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Masculinity used to be a political question in the times of early modern England. Such expressions as ”courage-masculine” and ”manly virtue” had some peculiar meanings and showed the duty and responsibility to the ideals and values of aggressive Protestantism. Diplomatics, compromise and other ways to settle the conflicts considered to be feminine. William Shakespeare had his own opinion about the militant-Protestant warship of brave masculinity and his view was quite skeptical. Presenting series of various portraits of the menacingly charismatic soldier-hero, Shakespeare made a turn to an unusual kind of leader at the later part of his career of a writer. If the protagonists of the warlike tragedies call up a Herculean model and prototype of manliness, The Tempest draws a portrait of a ruler who uses the arts of culture and civilization in order to return peace to a divided world. The new masculine characters are really developed and not similar to each other in many aspects, but there are strong features which stay common for them. There are several Shakespeare’s plays receiving close readings, those include Troilus, Cressida, Macbeth, Coriolanus and the plays I am going to investigate in the essay: Henry V, Hamlet and Othello.
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Masculinity is expressed by various protagonists in the plays. This trait embraces brave and courageous deeds and actions, fearless and undaunted decisions of characters full of fortitude and strength in different situations. Thus, play “Hamlet” (Shakespeare, Hamlet) reveals courageous character of Hamlet vivid for masculinity traits. The importance lies in the fact that this trait is leading in the decision-making process during the action, the absence of masculinity would change the way characters behaved. The author describes the era when manliness is crucial in people’s lives, it is a kind of a mover. Masculine characters are opposed to less manlike and coward weak features, like Iago in “Othello” and King Claudius in “Hamlet”. This contrasting opposition reveals masculinity of other heroes in a brighter way, allowing the audience to realize an overall characteristics of masculinity. Thus it can be supposed that different sides of masculinity (lofty and low-lying traits) not only shows brave characters but also serves as an educative element via influence on the audience with an aim to outline and form an idea of masculinity and its importance in the life.
Beyond all doubt, Hamlet is masculine as he is ready to revenge for the murder of his father. But he is also hesitant in some way that appears as his inner conflict within the play. “To be, or not to be: that is the question”, says Hamlet (Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, scene 1) deciding whether to take vengeance on the King or not, though Hamlet defeats this fear in his mind and without any hesitation revenges for his father.
The importance of masculinity in “Othello” is also crucial, as this trait forces the hero (Othello) to commit murder of his beloved wife. It is an interesting fact that this feature is characteristic not only of men but also of women in the plays. Thus Desdemona even after being wounded by her husband was near death but said that she wouldn’t reveal the murder, as much she loved her husband. Thus, masculinity is highly important for unwinding of the action and revealing the protagonists’ way of lives, characters making the plays impressive, persuasive, and worthy of admiration real classic masterpieces in the world literature.
Next I would like to compare and contrast in some way three protagonists of the plays: Henry V, Hamlet and Othello.
