Published: The Critics Group, New York, 1936, Angel Flores, Chairman;
Translated: SONIA VOLOCHOVA with the assistance of Kronman Zena Rautbort and the Editorial Committee;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org, 2000.
The sixteenth century witnessed the flowering of the drama in England. At the end of the century a whole galaxy of brilliant dramatists appeared: Lyly, Kidd, Greene, Marlowe, Heywood, Dekker, and, somewhat later, Ben Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher. Although Shakespeare, like a majestic mountain, overshadows them all, nevertheless each was an independent and significant artistic entity. A similar blossoming of culture, although to a lesser degree, took place in other fields of artistic effort. The gifted Petrarchists, Surrey and Wyatt, were creating a new form of lyric, which reached its height in the sonnets of Shakespeare and the poems of Spenser. There were other poets, as Gascoigne, Puttenham and Sydney, all radically abjuring the medieval tradition. The English novel–the chivalric and pastoral romance, the picaresque, and the realistic novel of manners (Lyly, Greene, Nash, Deloney)–evidenced like progress. Although less brilliant than the Spanish novel of the same era, it was almost as colorful and interesting.
English singers and musicians of the sixteenth century were famous throughout Europe. While in the realm of the pictorial and plastic arts, there was only one outstanding English genius, the renowned architect and theatrical designer Inigo Jones, nevertheless, England attracted to her shores many great masters–Holbein, for instance.
A new secular learning and a new philosophy, supplanted the old scholasticism. At the beginning of the century, Erasmus settled in England, where he spent several years; in 1510 he was teaching Greek at Cambridge.
At this time England produced her great humanist, a friend of Erasmus, and one of the forerunners of socialism, Sir Thomas More (1478-1536), author of Utopia. When Henry VIII decreed that all schools in England include Latin in their curricula, a flood of translations was released, not only of the ancient poets, but of philosophers, scholars and historians as well. (Cicero, Herodotus, Suetonius, Pliny.)
Education was primarily confined to aristocratic and court circles. Most Elizabethan statesmen possessed culture, and were men of high attainment. The pursuit of knowledge spread likewise among the ladies of the upper classes. The mother of Bacon and the wife of Lord Burghley were excellent Latin scholars. Lady Jane Grey, the unhappy claimant to the English throne after the death of Edward VI (1553), read Plate in the original, and Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603), a pupil of Ascham, knew Latin and Greek in addition to four other languages. She rendered one of the treatises of Plutarch into English and intended to translate Euripides. Nevertheless, judging by the number of mythological references and classical allusions in Shakespeare and in other dramatic writing for the public theatres, with their motley audiences, it must be admitted that quite a large section of London's population possessed some degree of culture.
This scientific-philosophic movement reached its apex at the end of the century with the appearance of the philosophical system of Bacon (1561-1626) whom Marx called the "first creator" of English materialism. 
The sixteenth century was the era of the Renaissance in England. This fruition of art and philosophy in England was analogous to that of other Western European countries. It also resulted from the radical upheaval in all domains of economic and social life–the decline of the old feudal order with its method of production, which was now being replaced by capitalist relations characteristic of the epoch of primary accumulation. This movement, which developed in England later than in the countries of southern Europe, swept over the land. It was colored by specific local conditions, which gave a distinctive character to English culture at the end of the sixteenth century.
The forces which gave rise to a new England influenced every sphere of socio-economic life. The first upheaval, and the greatest, affected agricultural relations. Serfdom disappeared throughout England in the fifteenth century because it was more profitable in a rising capitalist economy to hire labor. With the growth of the wool industry and export markets, sheep-raising increased tremendously and created a heightened demand for pasture land. This resulted in the enclosure system–the forcible seizure of the commons from the peasants by the rich landlords–which developed toward the close of the fifteenth and throughout the sixteenth century. Moreover, with the development of the wool industry as a more profitable source of income, much cultivated land belonging to the landlords became converted into sheep-walks. The great mass of the peasantry found itself with no land to cultivate. Hence, a great supply of free agricultural labor was available, ready to work for a pittance to stave off hunger. This was a fundamental prerequisite for the development of capitalist industry.
Another temporary measure to satisfy land hunger was the sale of church land, confiscated by the state after the advent of the Reformation, about 1535. Most of the land was bought for a trifle by the bourgeoisie, who likewise purchased land from the old feudal lords, land devastated as a result of the feudal Wars of the Roses (1455-1485), graphically described by Shakespeare. Thus, a bond of unity was formed between the old landowners and the new bourgeoisie, since the former began to apply capitalist methods to agriculture. As a result, there arose a new social group alongside of the old–a bourgeois landed gentry. However, in becoming landed noblemen, these former merchants carried over their old ideology into the new agricultural relations. This resulted in the formation of the so called gentry, composed principally of the middle and petty landed nobility, which, by fusing with the old landed nobility, replenished its ranks. This revitalized and ascending class marked the start of that squirarchy which ruled England from the time of Queen Elizabeth to the middle of the nineteenth century. On the other hand, the class of wealthy peasant farmers, the so-called yeomanry–the backbone of old England–degenerated during the sixteenth century. They were dislodged by the new landowners drawn from the bourgeoisie and the nobility, and were forced to accept the status of tenants.
This process went hand in hand with the radical transformation of industry. A new system of manufacturing came into being, characterized not by the concentration of labor power in the workshop, but rather by the monopoly of the products of domestic industry. These products were made by the newly pauperized and dispossessed peasants, who were reduced to the status of wage workers. A prerequisite for the development of capitalist industry was already present. "The expropriation of the agricultural producers, the peasants, their severance from the soil, was the basis of the whole process."  The royal power was utilized to support the new order, whose interests depended upon the political power of the state. Thus, the ruling dynasty, the Tudors, was but the agent of the rising class of the epoch. All the decrees of Elizabeth evidenced a tendency to further the new manufacturing system. Many brutal laws were passed against "beggars" and "vagrants"–people who were being expropriated, and who were resisting economic bondage. During the reign of Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII, 72,000 "thieves" were put to death. A decree was issued, regulating wages and establishing a fixed maximum. Despite this, the new industry had to carry on a bitter struggle against two obstacles–feudalism in the country, and the guild system in the city.
The new manufactures were inaugurated in seaports, or else in parts of the countryside where the old urban system did not run, and where the guilds which were a part of that system had no say. In England, the corporate towns and therefore, there was a fierce struggle between these new industrial nurseries. 
Finally, the intensive development of English trade was of great significance, closely connected as it was with the new naval and colonial policy.
To-day, industrial supremacy implies commercial supremacy. In the period of manufacture properly so-called, on the other hand, it was commercial supremacy which implied industrial supremacy. Hence the preponderant role of the colonial system in those days.
At the beginning of the epoch raw wool was the chief article of export; later, woolen cloth. English merchants gradually freed themselves from foreign middlemen, sold and shipped their own wares, and established their own markets. Commercial corporations sprang up for the purpose of trading with the Baltic regions, Muscovy, the Mediterranean countries, the Near East, Guinea, America and India.
Characteristic of the epoch is the name of the oldest of the commercial companies, "The Merchant Adventurers," which, appearing at the end of the fourteenth century, numbered 3500 by the beginning of the seventeenth. They knew how to trade with the newly discovered lands, how to steal, smuggle and trade in slaves. If enclosure was the first prerequisite of primary accumulation, colonial trading was the second.
There also existed another type of merchant, who engaged in operations on a smaller scale. He traded primarily at home, and had close connections with the industrialists. He was thrifty, and carefully and systematically accumulated penny upon penny–the classic type of penurious accumulator, the Puritan. It was precisely this class that approached its goal with such force and certainty that it later was to take history into its hands and forge the great English revolution of the seventeenth century. Thus, the process developed, smoothly and uniformly, in all three fields. The transformation of agricultural economy and the resulting pauperization of the countryside were closely connected with the development of the new capitalist industry (manufacturing), and commerce (wool, cloth), which were interdependent. As a consequence, the social aspect of England changed completely. An entirely new alignment of class forces came into being, out of which developed new class struggles. Each class contained a number of conflicting groups. At the same time, the two most powerful classes, the landowning gentry and the bourgeoisie, antagonistic by nature, were during this stage of their development, to a certain extent collaborators and at times even allies, because of the specifically English conditions. Attending their growth were the early capitalization of the landowning economy, the Reformation with its confiscation of Church lands, and so forth.
