How do Shakespeare's plays reflect the cultural, social, and political conditions of the Elizabethan Age ?
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Under the queen, England flourished. The recent civil war had been resolved and England was able to defeat the famous Spanish Armada. Under Elizabeth England emerged as a powerful nation.
Is it any wonder that Shakespeare gave us intelligent and sometimes powerful female characters, especially in his comedies? Think of Portia, beautiful, intelligent, and rich.
It is interesting to note that except for The Merry Wives of Windsor, all his comedies are set outside of England. He might be reflecting things within his own society but had distanced himself from criticism.
His history plays are a warning about the recent past and what happens when the line of succession is in doubt or usurped or in any way interfered with. Minority kings aren't good especially in times of conflict. Civil wars tear families apart and everybody suffers. These are good lessons.
As a great student of human nature, his tragedies explore man's passions and what happens when they are out of control.
In the plays of Shakespeare, there isn't a human condition or human conflict that he doesn't explore using the world that he knew, his own, but what is extraordinary is that he was right.
the cultural mores of the day were reflected in his writing. He wrote in detail about the way that society functioned, in fact, he revealed the flaws in the way that society functioned by developing characters who acted outside the expectations of society. He is famous for creating strong female characters who stood up to social expectations to express themselves and attain their needs(Kate from the Taming of the Shrew). He laughed at the absurdity of love and relationships(Midsummer Night''s Dream), exposed lust and greed(Hamlet) and highlighted the dominance of the human spirit(Twelfth Night). Most importantly, he showed that often, a character's greatest strength is also his or her greatest weakness(Hamlet, or any character, for that matter).
A recurring theme, especially in his comedies, was love and marriage. Shakespeare reflected the culture and society of his day (and how it was changing) through his examination of the ways in which his characters decided or gained permission to marry and the ways in which love affected this choice.
In Shakespeare's day, love was still pretty inconsequential a factor when it came to marriage. For the most part, marriages were still arranged by families as a sort of business deal or, if the families were important enough, a political alliance.
Love was not, generally speaking, the motivating force for marriage in the world around Shakespeare, yet in many of his plays (and most all of his comedies) lovers are attempting to defy parential or societal conventions and make their own decisions about whom they will marry based upon love and not social or political connection. This was a very new idea at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century, and, as such, was a fascinating subject for Shakespeare to examine in his plays.
Some of the examples of this in the plays that jump out are Romeo and Juliet in the play of the same title, Lysander and Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Helena and Bertram in All's Well That Ends Well (in this case, Helena tries to manipulate political connections in order to marry for love), Valentine and Silvia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Othello and Desdemona in Othello, and Bianca and Lucentio in The Taming of the Shrew. The list could go on, but this gives you an idea of how pervasive the theme of marrying for love versus social convention was in Shakespeare's plays.
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