Essay on the Vengeful and the Virtuous in William Shakespeare

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The Vengeful and the Virtuous in Shakespeare

Whether you hate your King, your Christian rival or a neighboring foe, if you're in a Shakespeare play then you will be punished. In the first act of each play Shakespeare shows a conflict between two groups of people, one is vengeful the other virtuous. After the conflict is introduced, the malignant characters have important parts of their lives taken away and in the end the ultimate penalties of each are inflicted. All of the antagonists are left desolate in the end of the plays by either lost fortunes or their lives. Shakespeare takes good care to give the protagonists of the plays much reward for being on the right side of the spectrum. As the characters hate increases throughout the play they begin to loose what is precious to them, first in small amounts, but in the end, they are stripped of all they love and value.

The basis for the hate is introduced to the audience very early on in all three plays. The Capulets and the Montagues were neighboring feuding families. Shakespeare never states the reason for the dispute between the two but he does clearly show the hatred from the beginning. "Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean" (I i 1-4). These first few lines of the play clearly describe the hatred between the two families and at the same time foreshadow an unpleasant end. In "The Merchant of Venice", Shylock more boldly states, "I hate him for he is a Christian" (I iii 39). This cry of hate is also early on in the play, which clearly helps show the reader that he is the antagonist of the play. In "Henry IV" it is revealed in the first scene that a young Hotspur has kept prisoners of war away from the King. He calls the King Bolingbroke behind his back out of disrespect. "All studies here I solemnly defy, save how to gall and pinch this Bolingbroke. And that same sword and buckler Prince of Wales (I iii 227-229). In Shakespearean plays, a character who hates or plots against the King is automatically the villain of the play. The first act in all three plays revealed the characters for the audience to root against throughout the play.
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