Perspectives on Politics in Shakespeare
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So what might be attracting attention to this generally neglected tragedy? The critic William Hazlitt declared two centuries ago:. Hazlitt, Essentially the bitter conflict dramatized between the people and the aristocracy in Coriolanus. The opening scene confronts us with mutinous hungry citizens mobilising against the Roman authorities. The angry citizens accuse the elite of profiting from war, and denying them bread. While an old patrician Menenius seeks to disarm them with a fable of Rome as one body.
Into this confrontation, strides the uncompromising aristocratic military hero Caius Martius, later Coriolanus. He accuses the people of being cowardly worthless scum and fickle in their loyalty to their betters. We waver, they waver. As the tragedy unfolds we see Coriolanus as the embodiment of military honour judging and acting solely according to military values:.
Shakespeare v. The BNP | SpringerLink
For Coriolanus, having accused the people of being fickle, proves to be a more fickle citizen in his betrayal of Rome. Both Brutus and Antony make difficult choices in the play which show the audience their character and morals. The political conflict in Julius Caesar portrays political decisions as being more complicated than a choice between a correct and incorrect option.
Shakespeare uses this to help his audience understand that political leaders make choices that they believe are the best, because there is never a clear right or wrong choice.
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This idea is first presented subtly when Julius Caesar is urged to become the sole leader of Rome. There are two possibilities: Caesar becomes king or he does not.
Neither possibility has definite, known outcomes. This makes it impossible to know which choice will ensure the best future for Rome.
Shakespeare uses this uncertainty to model the complexity of political decisions and demonstrate how politicians judge based on what they believe is best because they cannot know the results of their actions until after they have been made. This is further proven by the state of the Roman Empire at the end of Julius Caesar. In the end of the play, neither the conspirators nor Antony and Caesar witness the results they expected. The conspirators believe that the end of the Roman Republic will hurt the Roman people and the Roman government.
None of the expectations put forth in the beginning of the play are truly fulfilled. The final outcome exemplifies how fragile and unpredictable politics are. Antony and the conspirators have an idea of what they objectively believe will lead to the most prosperous future for themselves and Rome, and they make their decisions with those ideas, however realistic or fantastic they may be.
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His characters do not face issues with a simply right or wrong option, but complicated issues with several options with varied outcomes that are impossible to effectively anticipate. He shows his audience that the choices a leader makes are strongly impacted by their character. Julius Caesar demonstrates that, even if it is not always obvious, political judgments are rarely made independently of the morals and personal beliefs of the person making the decision. Antony is selfish and has a desire for power.
His character traits correlate with the political choices he makes. His desire for power explains his gravitation toward working alongside powerful leaders, such as Caesar and Octavius. It becomes apparent that he makes political choices that he expects will bring power to himself and his allies because, from his perspective, they are the best choices. It is established that Brutus is loyal and selfless. Brutus is steadfast in his commitment to creating political stability and efficiency in Rome.
His political decisions reflect his tendency to stand by his earlier decisions and beliefs. He is also selfless in his willingness to put himself at risk for the sake of the Roman Republic. He chooses to kill Caesar even though he knows it could lead to his own death because he believes it is the best action to support the Rome and its people. Shakespeare has a lot to say about power and politics in his plays. Folger Director Emerita Gail Kern Paster provides some additional insight into the context of each quote. At a time of night when most of his subjects are asleep, the king is up and busy about his affairs.
He may be relinquishing his power and position, but his griefs and cares remain. King Henry is in disguise when he speaks these words. He has reasons for fear just as they do. From his position of power, Angelo is arguing for strict application of the law and harsh punishment for lawbreakers. He pays the price for his boldness when King Lear banishes him on pain of death.