The great feudal wars had destroyed the old feudal nobility, and the new nobles were children of their own age to whom money was the power of all powers. 
Engels developed this thought further:
Originally an oppressed state liable to pay dues to the ruling feudal nobilty, recruited from serfs and villeins of every type, the burghers conquered one position after another in their continuous struggle with the nobility, and finally, in the most highly developed countries, took power in its stead: in France, by directly overthrowing the nobility; in England, by making it more and more bourgeois, and incorporating it as the ornamental head of the bourgeoisie itself. 
In still another passage he characterized England's position on the eve of the great revolution:
The new starting point was a compromise between the rising middle class and the ex-feudal landowners. The latter, though called as now, the aristocracy, had been long since on the way which led them to become what Louis Philippe in France became at a much later period, "the first bourgeois of the Kingdom." Fortunately for England, the old feudal barons had killed one another during the Wars of the Roses. Their successors, though mostly scions of the old families, had been so much out of the direct line of descent that they constituted quite a new body, with habits and tendencies far more bourgeois than feudal. They fully understood the value of money, and at once began to increase their rents by turning hundreds of small farmers out and replacing them by sheep. Henry VIII, while squandering the Church lands, created fresh bourgeois landlords by wholesale; the innumerable confiscation of estates, regranted to absolute or relative upstarts, and continued during the whole of the seventeenth century, had the same result. Consequently, ever since Henry VII, the English "aristocracy," far from counteracting the development of industrial production, had, on the contrary, sought to indirectly profit thereby; and there had always been a section of the great landowners willing, from economical or political reasons, to co-operate with the leading men of the financial and industrial bourgeoisie. 
Foreigners, visiting England in the sixteenth century, were surprised by the unusual sight of castles with no military equipment, no armed guards, gates wide open. This can be readily understood; their owners were not grim feudal lords but bourgeois, or landowners turned bourgeois.
This partial coalescence of the interests of the bourgeoisie and the landowners is excellently illustrated by the history of the Verney family. The founder of the line, the merchant Ralph Verney, became Lord Mayor of London in 1465. After the Battle of Tewkeshury which ended the Wars of the Roses, Edward IV knighted twelve citizens in testimony of gratitude to his supporters; among these, Verney stood first and received a grant of land. Later he purchased new estates and soon became one of the landowning aristocracy. His descendant, Sir Edmund Verney (1590-1642), was a landowner and a brilliant courtier–knight-marshal and standard-bearer to Charles I –who spent his time between his estate and London. In his domain, organized on a sound capitalist footing, he retained, however, many patriarchal customs; he disliked buying flour, meat and hay, preferring instead to exact them according to feudal prerogative. In London he resorted to various schemes to supplement his income. He obtained patents-royal for "garblinge tobacco" (i.e. inspecting it), and for hackneys for hire. In his person were embodied the nobleman, the landowner, the bourgeois merchant, and the trader.
Nevertheless, the words of Marx concerning the extinction of the old feudal aristocracy and the change to capitalist technique on the part of its successors, must not be taken too literally. The economically backward regions of the West and North of England still held many feudal lords, hostile to the new economy and political life, and antagonistic to the spirit of the times. The impetuous Mortimers and Glendowers depicted in Shakespeare's Henry IV had not disappeared by the time of Queen Elizabeth. Enjoying superficial honors, boasting numerous privileges, and securing high posts when they took residence in London, they lived nevertheless under the watchful supervision of the central authorities and represented, not a living cultural force, but an outwardly impressive though impotent fragment of the past. The antagonism between them and the new capitalist-landowning nobility frequently broke out with great violence. Especially strong was the antipathy towards the gentry, who filled Parliament, controlled all local government in the counties, and acted in close alliance with the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie.
Similar divisions were to be observed in other classes. Antagonism also existed between the old corporation guild members and those who had begun to work under new capitalist methods; and between the poor tenants and the farmers who thrived under the new regime. Hence, the numerous coalitions among the various strata of different classes, which figured so importantly during the bourgeois revolution. Yet, with all these contradictions, the leading role of the two powerful classes, the bourgeoisie and the gentry, appears clearly, and in the twofold process which explains the collaboration between the landed nobility and the new bourgeoisie, it was the latter which predominated and survived.
It is to this arrangement of class forces and the general character of their development that we owe the monarchical form of rule of the political system of that epoch. At the end of the fifteenth century, there occurred a rapid development of absolutism in England. As everywhere else, this system, brought about by bourgeois development, was a class monarchy serving the interests of the middle and petty nobility, in England the gentry, under the conditions of new capitalist relations. This form of political rule was acceptable to the bourgeoisie insofar as it combatted the great feudal lords, who were oppressing them. However, in view of the specific situation in England, that is to say, the intensive reorganization of great sections of the landed nobility and their unification with the bourgeoisie in its early period (almost to the end of the sixteenth century), absolutism had a much more democratic and progressive character than in other countries. Hence, the profound attachment of the bourgeoisie for the monarch, an attachment which continued almost to the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
During the Wars of the Roses, the House of York, which depended upon the industrially and economically progressive eastern counties, was victorious, while the House of Lancaster was supported by the barons of the backward western and northern regions. Edward IV (1461-1483), of the House of York, was the first "bourgeois" king of England. He was the patron and friend of merchants, and his mistress was an untitled London lady. During his reign, the mercantile system in the economic field and absolutism in the political arena first made their appearance. Edward IV ruled almost without Parliament. When the House of York became extinct it was succeeded by the Tudors, who continued the same policy, now to an even greater degree dictated by the growth of the productive form of the country. Henry VII (1485-1509), aided by an especially created bureaucracy and the notorious Star Chamber, ruled with no regard whatsoever for Parliament. Henry VIII (l509-1517) went even further. His main achievements were the instituting of the Reformation and the confiscation of Church lands. The lower chamber of Parliament, consisting mainly of the gentry with a mixture of the bourgeoisie, gave its complete support to the policy of the king. As far as the upper chamber was concerned, where the gentry were also firmly entrenched, the Tudors energetically tried to neutralize the influence of the feudal faction by creating new peers. The short-lived reaction which set in during the reigns of Edward VI (1547-1553) and Bloody Mary (1553-1558), the latter supported by Spain, was indecisive, having little effect on the economic life of the country.
During the reign of Elizabeth, absolutism reached its climax, but toward the end of her rule it began to disintegrate. During her reign the English merchants established their own trading stations in Hamburg, penetrated the Mediterranean Sea, and opened a northern cell-route to Russia. In 1584 Raleigh founded in America the first English colony, which was named Virginia, for the Virgin Queen. Elizabeth herself was a shareholder in the colonial undertakings of her navigators, one of whom, Drake, she knighted. For a long time she listened attentively to the London merchants. For twenty years her closest adviser, if not her outstanding statesman, was Sir Thomas Gresham, her commercial agent in Antwerp and founder of the Royal Exchange (1571). To meet the needs of the state budget, she contracted no foreign loans, but borrowed money from rich merchants at home. The naval and colonial policy of England was dictated by similar motives. It led to the long war with Spain which terminated with the destruction of the Invincible Armada (1588), brought about the complete emancipation of England, and laid the foundation of her supremacy on the sea.
The bourgeoisie had considerable influence on the court and the government, determining to a certain extent the legislation and general policies of the state. One must not, however, exaggerate the extent of this influence. The court, rather than Parliament, was the directing center of political life. The nobility, among whom were remnants of the old feudal aristocracy, was the predominant class, and side by side with progressive statesmen, leaders of young capitalism, there were a number of unprincipled careerists, adventurers, and favorites of the Queen. Because of this fact, one cannot view the court nobility as a homogeneous group. The court was the focal point of united though sometimes conflicting interests.
