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Theme of Social Hierarchy in William Shakespeare's Henry V, Twelfth Night and Macbeth

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Theme of Social Hierarchy in William Shakespeare's Henry V, Twelfth Night and Macbeth

Henry V, Twelfth Night, and Macbeth cover the whole field of Shakespearean genres, but it is amazing how Shakespeare displays a theme and carries it through in any kind of play he wants to. Historic, comic, and tragic plays are about as different as you can get, yet when we take a closer look we see many similarities among them, especially in the area of social hierarchy. In all three of these plays, Shakespeare uses a similar theme, which he conveys and proves through his characters. Twelfth Night's Malvolio, and Macbeth's Macbeth, Henry V's Henry all hold social status, and they spread the social scale, one a servant, one a nobleman, and one a king. In the play we see their desires to better their social standing and climb the social hierarchy that puts them all on similar ground, ground which in some cases is somewhat dangerous, breaking social laws.
In Twelfth Night, Malvolio is a servant. Granted, he is a higher-level servant; he is responsible for Olivia's finances. When we begin the play, it seems, even through Malvolio's melancholy personality, that he is content with his social standing. He enjoys the little social power he possesses but is not seeking a higher social standing. However, after he finds the letter, he "becomes" a new individual. His cross-gartering himself with yellow stockings, his incessant smiling, and his eager compliance with the anonymous show us the lengths Malvolio is willing to go to now to increase his social standing. His quickness to direct the letter to himself also shows us that the attitude he appeared to show at the beginning, his melancholy satisfaction with his social standing, may have been...


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... God's approval. If Henry could not "with right and conscience take [his] claim" (Henry V I.ii.98), he wouldn't have gone to war. He was not going to risk lives for a quest that was not within his royal limits. Malvolio didn't bother to care about going out of his socially constructed box and neither did Macbeth.
This is Shakespeare's point. Society has created a hierarchy for a reason, and it is within no person's rights to try to break out of his mold, except for the King, who is the figurehead of England. Shakespeare doesn't let Macbeth or Malvolio off the hook as Malvolio is completely humiliated and overwhelmed with and humorously vows to revenge and Macbeth is ultimately killed, defamed, and stripped of his crown after death. Breaking the social hierarchy is placed in a bad light and discouraged for anyone as unpleasant things may happen in consequence.


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