was just the tip of the iceberg since his contribution to literature is enormous. There are many scholarly sources on JSTOR and in the British Library about Shakespeare and his works. If anyone has interests in this topic, I didn't really explore how his life really effected his works such as how the death of his son Hamnet could have had a major effect on the play Hamlet. It would be interesting to what other themes that other people can find in common among his other plays as well as tie in how London had truly effected his writings. I only looked at it in a timeline, but I am sure others can find other ways to express how London effected his writings.
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