In general, however, English absolutism, supported mainly by the middle and petty nobility, served primarily the interests of this nobility, not those of the bourgeoisie. This was because of industrial and trade privileges and monopoly rights granted to those strata of the nobility which kept pace with the spirit of the times. But the system of monopolies, acceptable and necessary in the early development of capitalism for the promotion of industry and trade, had become only a hindrance to that development. By the end of the sixteenth century the bourgeoisie had outgrown this system, which had been abused by Elizabeth during the last decade of her reign, and later by James I (1603-1625) and Charles I (1625-1649), in carrying out their policy of feudal reaction. Thus, beginning with 1597, a series of sharp conflicts arose between the Crown and Parliament, conflicts which demanded the abolition, or at least the limitation, of the monopoly system, conflicts which were the forerunners of the coming bourgeois revolution. It was the end of the idyllic friendship between the new bourgeois nobility, the gentry, and the court nobility.
This conflict was aggravated by the personal traits of Elizabeth. Ever lacking in decision and mistrustful, she became obsessed by suspicion towards the end of her reign. She saw treason everywhere, instituted a system of espionage, and meted out capital punishment unreservedly. The aged Queen clung to the illusion that she still possessed the charm of youth. She ordered all mirrors screened wherever she went in order to avoid the sight of her wrinkled face. She embarked on a series of love affairs with young men. Her last and most ardent love was the young Duke of Essex. In spite of his awkward role of lover to the aged Queen, he was the representative of the old "heroic" tendencies, now outmoded. He supported an aggressive policy against Spain, but his efforts were defeated by the intrigues of Lord Cecil, the Queen's minister. Essex lost favor with the Queen; she publicly insulted him, and when in 1601 he organized an unsuccessful insurrection, he was beheaded.
Toward the year 1590, Puritanism, which was only a religious screen for the class-consciousness of the bourgeoisie in its struggle against feudalism and absolutism, gained ground. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the political program of the Puritans was still moderate, since the leading force of the class was the big bourgeoisie, always ready'to compromise with the aristocracy and the king. This leading group, which called itself Presbyterian, aimed only at the confiscation of the property of the Church of England, and at the abolition of all privileges which hindered bourgeois development. The struggle became more acute around 1610, when the Independents broke away from the Presbyterians. This group demanded the complete liquidation of the church hierarchy, the revocation of all special privileges, and the establishment of a bourgeois-democratic system.
Not until this time, some thirty or forty years prior to the revolution, did the decisive mass of the English bourgeoisie take a resolute stand against the ruling class and the entire system of absolutism. This movement brought forth Milton, the great poet of the English bourgeois revolution, who was born in 1608. Only the very last years of Shakespeare's creative work correspond to this period, for he reached maturity during the epoch of peaceful collaboration of the ruling nobility with the big bourgeoisie under the protection of the then progressive royal power.
Shakespeare was no poet of the court, still less of the bourgeoisie. On the contrary, he had his roots in a young and vigorous aristocracy, before which extended wide horizons, and which still remained the ruling class of a great people. In Shakespeare's tragedies there resounds the roar of the sea; in Corneille's tragedies, only the splashing of the fountains at Versailles.
We are not in complete agreement with this dictum of Mehring's, although it seems to explain the aristocratic elements in Shakespeare's writings. We are well aware of the fact that in the poetry of Shakespeare's time in France, during the sixteenth century, the leading place was occupied by the work of Ronsard and the Pléiade, highly esthetic, hedonistic and exuberant. However, it was devoid of the heroic and the tragic. In England, the Pléiade had its counterparts in the Petrarchist lyrics of Wyatt and Surrey, in Spenser's poems, in Sydney's pastoral novel, Arcadia, and even in the complicated trends of Elizabethan drama typified by Beaumont (1584-1616) and Fletcher (1579-1625).
The work of these two dramatists, who were usually collaborators, had much in common with that of Shakespeare. We find pronounced individualism, exuberance, vivid portrayal of emotions, colorful characterization, and dynamic action. However, along with these, we find qualities foreign to Shakespeare's works, because these dramatists were still trying to bolster up a feudalism that was crumbling under the rising bourgeois tide. Thus, they defended the code of the duel by ridiculing a bourgeoisie that attempted to usurp this noble prerogative.  As opposed to Shakespeare's criticism of monarchy, their eulogy of absolutism in The Maide's Tragedy approaches a worship so devout that it elevates the dissolute monarch of the play to a plane above criticism. This tendency is even more pronounced in Fletcher's tragi-comedy, The Loyal Subject, in which the hero suffers great abuse at the hands of his monarch, who finally restores him to grace. Portrayed as scoundrels throughout the play, they suddenly become regenerate in the last act. In another of his plays, The Bloody Brother, or, Rolio, Duk of Normandy, he advances the theory that true wisdom lies not in open opposition to a despotic monarch, nor in blind obedience to him, but in artful adaptation to the exigencies of the situation.
This reveals to us the undoubted influence which the Spanish dramatists of the period exercised on Fletcher. These dramatists were exponents of Spanish absolutism, which. "while bearing a superficial resemblance to the absolute monarchies of Europe in general, is rather to be placed in a class with the Asiatic form of government." 
Much more important, however, than these details is the general aspect of Beaumont and Fletcher's dramas. They contain an unconcealed epicureanism, devoid of all moral and tragic problems. The aim of their plays was solely to divert and to offer pointed and entertaining impressions. This accounts for the elegant mounting, the skillful handling of plot, the opulence of scenic effects. Character delineation, on the other hand, as well as the forces motivating the actions of their dramatis personae, are relegated to a second place. They strove for the most unusual, the most uncommon, the most pungent. With cynical frankness, Fletcher loved to linger over impotence, incest, sexual perversion. He looked upon the theatre as a place in which to spend a pleasant hour. Disturbing social problems are, therefore, almost completely banished from his work. Nor does it ever contain any genuinely heroic characters. No more than two, or possibly three, of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays can be called tragedies. All the rest are either light and elegantly frivolous comedies, or dramas with a happy ending.
All this is far removed from the heroic art of Shakespeare, strong to the point of vulgarity. There is no question that the roots of his art must be sought, not in the circles of epicurean noblemen, but in the revolutionary ideas and moods of the bourgeoisie.
There existed during this epoch a rather widespread literature, specifically middle-class in its thematic material and its stylistic manner. A whole group of Shakespeare's contemporaries, led by Thomas Heywood (1570-1640) and Thomas Dekker (1572-1632), belong in this category. Folk naturalism, depiction of the plebeian milieu, family life and manners, naive moralizing, are amusingly juxtaposed with intrigue, melodrama, and motifs as sensational as if they had been copied out of a daily chronicle of events-scenes in houses of prostitution, insane asylums, and so forth.
Heywood's historical drama Edward the Fourth is a glorification of merchants and artisans, the real heroes of the play. In Shakespeare's chronicles, the basic theme deals with two great problems–power and the fate of nations. Heywood's plays, on the other hand, attach greater significance to the sentimental questions of family life.
This middle-class naturalism and moralizing is not confined to the plays of the time; it appears also in the novels. The end of the sixteenth century witnessed the development of the naturalistic or autobiographical novel of manners (Greene, Nash), which depicted the life of the outcasts of society and the history of the hero's worldly "transgressions." Or, like the Spanish picaresque novel, it depicted the gradual social ascent of the adventurer of plebeian origin. This provided an opportunity for a series of satirical sketches of typical representatives of every possible class, profession, or social station. That most curious "industrial" trilogy, The Gentle Craft, Jack of Newberry, Thomas of Reading, by Thomas Deloney, the story of a Norwich silk-weaver, presented a most detailed picture of the lives of shoemakers and weavers–a sympathetic account of the transition from guild craftsmanship to manufacturing.