In spite of the fact that a particular number of scenes also do focus on the other characters, Henry straightforwardly initiates almost all of the important actions in the plot, and he is obviously the work’s hero and protagonist. Another protagonist is Hamlet who has charmed readers and audiences for many years, and the first thing to say about this character is that Hamlet is very enigmatic. Always there is much more about him than all the other heroes of the play can realize. Even the most caring and intelligent readers finish the text with such a feeling that they haven’t learnt all there is to identify about this particular character. Hamlet notices to other characters that there is way more than the eye can meet for him. And same as Henri Hamlet is the one to initiate the dramatic actions of the story. While he talks, Hamlet sounds as if there was something really important he wouldn’t say, probably something that even he himself is not conscious about. Truly the talent to write such monologues and dialogues which can create this effect is one of the writer’s most significant achievements. And Henry is an exceptional figure too; he also possesses not just a degree of intelligence but almost as much of charisma as Hamlet does. Perhaps Henry V’s most noticeable quality is his resolve and firmness: once that he has made a decision to complete a goal, he would use all the resources that are at his disposal in order to see that it is done. He heedfully presents himself as an insurmountable force to which others need actively to choose in what way to react. This strategy may seem morally doubtful on the one hand, but it is a strong masculine feature and really valuable psychological weapon that is used by Henry to suppress his enemies and make them doing that he needs. More and more, Henry acts in such a manner that would be lamentable for a usual citizen but that makes Henri look as an exemplary royalty. As an example, Henry often receives some criticism from the modern readers for rejecting to take amenability for the war with France. Henri even says the French governor that if the French soldiers do not surrender, they will be answerable for the slaughter that he will then start. Othello is as firm as Henri, but Hamlet is absolutely different kind of hero. He is very philosophical and meditative. That is a new type of a male character created by Shakespeare. And it seems to me that Hamlet differs from Othello and Henri much more than any other of these three. He is drawn to puzzling matters or questions that are not able to get an answer with particular certainty. Hamlet becomes totally obsessed with the idea to prove his relative’s fault before starting acting. He is also disturbed by questions about what happens to people after death, about the sense of suicide, about what bodies become after the soul leaves them, etc. But even in spite of the fact that Hamlet is full of thoughts to the degree of obsession, he still behaves impulsively. When the protagonist acts, he does it with unexpected and sudden speed and very little or simply no forethought (when he kills Polonius through the curtain with his sword without taking a short look who was there. It seems important to me, that Hamlet is very melancholy and dissatisfied with many things in his life, such as state of Denmark and the situation in Hamlet’s own family.
Coming back to Henri V, one more outstanding quality that he has is his freedom with language usage. Henry’s rhetorical skill seems a very powerful weapon, the force of which is almost the same as his army’s power. With his speech, Henry can inspire his followers, terrorize his opponents, and persuade almost any person who listens to him. With Henry’s words, William Shakespeare establishes rhetoric which is, just like Henry, at the same time openly frank and very experienced and sophisticated. Othello is of course also able to captivate others with his conversation. The duke’s reply to Othello’s speech about how he was seeking marriage with Desdemona by using his tales of adventure is: ”I think this tale would win my daughter too”. Othello occasionally presents himself as an outsider and foreigner, may be because he realizes his exotic attractiveness or because he is defensive about his distinction from other citizens of the city. For instance, in spite of his evident oratory in Act I, scene iii, he does still protest: “Rude am I in my speech, / And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace” (Shakespeare , Othello 24). Although Othello never behaves as a rude person and never speaks like that, he still allows his elocution to decrease because he gets more and more under the influence of Iago’s intrigues. Before the final part of the play, Othello recovers his presence of mind and then captivates both the characters and audience with his strong speech. And I have already mentioned above that Hamlet is a great speaker too just as other two characters.
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Henry has another very interesting quality for a king: the capability to seem honestly while manipulating the listeners and partners in the conversation. This feature wasn’t respected as others before, as it is a quality of a wise diplomat, not a quality of a warrior though. Shakespeare does not give a direct comment on Henry’s reasons for invading France, but we may see easily from the king’s speeches the weight of his responsibility, so the reader can make a conclusion, that Henry is not moved by the lust for more power or money. Henry simply takes his position in life as a king really seriously, and he has dedicated himself to the fulfilling of those duties of his noble rank. It is seen clearly from Henry’s nationalistic speeches that the author has an intention for the audience to see Henry V as a real national hero, or as a great and estimable king as minimum. So as the king is a hero, he is made such a person by his devotion to his duties that seemed above own private emotions for him. Together with his ability of resolution, the adherence makes Henri the emperor he is; in spite of the fact that it sometimes produces very questionable private settlements, it also helps to mitigate the effect of those decisions in our eyes. The same words may also apply to Othello, as his personal decisions were wrong too – he murdered his own wife – but really his commitment to his principles was much more important for him than his own feelings. As for Hamlet, it looks to me that personal feelings are much more important for him, he is jealous about his mother, misses his father and some of his actions really bring more danger to the country, so I think that duty was less of importance for him in comparison to the other two male characters.
