So I mentioned during my Macbeth liveblog that Shakespeare has so much to say about Kings and kingship.
But the thing about Shakespeare is that he doesn’t really say things. He doesn’t say “this sort of king is no good” or “the best kings look like this” or “we’d be best off if kings were understood thus” or “if you’re a king, do not do this thing!”. In fact, Shakespeare’s stuff about kings is a matter of “show, don’t tell”. He doesn’t moralise, and his characters (kings, lovers, and all) are too real to be boiled down to simple ideological points.
So “Shakespeare has so much to say about kingship” isn’t really accurate; it’s more like “Shakespeare really enjoys exploring the idea of kingship”.
There was a comic going around a bit ago about how the tragic flaws of one Shakespearian protagonist would be the solution to all of another protagonist’s problems — Hamlet’s hesitation would avoid Othello’s tragic ending (if someone’s got the link to this I’d be much obliged).
So Richard II shows us a god-king coming to terms with his own mortality. Shakespeare doesn’t say “kings are sacred” or “kings should be sacred” or “kings who think they’re sacred are mistaken” or anything; he just shows us a certain character, in a certain situation, and any other character in the same situation might react differently. A different reaction might make things turn out better or worse or just as bad, but Richard II is not a moral tale.
Macbeth shows us very bloodthirsty and ambitious couple taking the throne for themselves through brute force, and Richard III shows the same sort of thing in a very different way, and Richard II's Bolingbroke is the same thing in yet a third way. Mackers' and Bolingbroke's and Dickon's actions are wrong, but Shakespeare never comes down and says that their conception of kingship as something that can be held or taken is necessarily wrong.
Henry V shows us kingship as a profession, but as something a little more incontrovertible than in the previous three plays; Henry’s position as king is never threatened. This isn’t Shakespeare saying “kings [like this] cannot be threatened”, instead he’s exploring what kingship means in the world of that play, both to the king himself and to the people around him. It’s an incredibly complex matter, and again, Shakespeare never comes out and says “this is good” or “don’t do the thing”.
Hamlet shows us kings who are mortal first and foremost. The tricky bits of kingship aren’t addressed at all, but the fact that the characters are kings, princes, queens, etc. means that they have to keep up appearances and that little things like the death of one man really do matter in the grand scheme of things, and this creates an environment where the story can take place. Shakespeare doesn’t say that it is a good thing or a bad thing that kingship creates such an environment, he doesn’t even say that his characters are dealing with it correctly or incorrectly, there is no right answer.
#i also think shakespeare honestly doesn’t do a lot of moralising #because he both humanised and punished antagonists #most notably shylock and aaron #aaron did bad things but his anger is also justified to some degree in the text #shylock is unduly punished for his actions but he also had that brilliant speech about if you prick us do we not bleed #anyway shakespeare’s a master of moral ambiguity #not just in kingship but in general (eighttwotwopointeighteight)
You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.
HARRY POTTER HISTORY MEME → two hogwarts founders [1/2] » Salazar Slytherin
"Professor Salazar Slytherin was a pure-blood wizard of medieval times. He was a Parselmouth and skilled at Legilimency. He was one of the four founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the former best friend of Godric Gryffindor, a fellow founder."
Éowyn says that women must ride now, as they did in a like evil time in the days of Brego, when the wild men of the East came from the Inland Sea into the Eastemnet. - The History of Middle-earth, Volume 8, The War of the Ring*
* There we have a reference to the women of Rohan fighting against an invasion of Easterlings during the reign of Eorl’s grandson (named there as Brego, but following later versions this would be Aldor). This invasion would have been about four hundred years before Éowyn’s time.