This leads us even farther away from Shakespeare's work than the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher. Shakespeare, a humanist and a man of historic perspective, concentrates on moral, political, and philosophical questions of universal significance; he strives to change the world. In all the other writers previously mentioned we have but the timid aspirations of the middle-classes, submissively accepting the whole existing mode of life, attempting to protect their right to a modest place in the world, a little happiness, and a shred of respect from the privileged aristocratic class. Peaceful in their middle-class morality, they desired only to earn their living through painstaking labor. Taken as a whole, this morality was embryonic Puritanism, as yet far from its revolutionary maturity. These people were completely fettered by their middle-class ideology, from which, as Engels says, the titans of the Renaissance were free.
Ben Jonson (1572-1637) represented a different trend of bourgeois drama. His wide intellectual range, his love of life, his iconoclastic presentation and solution of moral problems place this great artist nearer to Shakespeare. Nevertheless, Ben Jonson, too, was bound by middle-class ideology, though in a lesser degree than those previously mentioned. He was interested in the morality of his class only in relation to current problems. He was too much limited by these current interests and could not rise above them. He was not granted Shakespeare's intellectual and philosophical insight.
A rationalist, slightly pedantic in his reasoning, he was the enemy of all "romanticism," which he angrily ridiculed. He maintained that the artist must depict only the people of every day life, and only those occurrences from which edification can be drawn. His main concern in all his plays was to be rational and plausible, in the popular, naturalistic meaning of the term, and to edify. It can be said that, inasmuch as the Puritans were enemies of the theatre, Ben Jonson was basically, in his point of view, very close to them.
Ben Jonson, like Molière, with whom he had much in common, "endeavors to correct morals through ridicule" in his comedies Every Man in his Humor, and Epicoene, or the Silent Woman. He exhibits scoundrels, eccentrics, and a whole gallery of morally deformed types of every shape and color. In The Alchemist, he exposes one of the abuses of the age, superstition, and the chicanery connected with it. In Bartholomew Fair, he ridicules the noble spendthrift, together with the predatory and hypocritical priest, the prototype of Tartuffe. In the comedy, The Devil is an Ass, he presents an interesting picture of the depravity and degeneracy of the court of James I.
At the same time, Ben Jonson also criticizes the class whose representative he is. His Volpone is a grotesquerie of a cunning old man, who not only makes fools of ail those who dream of inheriting his fortune, but robs them at the same time, until he falls prey to the greed of his assistants.
By thus having confined his thematic material to the realism of daily life, combined with a great deal of malice and even photographic copies of contemporaries, never to be found in Shakespeare, Ben Jonson limited the horizon of his art. This is particularly apparent in the construction of his characters. As in Molière, they are usually dominated by one particular trait, which colors all their feeling and actions. This explains their one-sided and schematic nature. Parody and distortion replace the broad and profound mirroring of reality to be found in Shakespeare. Ben Jonson was a great scholar, a man of enlightenment and erudition, but he was able to mirror only the milieu with which he was familiar, and that only to a limited degree; Shakespeare reflected an immense epoch in full with inspired insight into the future.
There was still another group of bourgeois dramatists, represented by the close forerunners and contemporaries of Shakespeare, with Marlowe at the head. It is to this group that Shakespeare belongs.
Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), the "stormy genius" of the English Renaissance, who died prematurely, reflected in his work the aspirations of the rising English bourgeoisie during the period of its initial strength. His plays expressed all the passion, all the super-abundance of strength, all the utopian daring of thought and will of a newly-born, exultant class, eager to rush into the fray for the conquest of the world.
Marlowe was the first to develop the heroic tragedy, the tragedy of a powerful individual whose passions and grandiose struggles encompass and unite all the action. "To know everything, to possess everything"–this is the motto of Marlowe's heroes. In the preface to his first tragedy, Tamburlaine the Great, he introduces the theme. The shepherd who becomes master solely through will, and faith in his star, is conceived on a high plane. He is a true conquistador of the sixteenth century, avid and drunk with his own strength, ready to conquer the world. Tamburlaine reckons with nothing, not even with the "will of the gods." And at the end of the tragedy he dies unbroken in spirit, with a proud challenge to "fate and death" on his lips. Tamburlaine, however, is not only a man of great ambitions; he is a thinker as well. Hungry for knowledge, he craves to understand "the marvelous construction of the world," to fathom the run of each planet. To the man of the Renaissance, knowledge and power were inseparable.
Such a superman is Dr. Faustus, who sells his soul to tile devil in exchange for mortal happiness, knowledge and power. But he desires this power in order to render his country impregnable, to surround it with an iron wall, to create an unconquerable army, to establish universities. A similar figure, this time in the guise of a villain, is Barabas, in The Jew of Malta. With gold, his one weapon, he fights the entire world. He commits incredible villainies, sacrificing his daughter for the sake of revenging himself on the Christians who had insulted him, and meets his downfall with his pride unbroken, as Tamburlaine and Dr. Faustus. As if in contradistinction to these types, Marlowe, in The Troublesome Raigne and Deathe of Edward the Second, a chronicle play wherein, as in Shakespeare, certain fundamental problems of political power and national destiny are analyzed, portrays a weak character around whom swirl intense passions.
Bourgeois critics consider Marlowe the founder of the romantic drama. This is partly true, insofar as Marlowe's plays are filled with a daring imagination and poetic fantasy, far removed from the naturalism of Heywood or even of Ben Jonson. But it is a special kind of romanticism, a romanticism which Engels, in characterizing the epoch of primary accumulation, described as follows:
It was the knight-errant period of the bourgeoisie; it had, too, its romances and its amorous enthusiasms, but on a bourgeois footing and in the last analysis, with bourgeois aims. 
The basis of Marlowe's romanticism is a vigorous realism. Realistic are his powerful characters, hewn from granite; realistic, the ideological and psychological design of his plays; his language and his poetry. He introduced blank verse into drama, a poetic form far more flexible and expressive than the polished, rhymed metre of the older dramatists. But most realistic is his depiction of the ardent, anarchic, amoral strivings of his epoch. According to Engels:
...A period which loosened all the old ties of society and shattered all inherited conceptions. The world had suddenly become ten times bigger; instead of a quadrant of a hemisphere, the whole globe now lay before the eyes of the West Europeans, who hastened to take possession of the other seven quadrants. And along with the old narrow barriers of their native land, the thousand-year old barriers of mediaeval conventional thought were also broken down. An infinitely wider horizon opened out before both the outward and the inward gaze of man. What mattered the prospects offered by respectability, or the honorable guild privileges inherited through generations, to the young man tempted by the wealth of India, the gold and silver mines of Mexico and Potosi? 
Marlowe was the ideologist of the revolutionary, but as yet only elementally and anarchistically revolutionary, English merchant bourgeoisie of the end of the sixteenth century. A true humanist, he transferred their strivings to a higher plane. He did not use bourgeois themes, he reflected the very essence of the aspirations of this class in pure form, without the commonplace bourgeois wrappings.
It is this that relates Marlowe to Shakespeare. There exists, of course, a fundamental difference between them. Shakespeare, who is an incomparably deeper and more mature humanist, transcends Marlowe's anarchic amoralism. Nevertheless, Shakespeare has his roots in Marlowe. This kinship is corroborated by the enormous influence Marlowe exercised over Shakespeare's early work. Shakespeare borrowed not only the blank verse and certain stylistic details, but also the conception of a "lofty" tragic hero. In a series of early plays, Shakespeare follows in the footsteps of Marlowe; Richard III (1592) and Titus Andronicus  (1593) resemble, in many respects, The Jew of Malta (1589-1590) That Shakespeare borrowed from this play for his conception of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (1596) cannot be doubted, while Richard II (1595) retraces the most essential aspects of Edward II (1592). Even in his later and greatest tragedies, Shakespeare remained indebted to his mentor Marlowe; there is something of Tamburlaine in King Lear (1605) and Macbeth (1605).
