There are many themes through Shakespeare’s plays, As You Like It, Merchant of Venice, and All’s Well that Ends Well. such as love, pride, irony, and marriage. All three plays are comedies because essentially the love that so alludes the protagonists in the beginning of the play somehow unites them toward the end of the play through either mis-identity, in the case of Roselind and Orlando in As You Like It or Helena and Bertram in All’s Well that Ends Well, albeit the latter’s love is a forced loved by the King (whom Helena’s physician father heals of fistula), as Bertram writes to Helena while he’s at war, “When thou canst get the ring upon my finger, which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband” (Shakespeare III. i. 55-58). The purpose of this essay paper will be to explore these issues of love as they apply to the main characters and come to a revelation on the love between them and the progress of its destruction or affirmation through Shakespeare’s device of mis-identity – thus, identity and love will play a dual role in this essay along with high authorities such as royalty or fate. As You Like It As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s comedies.
The focus of the play revolves around the theme of love and identity – either the changing of the main character’s identities or their dramatic use of mis-identity to other main characters. The main protagonists, Rosalind and Orlando, fall in love, but due to circumstance (such as their identities and their fates as destined by higher authorities) are unable to unite until the end of the play. The play begins with Rosalind’s banishment into the forest of Arden (along with her friend Celia and a clown) and with Orlando’s own fleeing of his brother’s plot to murder him.
Thus, the beginning of the play is in direct opposition to the close of the play: the beginning of the play is about banishment and betrayal and the end of the play is about unification through love; thus it is the theme of love that unites each of these three Shakespearean plays. To the characters in As You Like It, the most important, and powerful thing in life is love and through love the reader comes to understand the concept of fate. It is the power of love that drives Rosalind to dress up as a man in order to escape being detected as herself from royalty.
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While she is ‘Ganymede’ (a man) she approaches Orlando and has him practice wooing Rosalind with ‘him’, thus staying true to Shakespeare’s idea of mixing comedy with love and in the process revealing certain truths about the characters (such as their feelings for one another and their destiny with each other). Thus, the beginning of the main lover’s courtship is done through this misappropriation of identity by way of a royal idea of what love should be countered with Shakespeare’s idea of what love is as seen with the mounting feelings his protagonists have with each other.
It seems that the message that Shakespeare is trying to convey with these two characters is that love flourishes under the most drastic of circumstances: Two lovers fleeing or banished from home and yet through disguise are still able to find true love. As Jacques states in As You Like It, All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. (Shakespeare II. vii. 39-143). This passage’s intended meaning emphasizes love (although Shakespeare does poke fun at the intention of the play with this passage as well as Rosalind’s final speech or epilogue which requests the audience to enjoy the play at their disposal but not more than warrants undo attention). The end of the play sees Hyman the god of marriage (another pun in the play, making reference to virginity) unite Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia, Silvius and Phebe and even Touchstone and Audrey.
Thus, while the beginning of the play has a start in banishment and gloom, the final act of the play is exalted in love, and in finding love, each character reveals their true identity thus suggesting to the reader that love can only come if a person is honest with themselves about who they are. Merchant of Venice The hero’s evil that is confronted in The Merchant of Venice, is that of Antonio’s (hero) to Shylock’s (the villain). This play is one of Shakespeare’s problem plays.
The plot synopsis is that a young man, Bassanio wants to woe Portia but is unable to due so because of lack of funds (Hankey 431). He asks his friend Antonio for the money, and in turn, Antonio asks Shylock for a loan. The prejudice of the play is found in Antonio having spat on Shylock and called him a Jew; thus the tension for the play is set between the loan and these two principle characters. It is through Antonio’s own actions, as one can pull from the text, that his relationship with Shylock is doomed.
The tension of the play is further doomed as Shylock’s daughter Jessica runs away to convert to Christianity in order to marry her lover Lorenzo; thus Shylock’s vengeance is twofold – one for getting his money back and the other for seeking vengeance from religion. Although the finer points of the play are dealing with vengeance and the scenes between Shylock and Antonio are very suspenseful, the point of the play is that love prevails despite the urgency of an opposing powerful force (thus keeping this play linked with the opposing royalty force as seen in As You Like It).
Bassanio chooses the correct lead box in order to marry Portia according to her father’s will and thus, the point of the play where the suitor is involved is resolved. However, Bassanio still is entangled with the tension between Antonio and Shylock since it was for Bassanio that Antonio loaned money from Shylock. It is Antonio’s haste in agreeing to such a deal that the play is focused upon. This play is filled with smaller plot elements that add to the definition of this being a problem play.