Now I’d like to pay more attention to Othello, who himself is an embodiment of generous, courageous military leader, beloved husband in a combination with blind deep trustfulness and naivety in his attitude to his friends. These main features are truly masculine and in some way he even can be referred as an ideal man. But his foolish trust makes him do absurd things, crying, giving oath of revenge. Trustfulness is a comic element as such character is weird for the reader. The fact that Othello may be looked at as a comic character sometimes makes him different from Hamlet and Henri, who always look serious to the audience. It is surprising that such a strong-willed, courageous Othello can trust and believe as sincere as a child. Behaving sometimes as a child may be really called one of very masculine features of character, as playing games always stays in male souls deeply in heart. There is a saying that Man is a child by his nature.
Open-heartedness and ingenuousness are rare features that in the play lead to tragic consequences – a murder. Othello believes Iago unconditionally and after the fight of Cassio and Rodrigo he clarifies details of a fight from “an honest Iago” (Shakespeare, Othello 45). Othello is confirmed in positive and good-natured character of Iago thus removes Cassio from the post. Every hero in the play believes Iago – this contributes to the comic of the drama – both Desdemona and Cassio are touched by an advice of kind Iago who is sincerely express sympathy to the bad luck of others. Tragic events in the play are developing impetuously, but comic foolishness and trustfulness make contrast with tragic elements creating an authentic picture of human life when any dramatic event is not devoid of comic features and irony. Iago makes Othello jealous and he cannot resist suspicion, he is immersed in his misery but still blindly believes only Iago who masterly shows insulted honesty, and as a friendly advisor, he convinces Othello in unfaithfulness of Desdemona and Othello gives an oath to revenge on the knees. Iago directs behavior of Othello and even makes him faint, convince that his wife is of a frivolous character. Here I want to say that Henri and Hamlet have nothing comic in their characters and stories of lives, especially Hamlet who is a truly tragic in all the situations.
In spite of the fact that Othello is seen as a cultural and national outsider in Venice, his authority as a soldier and leader is notwithstanding very valuable and important to the country, and he is an inalienable part of Venetian society. He is in very needed by the duke and other representatives of the government, as an evidence there is Cassio’s remark that the senate ”sent about three several quests” (Shakespeare, Othello 123) in order to look for Othello. The Venetian senate has enough of confidence about Othello to give him a position of a full war and political commander of Cyprus. This quality may be considered as a classic masculine one and we can make a parallel with Othello here, but talking about Hamlet we definitely see some difference. Hamlet is more of a philosopher and he needs time to make his own decision – either to be or not to be. In my opinion it is prominent that the prince and heir who is aware of Denmark’s problems can think about those only in individual and philosophical terms. He doesn’t spend much time thinking about the dangers of national security or the threatening to its steadiness from inside (in spite of the fact that some of those were helped to be created by his own indiscretion). On the other hand Othello owes such strong masculine qualities as generousity, courage of military leader and strong soldier, being a great husband. But trustfulness and naivety are the two qualities which may put Othello aside from Hamlet and Henri V.
Masculinity plays an important role in Shakespeare’s plays Henry V, Othello and Hamlet. Masculinity is highly important for unwinding of the action, characters making the plays impressive, persuasive, and worthy of admiration. There can be seen an educative element via influence on the audience with an aim to form the modern concept of masculinity. I have noticed that all three characterized protagonists own great rhetoric talents, are very developed, have a deep sense of honor and duty. Some of personal traits may differ, such as open-heartedness, ingenuousness, decisiveness, philosophical understanding of the world. That creates a new type of masculine heroes, who are not as flat as some of their predecessors. They are really developed and granted with deep inside worlds by the talent of a great English dramatist.
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