enotes | Student

All of the title figures of the great tragedies are remarkable characters, but none of them fits our modern sense of what a "hero" is. Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, and Othello all have deep character flaws. Although the comedies are often resolved when a character discloses a certain piece of information or undergoes a sudden conversion into Christian values, the cavalry does not come over the hill in Shakespeare's plays or arrives too late to make more than a comment about their outcome. In several of the comedies and the problem plays, the active force for good is a female character, Portia in The Merchant of Venice being a prime example of Shakespeare's Christian heroine. In the tragedies, there are good characters but they are ironically powerless to prevent a bad end as, for instance, the loyal Kent of King Lear as he watches his monarch's degradation. It is, however, Hal of the history plays, as he emerges from a wasted youth in Henry IV: Parts 1 and 2 to become Henry V who was probably most admired by Shakespeare. Indeed, the historical Henry V was Shakespeare's ideal English king, his heroism and wisdom put an end to a series of English civil wars, after which the commonwealth was ruled with justice and compassion.

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