We do not, therefore, expect to find any specifically bourgeois content in Shakespeare which is normally absent from the works of the great humanists of the epoch. Marlowe and several other dramatists  of his group exemplify this theory. This is also true of the humanist poets of other countries. The ordinary middle-class thematic material is completely alien to Petrarch, and if we do find some aspects of it in Boccaccio, in The Decameron and partly in the Corbaccio, we must not forget that this is but a small part of his inheritance. An equally significant aspect of his literary output, unjustly neglected in the popular evaluations because of his Decameron, is presented by a number of poetic romances on legendary themes of chivalry. These are realistic in treatment and progressive in ideology. This is also true of the splendid pastorals, Ameto and the Ninfale Fiesolano, so truly revolutionary in content, and Fiammetta, which laid the foundation of the new realistic and psychological novel. Bourgeois themes are not to be found in any of the books, nor in the work of the great painters of the time. Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci carried out revolutionary ideas through aristocratic, mythological, and even religious subject-matter. Middle-class themes would not have adequately expressed their ideas and would have restricted the depth and extent of their efforts.
Shakespeare, too, followed this trend. It was even more natural that he should have done so, because the circumstances attending the historical development of England–the fusion between the nobility and the middle-classes-created conditions extremely favorable to such an art. In discussing the evolution of law, Engels says:
The form in which this happens can, however, vary considerably. It is possible, as happened in England, in harmony with the whole national development, to retain in the main the forms of the old feudal laws while giving them a bourgeois content; in fact, directly giving a bourgeois meaning to the old feudal name. 
Is this not equally applicable to the literary scene? It is impossible, purely on the basis of the aristocratic nature of his characterizations and subject-matter to draw the conclusion that Shakespeare was the ideologist of the new nobility which was fast acquiring bourgeois trappings. On the contrary, Shakespeare was strongly opposed to the attempt on the part of this new nobility to appropriate the fruits of primary accumulation and to monopolize all culture. However, Shakespeare found subject-matter and imagery of a feudal character to be a convenient form for the following reasons: the traditional dramatic plots, the blending of nobility and bourgeoisie, the avoidance of middle-class limitations. Since the substance was completely bourgeois, through contact with the "new" content, the form was materially changed.
Shakespeare is the humanist ideologist of the bourgeoisie of the time, for whom the source material of his plays had no importance, and which, as Engels has pointed out, he did not disdain to borrow even from the Middle Ages. He was concerned only with how he could adapt this material. It does not follow that he denied the living present around him, or that he was but another of that group of "closet humanists" whom Engels characterized as "second or third-rate men, or cautious Philistines who are afraid of burning their fingers (like Erasmus)."  His reactions to the world around him, and to the changes in the political and social currents of his time were strong but complex. They found expression not in impulsive outbursts or obvious allusions to the evils of the times, but in profound internal upheavals and changed evaluations of humanity and of the whole life process.
In view of this, Shakespeare's work, in spite of the internal unity and the correctness of its basic ideology, falls into three periods.
During the first period, until around 1601, there occurred the coalescence of all the foremost forces of the country: upper middle-class, the monarchy, the gentry, and even a part of the landed nobility. This process is reflected by the joyous optimism of Shakespeare s early work, which is filled with a bold and happy affirmation of life, and with obviously aristocratic elements. He has two main themes–the assertion of the new absolutist national state, and of the intoxicating joy of living now available to the individual, at last emancipated from feudal bondage. To the first theme he dedicated the cycle of chronicle plays; to the second, the series of enchanting, gay comedies. But the effects of the disintegration of the class alignment are already apparent in the plays written towards the end of the period, around 1597. The decomposition of the court had set in, the Puritans were becoming more and more aggressive, the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the nobility had already begun. Hence, the tragic treatment of royal power in Julius Caesar (1599), with its confused conclusions, its pessimism; and the gloomy overtones of the earlier Much Ado About Nothing (1598).
During the second period, to 1609–years which marked the decline of Elizabeth's reign and the advent, under James I, of feudal reaction–the process of disintegration was completed. The nobility with the support of the monarchy, was preparing to defend its position against the imminent onslaught of the bourgeoisie and the gentry. Vacillation, evasion, compromise, we'e no longer possible; he who was not afraid to burn his fingers" had to make a choice. Shakespeare made his. He broke through the circle of superficial, aristocratic emotions, discontinued the gay comedies and the idealized depiction of the past, written in celebration of that "glorious" present which was no more. With powerful tragedies, as well as sharply dramatic comedies, he entered the arena as champion of the heroic ideals of bourgeois humanism.
Shakespeare, however, was not destined to retain this position. Reality was against him. The age of humanism was at an end. Narrow, fanatical Puritanism began increasingly to permeate the bourgeoisie and this, in turn, affected Shakespeare. He was forced to choose between the degenerate royalists and the revolutionary, though sanctimonious, Puritan "hagglers." An additional factor entered the situation. By 1610, the London theatre had become very strongly aristocratic in flavor because of the growing royalist patronage and the irreconcilable hatred of the Puritans for the stage. The Beaumont and Fletcher type of play became the vogue. Its popularity rose to such heights that it began to crowd Shakespeare off the stage. Necessity forced the bourgeois dramatists to face the dilemma. Shakespeare, therefore, made a slight compromise. Without betraying either his basic principles, or his social, ethical, and political convictions, he made certain ideological concessions which affected even his style. During this third period (1609-1611) he wrote a series of tragicomedies in the manner of Fletcher. Psychological analysis and definitely motivated action then began to disappear; grim realism gave way to fairy tale and legend. Shakespeare became preoccupied with the complicated, cleverly constructed plots (Cymbeline) demanded by the public. His plays were once more filled with those purely decorative, esthetic elements–masques, pastorals, and fairy scenes–which abound in the plays of his first period, and are completely absent from those of his second. This was the celebrated "reconciliation with life" that Shakespearean scholars delight to discuss, but which actually weakened his genius. Shakespeare could not long endure such self-imposed violation of his artistic integrity. For the last time he gave full voice to his humanist credo in his swan-song, The Tempest. Five years before his death, at the height of his creative power, he stopped writing for the theatre (1611).
Nevertheless, in spite of the critical phases through which he passed, the basic characteristics of Shakespeare's point of view and style–his militant, revolutionary protests against feudal forms, conceptions, and institutions–remained unaffected throughout his life.
What were these characteristics? First of all–a new morality, based, not on the authority of religion or of feudal tradition, but on the free will of man, on the voice of his conscience, on his sense of responsibility towards himself and the world. This called for the emancipation of the feelings and personality of the individual; in particular, this necessited individualism, that most vital and typical characteristic of the Renaissance, which found its fullest expression in Shakespeare. This resulted in a new approach towards social relations, the organization of the state, the nature of authority. To Shakespeare, the highest authority was that of absolute monarchy, but his conception of this was not so much the authority of divine right as the authority of responsibility. The monarch justifies his rank and existence only when he expresses the collective will of the people and realizes their collective welfare.
Secondly–a scientific attitude towards the world, life, and reality, which, rejecting all metaphysical interpretations, demands a causal explanation of all natural, social, and psychological phenomena. The possibilities of such a scientific approach to reality were, to be sure, very limited in Shakespeare's day. Nevertheless, this is the essence and the basis of Shakespeare's creative method.
And, finally–the energy and optimism so characteristic of the Renaissance. Shakespeare did not permit resignation and apathy to enter the soul of man; struggle was to him the whole meaning and content of life–creative struggle for the realization, if not of the highest ideals, at least of the organic desires inherent in his individualistic character. Inactive natures, sunk in abstract dreaming or hedonism, or lacking in a sense of responsibility towards themselves and towards humanity, were destined by Shakespeare either for destruction (Anthony in Richard II), or ridicule (Jaques in As You Like It). This approach is one of the most significant aspects of the new ethical philosophy of humanism as Shakespeare understood it.
