The fate of the heroes in Shakespeare's plays is connected with the fate of the state in complex and varied ways. To understand the historical conceptions of Shakespeare we must bear in mind that the unity of past and present is specific in every play, and that psychological, political and social conflicts depicted by Shakespeare are typical of many epochs. Their solution is never presented as final, the harmony is never stable and at the end of the play we can often see the beginnings of new conflicts in a new situation.
The critics that define Shakespeare's views in a simple way, as for instance "rebellion is harmful for the state" or "the deposition of the lawful ruler is calamity" cannot explain the historical dialectics of Shakespeare. Similar events receive opposite judgement in different situations.
The world outlook of his leading personages reflects contradictory philosophical, moral and political principles. The development of dramatic conflicts must show which of those individual views are erroneous and which appear to be true to life as this life is depicted in the play. A hero defeated in political struggle can be noble and ethically right in his behaviour.
The trilogy "King Henry VI" is treated here as originally written by Shakespeare, his design being to show the picture of internal deseases of the state. The fate of "the good duke Humphrey" reflects the lives of several historical persons and also some traits of the political trials in Elizabethan England. The Cade rebellion scenes prove Shakespeare's close acquaintance with the historical description of revolts in the past and in the 90-ties of the XVIth century.
"Richard III" is a tragedy of the nature and causes of tyranny in the state. Shakespeare does not favour the view of many historians that tyranny is the inevitable outcome of civil wars. The deviations from his sources must emphasize the moral responsibility of personality for the fate of the state. Shakespeare never justifies tyranny as a kind of political necessity, never gives a picture of moral degradation in a tyrannical state but on the contrary shows that this form of government is unstable. "Richard III" is deeply motivated as Shakespeare's reflection on the tyrannical trends in the government of queen Elizabeth and William Cecil.
"The life and death of King John" reveals the leading forces in history and the complex relations between law and violence, right and might, commodity and humanity. The attitude is both ethical and historical. The violation of law was inevitable in the past as in the present because it is brought on by the clash of national, social and private interests.
The commonplace opinion that "Richard II" warps of the dangers of the unlawful seizure of power is rejected by the author of the present study. The king whether lawful or not is inevitably deposed if his politics brings him into conflict with every social group in the state.
The fate of the ruler depends not so much on his lawful rights as on his politics: the king, as a wise gardener must help the fruit-bearing branches and suppress the weeds, he must curb the proud, ambitious and wealthy barons. One of Shakespeare's sources for the garden scene is shown to be the speech of John Ball as it is given by Holinshed and Stow.
In "King Henry IV" Shakespeare underlines the dependence of rulers on the "necessities" of state politics. It is impossible to preserve those ethically "ideal" virtues favoured by the authors of many political treatises on "ideal king". "King Henry V" contains Shakespeare's polemics with some maxims of Thomas Elyot's "Governour" and also Shakespeare's comments on some urgent problems of Anglo-Irish relations in 1599.
The so-called Falstaffiada gives a comical picture of the seamy side of life in Elizabethan England. In some essays of the XXth century Falstaff is presented as an embodiment of Renaissance freedom and of humanity trampled upon by inhuman politicians. This is one of the many ways to subjective modernization of Shakespeare's heroes.
The rejection of Falstaff by King Henry becomes a painful necessity both political and ethical — the hedonism must be given up as a mode of life. However when Falstaff is engaged in debates with the Chief Justice or prince John of Lancaster he is victorious over these strict champions of law and order.
"Julius Caesar" is often conceived as a tragedy in which Shakespeare shows the historical necessity of caesarism and the error of a noble idealist. On the contrary the present study is an attempt to prove that "Julius Caesar" reflects the crisis in Shakespeare's political outlook. The danger of tyranny is hidden in the absolute power of one man and this danger must be "killed in the shell". However the political form of government is not the ultimate cause of evil — the evil powers embodied in "Caesar's spirit" are still mysterious and they are stronger than the ideals of Brutus and Cassius.
Shakespeare adds to Caesar's words "Et tu Brute" the important phrase "Then fall, Caesar". The addition does not express merely Caesar's grief at the "ingratitude" of his friend. It is also a kind of self-accusation: Brutus is for all men famous as an embodiment of justice and humanity and if he has given his sentence on Caesar — Caesar must die.
In "King Henry VIII" men of different views become victims of the wilful despot. Henry VIII is never called a tyrant, he seems to be an able and cunning ruler who can comply with the needs of the commoners, change his policy as it is necessary for the state and justify any cruel act by the pliable arguments of state necessity, faith, conscience, and care for his people's welfare.
The theme "personality and state" receives the most deep and dialectic treatment in "Coriolanus". This tragedy is the highest achievement in the genre of historical drama of the age. Coriolanus cannot be false to his nature. His "defect of judgement" lies in his deep conviction that his virtues are absolute, independent of time and society. Coriolanus could not grasp the changes in society, he could neither change his views nor become "a timepleaser" flattering those whom he hated. This isolation leads him to the most heinous crime — a state treason.
Thus the fate of the hero in Shakespeare's historical plays depends on his relations with the conditions of the time which are defined as the social struggle and the corresponding political, moral and psychological conflicts. To be victorious statesmen and rulers must understand the leading forces in these conflicts and see "the revolutions of the time". If a hero fails doing it he is doomed to perish. However, Shakespeare does not depict his heroes as victims of the mysterious outward forces and laws. The hero even when he is dying is able to save those heroical virtues that help him "to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune".
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