I just wanted to stress the fact that Shakespeare's plays were blamed for "mingling kings and clowns" by Sir Philip Sidney in his Defence of Poesie. The failure to observe decorum was already too much for some of the most influential poets of his time.
So, I don't think Shakespeare's circumstances were comparable to Wordsworth's two centuries later, especially as The Augustan age that preceded Wordsworth's epoch had already endeavoured to give precedence to "the plight of the less fortunate, like the poor, slaves and women..." (cf. Wordsworth enotes).The proponents of Sensibility were charged with sentimentality by Wordsworth but still, their work had preceded his.
Even though "noblemen were central" to his theatre and not rustic clowns, (as opposed to Wordsworth, an argument put forward by enotes), Shakespeare did take an interest in the life of the poor, and did so not simply with a view to using them as foils to noblemen.
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I would agree that the purposes of each were quite different. Shakespeare was an entertainer, and he entertained people of his time with what had proved successful. Give the people what they want, right? It is fiction. I would say it serves a dramatic purpose too.
Shakespeare's treatment of rural folk is often comic; Wordsworth's treatment of such folk is more likely to be sympathetic. Shakespeare's rural folk often appear in comedies and so are perfectly appropriate there; Wordsworth's rural folk often appear in meditative, reflective poems and so are perfectly appropriate there. In general, there were many more sympathetic treatments of the rural poor in Romantic literature than in the literature of the English Renaissance.
I strongly support the answers posted above. Shakespeare's text, and characters, were meant to entertain. It would be very hard to compare his work with that of a writer whose intent was not to entertain.
I think there is scope to argue that there is a similarity here. What is interesting about both Shakespeare's use of the fool and Wordsworth's inclusion of simple-minded country folk is the way that both sets of characters are used to speak a truth that supposedly more sophisticated characters are blind to. Both sets of characters should make us severely question our notion of what a fool is.
Of the two Wordsworth poems that come readily to my mind, I'd say their handling of rustics is more contrastive than otherwise. Consider, for instance, The Ruined Cottage. The heroine is a very simple-minded rustic, yet Wordsworth treats her with the greatest respect and delicacy as he draws a subtle characterization of a deeply sensible (though unschooled) woman, indeed a woman who profoundly touches the narrator's life. This approach is perfectly in keeping with and reflective of his statements in the Preface (it is ironically also perfectly in keeping with Coleridge's reproach that it takes a poets inspired mind to make rustics appear inspiring).
The word "clown" is found in some of Shakespeare's plays, like The Winter's Tale for example. It represents a mingling of the Shakespearean rustic with one of the stock characters of the Italian comedy. Otherwise, the origin of the word is most uncertain. It may be akin to an Icelandic or a Swedish word and mean "rustic, boor, peasant." To a certain extent, "rustic clown" is a pleonasm which insits on the dual quality of this type of characters in Shakespeare's plays.
The satiric intention that lies behind the creation of "Clown" is, of course, not present in Wordsworth's poetry. Still, there's a tone or an authentic emotion linked to this type of characters at the end of the Winter's Tale that may be analogous to Wordsworth's poems two centuries later.
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