Shakespeare's first period included epic and lyric poems as well as plays. Both these genres, so typical of the Renaissance, found fertile soil in England. His poems Venus and Adonis (1593), and Lucrece (1594), though more conventional in style than any of his works, reveal his characteristic manner. Their natural tone and vivid realism stand out in sharp relief and distinguish them from the work of his contemporaries. Let us compare Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis with Ronsard's poem on the same theme; instead of Ronsard's conciliatory, esthetically cold treatment of the dramatic end of Venus' beloved, and her great sorrow, we find in Shakespeare a genuine and ardent passion. Ronsald's poem is a graceful, inanimate picture; Shakespeare's, a dynamic, fervent cry of passion and suffering. Such is the contrast between the humanist poet of the progressive element of the gentry, and Shakespeare, the humanist poet of the bourgeoisie. His treatment of ancient themes closely resembles that of another great humanist poet of the bourgeoisie, the Boccaccio of Ameto and Ninfale Fiesolano. In England, the poem which most nearly approaches Venus and Adonis is Marlowe's Hero and Leander. Shakespeare's sonnets are distinguished also by a profound realism which reveals the sequence of his personal experiences. His poems were well received by his contemporaries. Lyric and epic poetry was the vogue. Hence it was more esteemed and remunerative than the drama. Still, Shakespeare early rejected both these forms for the drama, the most progressive and democratic genre of the epoch, in which he could express himself completely.
The plays of Shakespeare's first period fall into three groups: comedies, chronicles and tragedies. Beginning with the comedies, a division can be made between those we may term "realistic," as to both style and subject, and "romantic," as to subject alone.
The realistic comedies are: The Comedy of Errors (1592), which is an adaptation of Plautus' Menaechmi; The Taming of the Shrew (1593), and The Merry Wives of Windsor (1600).
The romantic comedies are The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1591), Love's Labour's Lost (1595), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1596), The Merchant of Venice (1596), Much Ado About Nothing (1598), As You Like It (1599), and Twelfth Night (1599). Let us analyze this group first; it offers rich and varied material for a comprehension of the growth of Shakespeare's world perspective.
The outstanding characteristics of these plays are usually considered to be the "carefree joy of living" and the "aristocratic" elements of the thematic material. This is partially true, but requires elucidation. The thematic material does not consist entirely of the aristocratic elements–the life of leisure led by the nobility, whose days, to all appearances, were spent in gay pursuits and games of love. These elements Shakespeare uses merely as a visible background, against which he unfolds the new humanist conception of love, and the more pedestrian emotions and attitudes. Beneath the gay, airy play of sensations and events is concealed the serious inner struggle for new ideals.
In as early a play as The Two Gentlemen of Verona are found two moral systems sharply juxtaposed: Proteus, the scapegrace aristocrat, a Don Juan type rooted in feudalism, believes himself entitled to all things and fills his life with empty, fugitive pleasures; on the other hand, Valentine longs to enrich his personality, and conceives of a harmoniously organized society based upon truth, honor and friendship, in which each person's conduct would be founded upon obedience to his own sincere inclinations. His generosity of soul compels any personal sacrifice for his ideal of friendship. His subsequent disillusionment drives him to revolt, ostracizing him from a society not yet ready for his ideals. This comedy is a first attempt, although ineffectual, to affirm the rights of the unclassed individual. The effort failed because of Valentine's confusion and naivete. Shakespeare is still groping his way, feeling for firm ground.
However, in his very neat play, Love's Labour's Lost, he poses one of the cardinal problems of the epoch by combatting the attempt of the aristocracy to appropriate humanism and turn it into a bubble of abstract hedonism. The King of Savarre and a few members of his retinue renounce human society and the love of women to ponder upon abstract philosophy. But a French princess, with her maids-in-waiting, arrives at the court, and all the sober intentions of these anchorites are scattered to the four winds; they fall in love. They continue to play the hypocrite, concealing their real feelings until Biron unmasks himself and his companions, when, in a magnificent monologue (IV, 3), he disclaims abstract philosophy and glorifies the force of love, the fountain-head of all authentic wisdom.
The antithetical character of these two aspects of humanism is manifested not only in the ideology, but also in the style. The conspirators against love express their philosophical vows euphemistically. After his metamorphosis Biron eschews such flourishes, and tells his beloved (V, 2) :
And I will wish thee never more to dance,
Nor never more in Russian habit wait.
0, never will I trust to speeches penn'd,
Nor to the motion of a school-boy's tongue;
Nor never come in visard to my friend;
Nor woo in rhyme, like a blind harper's song:
Taffeta phrases, silken terms precise,
Three pil'd hyperboles, spruce affectation,
Figures pedantical; these summer-flies
Have blown me full of maggot ostentation;
I do forswear them: and I here protest,
By this white glove,–now white the hand, God knows!–
Henceforth my wooing mind shall be express'd
In russet yeas, and honest kersey noes:
In this play, Shakespeare refutes those who accuse him of sympathetically depicting the aristocracy by voicing through Biron, his most positive character, his rejection of the aristocratic manner of life.
There is also the dull and pedantic schoolmaster Holofernes, filled with the same bombast and rhetoric indulged in by the titled and florid aristocrats. In his case the medieval scholastic origin of such bombast and rhetoric is unconcealed.  Here, too, on a lower plane, is encountered a struggle between two styles and two world perspectives : Holofernes suffers a humiliating defeat at the hands of the clown, Costard, who possesses a healthy, realistic intellect.
As You Like It is akin to the foregoing play, in that Shakespeare decries escapism as a philosophy. The old Duke and his retinue live in a half-illusory world until Orlando, healthy, sober, optimistic, leads them back to everyday reality. Most of the scenes are delicate, tranquil pastorals, the peace of which Shakespeare himself quickly dispels by opposing the coarse, natural, healthy desires of Audrey, William, and Touchstone to the euphemistic shepherdess, Phebe. Here again, Touchstone, the clown, a plebeian, is the exponent of common sense.
Shakespeare quickly dispatches Jaques, the melancholy misanthrope, who is the implacable enemy of realism. Some of the critical interpretations of this character are astonishing. Brandes pronounces him to be the embodiment of Shakespeare himself, the mouthpiece of his dearest and most sacred thoughts, and Friche repeated his mistake, though from a different position. But is not Jaques, who, morose and sullen, remains alone in the forest when all the rest exultantly go back to a joyous life of reality, a negative, and at times, even a comical figure? Yet, just as Polonius, he was not deterred from expressing true ideas or from evaluating certain realistic points of view correctly and intelligently, Jaques is introduced to repel the audience, who would thus apprehend the play's basic meaning and direction.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is the apotheosis of a free, self-determined love which transcends tradition, the ancient law of Athens, and paternal authority. Schematically, the play is a masque. Shakespeare does not destroy its form, as in the case of the pastoral in As You Like It, but uses another method. The formal, ancient mythology is supplanted by plebeian superstitions (fairies, the mischievous Puck). Shakespeare instills vital emotion into the tenuous scheme of the affected court masque.
The last two plays in this group deserve special attention.
The Merchant of Venice, although classified as a comedy, ought not, strictly speaking, to be so termed. The element of romantic intrigue plays a secondary role. The chief problem is of a broad, socio-moral nature. Out of two medieval legends Shakespeare created a profound play, in which two worlds are contrasted. One, a world of joy, beauty, and friendship, is represented by Antonio and his friends, Portia, Nerissa and Jessica; the other, a world of rapaciousness, greed, and malice, is represented by Shylock, Tubal, and their servants. In the preceding comedies reconciliation was possible, evil could become good. In The Merchant of Venice, however, this is not so; the war between the two worlds is a war to the death.
The conflict is not racial, as many critics contend, but social. Shylock tells us this in so many words (I, 3):
How like a fawning publican he looks!
I hate him for he is a Christian;
then, immediately after:
But more for that, in low simplicity,
He lends out money qratis, and brings down
The rate of usance here with us in Venice.
