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Connecting William Shakespeare's Plays with Real Life

Updated on August 27, 2012

Shakespeare - Plays into Reality

Shakespeare used his plays to answer the ever changing question: How goes the world now? His plays are so widely read because they always have and always will reflect on the ways people interact with one another. Shakespeare created characters that are relatable to people in different ways. He didn’t want to create characters with problems that nobody cared about. He wanted to create characters that everyone would care about, and audiences of Shakespeare’s plays still do today. In my essay I hope to show how Shakespeare’s characters have a human essence in them that rings true for audiences today just as much as they did for audiences in the past.

Teaching how to Love

Shakespeare wanted to teach us how to love in a time when love wasn’t between a man and a woman, but a man dominating a woman and the woman submitting. True love isn’t one dominating over another. Love is shared equally among the two people; Shakespeare recognized this and wanted to convey this in his characters. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare gives us two young lovers who give up everything -- including their lives -- for one another. Romeo gives us an insight into what he feels about love: “Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs; / Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes; / being vexed, a sea nourished with loving tears, / What is it else? A madness most discreet...” (Romeo & Juliet I.i.189-93). Shakespeare created Paris as the antithesis to Romeo and his love for Juliet. Paris didn’t love Juliet but lusted after her, similarly to how Angelo lusted after Isabella in Measure for Measure. In Othello, we have another set of true lovers with Desdemona and Othello. However, Shakespeare shows us how true love can end very horribly when jealousy and lies are afoot. In the absence of trust, Othello and Desdemona’s love falls apart tragically. Othello addresses this in his final speech, “Then must you speak / Of one that loved not wisely, but too well; / ...Like the base Judean, threw a pearl away / Richer than all his tribe” (Othello V.ii.342-48). Othello admits he did the wrong thing by murdering his wife before he knew what was truly happening. This was a true love, gone wrong. He then kills himself, not to be with Desdemona, but because knowing he wrongly murdered his true love would be too painful to bear for the rest of his life.

Teaching how to Laugh

Shakespeare also wanted to teach us how to laugh and have a good time in spite of the troubles we may have. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare constantly mocks his own art form, theater. When Nick Bottom and the other laborers are attempting to put on a play of Pyramus and Thisby, they run into a lot of very comical problems. When Quince is announcing the name of the play they will be performing, he misspeaks and says it is “The most lamentable com- / edy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby” (Midsummer Night’s I.ii.11-12). This is comical because most plays are either entitled a comedy or a tragedy, not both at the same time. It is also ironic because many of Shakespeare’s plays are both tragedies with comedic parts or comedies with tragic parts. When Bottom is describing how he will play the Lion, he recognizes the ladies might become frightened of him and says, “I will roar you as gently as any / sucking dove; I will roar you an ‘twere any nightingale.” (Midsummer Night’s I.ii.75-76). Shakespeare loved to poke fun at people in this way. The audience would recognize that Bottom was being sincere, and sometimes the funniest part of a play is when a character is being completely serious in their role as a fool. In Twelfth Night we get a very funny scene of Cesario (secretly Viola) telling Olivia just how what he would do if he loved her in the very famous “willow cabin” speech:

Make me a willow cabin at your gate

And call upon my soul within the house;

Write loyal cantons of contemned love

And sing them loud even in the dead of night (Twelfth Night II.i.257-60)

Cesario continues on to say that the hills will reverberate her name from his calling out for her. He finishes by saying that she should pity him. This would be funny to the audience because Cesario is a woman telling this to another woman whom he / she doesn’t really love at all. The speech is also completely over-the-top. Not only would he be outside of her gate singing sad songs about her, like some incessant meowing cat outside of a window, but he will yell out her name all the time so she can never even sleep, and neither, probably, could the other townsfolk. Shakespeare loved to create ironic situations which the characters wouldn’t recognize are funny situations within the play, but the audience would recognize immediately. That is part of the fun and comedy in Shakespeare’s plays.

Teaching how to be Good People

Finally, Shakespeare wanted to teach us how to be good people. In Macbeth, Shakespeare shows us the great regret and sadness Macbeth goes through as he sinks deeper into wickedness. Macbeth’s wife slips into madness for the evil she has pursued and committed with her husband. In Measure for Measurewe get the character Angelo, who is portrayed as a pretty normal guy, ends up doing some pretty awful things. He attempts to convince Isabella, a nun, to have sex with him in order to save her brother from execution. Angelo ends up being first sentenced to death, but then his sentence is changed to an unwanted marriage (Measure for Measure Act V Scene I). In Othello, we are presented with a presumably good character who turns to evil from the persuasions of, what Othello thought was, a friend. Shakespeare showed us that looks can be deceiving and not to believe everything you hear. Or if you are one to believe what you hear, don’t act hastily with anger or jealousy; it can only lead to horrible deeds.

Shakespeare - The Man

Shakespeare was a great man who wanted to entertain as well as teach his audiences. He is still considered to be one of the greatest writers in the English language. Even though his plays can be boiled down to just people, on-stage, entertaining others, he expertly embedded life lessons and practical advice in the guise of drama, comedy, and tragedy. Shakespeare has taught me, as well as all of his readers and audience members over the past four-hundred years, what the essence of human beings can really look like.

The Best Source for Shakespeare's Plays

The Complete Pelican Shakespeare
The Complete Pelican Shakespeare
The Pelican Shakespeare Anthology


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    • newjerusalem profile image


      7 months ago from India

      “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”

      This is an amazing quote which all shluld follow.

    • Bushra Iqbal profile image

      Anya Ali 

      7 months ago from Rabwah, Pakistan

      Well said!

    • rohanfelix profile image

      Rohan Rinaldo Felix 

      6 years ago from Chennai, India

      A great hub! I've done both my undergraduation and Masters in Literature and have read loads of Shakespeare! Very good points, and written with a lot of thought. Voted up and awesome!

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      6 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Thanks for this, I enjoyed the read. Yes, although WS wrote for his time to entertain above all else, his genius for depicting character through astute and mercurial use of language sets him apart as the master of his craft. Opening windows into the human soul may not have been his immediate aim but goodness me no one does it better.

      Votes and a share.


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