The turns which the play makes during the progression of the plot makes the play point towards being a tragedy, it is not until the end of the play that the theme of love can truly be applied: With Bassanio’s engagement and Antonio’s getting out of his deal with Shylock. Portia (in disguise as a man) asks Shylock to show mercy in her famous speech, “The quality of mercy is not strained—(Shakespeare IV,i,185), this plea comes to no avail however and Shylock is determined to extract his pound of flesh.
In the end love reigns: as the court decides that since Shylock is unable to extract the flesh without shedding any blood, he must forfeit his property half to the government and half to Antonio. In a gesture of fairness, Antonio will have the principle amount given to Jessica and Lorenzo – thus, the theme of love wins at the end for Bassanio gets Portia and Jessica marries Lorenzo and Shylock. Thus, when Shylock’s daughter comes forward with her true feelings and her love, she gains power.
Thus, the link between love and power and the revelation of love through true identity is found. Indeed the theme of love is found in plenty in The Merchant of Venice with the correlating couples. In a particularly romantic scene Lorenzo speaks of Jessica (Skylock’s daughter), Beshrew me but I love her heartily; For she is wise, if I can judge of her, And fair she is, if that mine eyes be true, And true she is, as she hath proved herself, And therefore, like herself, wise, fair and true, Shall she be placed in my constant soul. Shakespeare II, vi, 51-57.
It is found in this play that Shylock is a naysayer when it comes to the subject of love; it would be prudent then to state that because of Shylock’s predisposition on the theme of love, his negative attitude about it, as revealed in the court case in the presence of the play’s caste of characters, "Some men there are love not a gaping pig, some that are mad if they behold a cat, and others when the bagpipe sings i' the nose cannot contain their urine. " (Shakespeare IIII, i, 47-50) that the end that Shylock meets with (having to convert to Christianity and losing his property) is in direct relation to his sentiments about love.
The issue that Shakespeare presents them with the financial and religious demise of Shylock is that love conquers all. All’s Well that Ends Well The them of All’s Well that Ends Well is one that is definitely defined as love, albeit, a rather dishonest start to love. Bertram is made to marry Helena after her father cured the kind of an illness. Although Helena is very much in love with Bertram, as she reveals, “'T were all one, That I should love a bright particular star, And think to wed it, he is so above me. ” (Shakespeare 1. 1. 98).
Bertram seeks refuge in war and tells Helena that the marriage isn’t truly a marriage since they have not slept together and thus do not have any hopes of having children. Helena seeks to remedy this situation. This play, (as with the previous plays written about in this paper) exudes the cleverness of women dressing up as men in order to gain access to information or dressing up as women (as Helena does, dressing up as her maid Diana) in order to have power and information. Thus, Bertram is seduced by Helena/ Diana and made a proper husband of by his wife; in fact the play ends on Bertram’s lines, "…love her dearly, ever, ever dearly. (Shakespeare V. iii. 354) which are made in reference to Helena. This romantic view is littered throughout modern art – such as movies and music. The concepts to most adults of “adolescent suicide is horrifying and a little unreal”. (Hodgdon 342) To the eyes of fellow young lovers, this tale could be seen as the very definition of modern teen angst.
There are obvious examples throughout the play as to why this label had been given, and remains used to this day. One way that a play may be seen as a tragedy, as Nevo wrote, is “by way of intrusive morality in the interpretation of the spectator”. Nevo 244) This means that, while the audience watches the play, it uses its own ideals of law, order, and society to judge the actions of its characters. The actions of Romeo are seen by the audience as falling against the contemporary ideals of right and wrong. Romeo is a character who longed for a chaste girl, accepted an invitation to a party under false pretences, allowed for his love of Rosaline to be completely forgotten at the sight of Juliet, and who, in a moment of extreme rage and wanton revenge, slays the cousin of his new bride (this rage is also seen in Othello’s character when he believes Desdemona is cheating on him).
Thus, love reigns at the end of this play as well as it had in the end of As You Like It. Conclusion The themes of the plays have been made obvious: Love. Through the use of disguises, the women of the play are able to help themselves into positions of power through the gaining of information that would not be known to them without the ruse (as with Jessica disguising herself in order to persuade her father, Roselind in order for Orlando to woe her, and Helena in order to gain access to Bertram’s bed) (Kimbrough 30).
The plays end, each in their own accord, on scenes of love and rejoicing for the characters who have found love (this means that since Shylock did not find love, he could not rejoice). Thus, love is the element of consistency in each play, and it is with love that the plays are able to progress from one scene to the next until the end of the play finds the main characters happy.
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