In the same vein, he explains the character and causes of Antonio's hatred for Shylock:
He hates our sacred nation; and he rails,
Even there where merchants most do congregate,
On me, my bargains, and my well-won thrift,
Which he calls interest. Cursed be my tribe
If I forgive him!
Thus the racial conflict is immediately superseded by a greater one; the class conflict. But what is the social basis of these two groups? Friche maintains that Antonio's world represents the feudal aristocracy, lavish squanderers who lived for pleasure only. Shylock's world, on the other hand, represents the class which is about to supplant the other,.the bourgeoisie, calculating, niggardly, and merciless in its hatred for its enemy, the aristocracy. Fiche is incorrect. The social structure of the play is more complex, more subtle. Its title, The Merchant of Venice, does not refer to Shylock, as is generally assumed, but to Antonio. Antonio's class position as a practical and wealthy merchant is clearly stated at the beginning of the exposition (I, I), where Antonio's friend Gratiano, addresses him:
You look not well, Signior Antonio;
You have too much respect upon the world:
'They lose it that do buy it with much care.
Antonio immediately denies this. However, since these words are uttered by Gratiano, so intimate a friend of Antonio, we are justified in assuming that they properly reflect Antonio's activities. Nor does it follow that, because Bassanio ruined his business with his wasteful extravagance, he "as an idle, parasitical arisrocrat. The hard-working, efficient merchant who lived on a luxurious scale, spending his profits lavishly and head over heels in debt, was a typical figure of the Renaissance. Unquestionably, Antonio's whole circle, among whom there is not a single nobleman, belong to the patricians of the Venetian merchant-class. It is of no consequence that the business activities of his friends, Lorenzo, Gratiano, Solanio, Salarnio, are not shown.
Shylock does not represent the entire bourgeoisie, but only one of its elements; he is a money-lender. Usury was but one aspect of capital,  and met with moral and legal disapprobation The lawmakers tried to regulate money-lending; the moralists inveighed against it. Even if Shakespeare did not differentiate between the two forms of capital, still, in Shylock, he depicted a representative of the least productive and most rapacious section of the bourgeoisie. In creating Shylock, Shakespeare was attacking the enemies of humanism, the Puritans.
As a perfect example of the wealthy merchant-adventurer, Antonio is brave, enterprising, generous, and keyed to the love of life and esthetic ideals of the Renaissance. He understands Portia's words on mercy (IV, 1), as well as the "touches of sweet harmony" (V, 1), to which Shylock is deaf:
The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted.
This is Jessica's justification for leaving her father for Lorenzo.
Friche claims that Shakespeare senses the inevitable victory of Shylock, the bourgeois, over Antonio, the feudal aristocrat. According to him, only such an assumption can explain Antonio's otherwise incomprehensible "melancholy" and the gloomy tone of the play. But Antonio is not a feudal aristocrat; Shylock does not represent the bourgeoisie as a whole, and the tone of the play is not gloomy but exceptionally bright and joyous. Lest the audience misinterpret his intentions, Shakespeare adds a last act which contributes nothing to the plot, but which glorifies the new, beautiful, and joyous life about to unfold before Shylock's opponents, after Antonio's victory. Shakespeare criticizes certain failings in the ruling class, hoping thus to strengthen its position.
Even more significant is his approach to the race problem, so striking in the profundity of its humanism. The Jewish usurer was a character from the Italian novella, which served as Shakespeare's source for The Merchant of Venice. The racial and religious motivations of the mutual hatred between Antonio and Shylock are replaced by the only true motivation, the social. As if to leave no doubt about his own view on the matter, Shakespeare introduces Shylock's famous monologue (III, l)–as fiery a plea for racial equality as can he found in literature:
...He hath disgraced me and hindered me of half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason?I am a Jew! hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
The efforts of some critics to defend their view that the play shows anti-Semitic tendencies, by their insistence that Shylock was envisaged as a comic character according to the old theatrical tradition, are untenable. In the first place, Shylock is not a simple comic character like the clowns. Like Polonius, his personality is complex. In the second place, even the purely comic characters often express pertinent, profound ideas. The claim that, if the monologue be taken seriously, the unity of Shylock's personality is destroyed, because he causes the audience alternately to hate and to sympathize with him, is likewise untenable. Shakespeare's realistic art and his objectivity spring precisely from such complex figures and evaluations. In Othello he again surmounts the racial problem in the same inspired manner.
In Twelfth Night, the last of the "romantic" comedies, Shakespeare again takes up the theme of love. At the same time, he treats the problem more openly than ever.
Two types of love are graphically contrasted. The play opens with the Duke, Orsino, languishing for the cruel beauty, the Countess Olivia; he seeks consolation in solitude and in melancholy song. He sends a messenger to Olivia, charging him to describe his love for her with all possible eloquence Shakespeare gently ridicules this "doomed" love, so typical of the feudal aristocracy, a love which leaves one completely unmoved. As a contrast, Shakespeare depicts the vital and realistic love of Viola for Orsino. Her love, which forms the basis of the play, calls forth the warmest sympathy. Similarly vital and unaffected is Olivia's passion for Sebastian. All her aristocratic reserve is forgotten, she abandons herself to the violence of her feeling. Orsino, on the other hand, remains a waxen figure, an elegant marionette in the aristocratic style, even after he is forced by circumstances to capitulate and to marry Viola. Yet he is a lover of music, like most humanists; he is magnanimous and kind. Although Shakespeare is careful not to caricature or slander him, he exposes him as a slave of aristocratic etiquette, thus destroying any sympathy one might have for him. Viola, on the other hand, is one of Shakespeare's most attractive women. Her moral firmness and initiative, combined with her feminine tenderness, her unswerving honesty in fulfilling obligations, endow her with that true humanist harmony which Shakespeare considered to be the highest expression of dignity.
The comedy also contains a group of characters who present a problem of the utmost social significance, expressed in a more pedestrian form than the love theme. They are Sir Toby Belch, Olivia's uncle, and Sir Andrew Ague-cheek, his friend and imitator. In Shakespeare's time the title Sir was applied to a specific caste of the nobility–the knights. With the exception of the chronicles, which, because of their themes, necessitate the presence of many noblemen, Shakespeare seldom uses this title in his comedies of manners. It is usually indicative of a swaggering or licentious person. Falstaff and the priest Hugh Evans, the bombastic and stupid pedant, in the Merry Wives of Windsor, are knights, but not Fenton, who is a positive character. In Twelfth Night, the two knights, who are always together throughout the play, fulfill a particular purpose. They represent the aristocratic parasite, feudal in nature. Their parasitism is greater than is indicated. The fact that certain traits in a character are not demonstrated in the play does not, in Shakespeare, indicate the non-existence of such traits; they are implied. This is an important aspect of Shakespeare's art, as of all the humanist art of the Renaissance. The commercial activities of Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, and of the semi-bourgeois Page and Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor are not revealed in the plays. Their speeches and conduct permit us, in fact compel us, to assume the existence of such activities. The parasitism of both Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, on the other hand, is shown with painstaking care.
There exists, however, a basic difference between these two characters. Sir Andrew is despicable; Sir Toby is amusing and almost sympathetic. In contradistinction to the overbearing Sir Andrew, full of illusions about his dignity as a member of the nobility, Sir Toby is well aware of his own worthlessness, and deliberately reveals it. Shakespeare ironically rewards this degenerate noble for his honesty and wit by allowing him, a knight, to marry Maria, his niece's plebeian servant.
There is another interesting parallel. To retrieve his fortunes, Sir Andrew woos a rich bride, as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice. While Petruchio's desire to retrieve his fortune by a wealthy marriage arises from a daring, enterprising, and progressive spirit, Sir Andrew's stems from a petty nobleman's attempt to cling to life. These are two perfect illustrations from Shakespeare of the fact that no evaluation of a situation or character can be made without considering the period and the social environment, as well as the personality of the character.
The "lower" plane, always so important with Shakespeare, is represented by the pert Maria, the clever Clown, Fabian, and Malvolio. They do not carry on any independent action, except for the jest played on Malvolio, but serve as a rational background for the main plot. Their presence lends it a healthy and concrete reality. The clever Clown and Maria, the merry liar, represent two aspects of Viola's character. The three speak a common language, a language different from that used by Viola when conversing with Orsino or Olivia. Malvolio is in sharp contrast to the other members of the group. It has been suggested that he, like Shylock, was intended as a caricature of the Puritans. This is possible. The portrait, however, is too indistinct. Essentially, Malvolio's function is to be the Duke's double on the "lower" plane. This is indicated, not so much by his attachment to Olivia as by his stilted and tedious punctiliousness. Surrounded by his magnificent court, Orsino is convincingly brilliant. Malvolio is only distasteful and ridiculous. Orsino's oratorical and musical propensities represent the aristocracy's unsuccessful attempt to appropriate humanist culture. The ascetic pedantry of the plebeian Malvolio is inimical to humanism.
The Comedy of Errors, first of the realistic comedies, is too unimportant for detailed analysis. The Merry Wives of Windsor will be discussed later, in connection with the analyses of the chronicles.
The Taming of the Shrew is one of the foremost expositions of the new humanist morality, though apparently farcical, lacking in ideological content, and derived largely from the old anonymous play of the same title, from which Shakespeare borrowed not only the plot but whole sections.
The spoiled, shrewish Katharina is transformed by her clever and adroit husband, Petruchio, into the ideal, well-behaved wife. In the last act, the formerly submissive Bianca has become a peevish, capricious beauty, whereas Katharina has become the essence of meakness and affability. Her famous monologue in the last act is so moralistic that it repels the audience. It is interesting that even in Shakespeare's time many resented the speech. Shortly after the appearance of The Taming of the Shrew, Fletcher wrote The Woman's Prize, or, The Tamer Tamed, a play in which Katharina is avenged. When Katharina dies, Petruchio marries again; the second wife behaves towards him as earlier he had behaved towards Katharina.
Shakespeare, however, found it necessary to present Katharina as a spoiled and ill-tempered woman from the beginning of the play, According to her acquaintances, she was "stark mad," "intolerable curst and shrewd and froward ...beyond all measure." There is no one mad enough to consider marrying her. No wonder Petruchio was forced to have recourse to such cruel measures in order to tame her! Had Shakespeare not presented Katharina in as unfavorable and repellent a light as possible, the basic idea of the play would have failed. But what is Katharina's real character? When her father tells Bianca's suitors that she cannot marry until her older sister finds a husband, Katharina, aware of the general attitude towards her, suffers from the humiliating position in which she has been placed (I,1):
Kath: I pray you, sir, is it your will
To make a stale of me amongst these mates?
Hort: Mates, maid! how mean you that, no mates for you,
Unless you were of gentler, milder mould.
Kath: I' faith, sir, you shall never need to fear;
I wis it is not half-way to her heart;
But if it were, doubt not her care should be
To comb your noddle with a three-legg'd stool,
And paint your face, and use you like a fool.
Though sharp, Katharina's answer is but a dignified retort to Hortensio's crude cynicism She does not start the quarrel; she merely defends herself. Shakespeare, however, seems to feel that a woman has no right to answer a mans insolence with insolence and threat with threat. When Bianca hears her father's decision and begins to weep, Katharina says:
A pretty peat! it is best
Put finger in the eye,–and she knew why.
Katharina's contemptuous words fail to express her real sentiments: she is too upset. Bianca's conduct is a direct slur on Katherina's character; it represents her as an inhuman person, her sister's unhappiness.
Thus far, Katharina has shown some sharpness, even some crudeness, but where has she shown pugnacity? Whe'e has she appeared as a spoiled and capricious child?
In the second act Katharina is found beating Bianca, but even this is justified (II, 1):
Bianca: Good sister, wrong me not, nor wrong yourself,
To make a bondmaid and a slave of me;
That I disdain: but for these other gawds,
Unbind my hands, I'll pull them off myself,
Yea, all my raiment, to my petticoat;
Or what you will command me I will do,
So well I know my duty to my elders.
Is Bianca sincere or merely hypocritical? Neither; her last sentence simply indicates lack of personality. Since her psychology is that of a slave, she thinks that Katharina wants her ornaments. Bianca imputes only the lowest motives to Katharina; feelings of the heart, individualism, are incomprehensible to her.
Katharina is neither covetous nor envious. She is simply filled with the naive despair of a misunderstood human being who sees lavish praise and caresses showered upon her sister–a soulless doll set up for her emulation.
The audience's sympathy is with Katharina, who is neither "intolerable curst" nor "shrewd and froward"; she is merely fighting for the right of a woman to be an individual.
Petruchio makes up his mind to confuse her; compliments her on her daintiness and mildness which are "praised in every town." Such mockery incenses Katharina and explains the sharpness of her tongue and her insults. When Petruchio announces (II, 1):
we have 'greed so well together,
That upon Sunday is the wedding-day.
I'll see thee hang'd on Sunday first.
But she meekly goes to the altar. Her words are only a defense against arrogant interference, her darts are not sharper than Rosaline's in Love's Labour's Lost or Beatrice's in Much Ado About Nothing. Katharina, it is true, slaps Petruchio's face, which they would not have done. But neither would Biron or Benedick have behaved like Petruchio. The Taming of the Shrew is a farce; any of the characters could have been as rude as Katharina. This is the last of the "untamed" Katharina. How is the "taming" accomplished? Petruchio "tames" Katharina by humiliating and starving her. Where then, is the shrew? Here is only a woman fighting for her dignity and unreasonably insulted by her husband. Shakespeare borrowed the idea–the taming of a shrew–from an old play. He kept the traditional theme, but negated the traditional ethics through his treatment of the central character, Katharina. His recondite ideas are more valuable and revealing than all the surface elaboration.
The chronicle plays, of which there are nine, consist of the three parts of Henry VI (1590-1591), Richard III (1592), Richard II (1595), King John (1596), the two parts of Henry IV (1597), and Henry V (1598). It is more important to remember that Henry VI, Part I, was most likely an adaptation of an older play. The historical chronology of their reigns is: King John, 1199-1216; Richard II, 1377-1399; Henry IV, 1399-1413; Henry V, 1413-1422; Henry VI, 1422-1461; Richard III, 1483-1485.
Some critics insist that the sequence of these plays is unimportant because Shakespeare conceived the entire cycle long before writing any of it. According to these critics, Shakespeare intended to present a philosophy of the dynastic history of England for a definite period. Moral retribution furnishes the basis of this philosophy. Even though Richard II was a bad king, his overthrow by Bolingbroke–the future Henry IV–was a great sin. The consequences were visited, not only upon the usurper, but upon the whole nation, afflicted with the plague during the reign of Henry IV, and particularly upon his grandson, Henry VI, who appeared to carry within him the seeds of this hereditary sin. The House of York rose in revolt against the House of Lancaster and overcame it. Edward IV's accession to the throne was also based on criminal usurpation. "God's vengeance" was, therefore, once more visited upon the people in the form of the tyrannical rule of the predatory and cruel Richard III, who had gained the throne by murdering the other members of the royal house. Moral equilibrium was not restored until Henry VII, a Lancaster, married one of the princesses of the House of York, thus uniting the two warring houses. With his lawful occupation of the throne the "morally pure" dynasty of the Tudors ushered in an era of national prosperity.
A great deal of this is correct. It is true that Shakespeare held the overthrowing of a "lawful" ruler to be a great evil, even when justified by circumstances. Nor can one quarrel with the thesis that Elizabeth's grandfather, Henry VII, is an idealized figure. The concept of "inherited sin," however, is alien to Shakespeare. Other wise, he could not have depicted Henry V's reign so glamorously. The notion that the whole nation was doomed to suffer for the sin of its monarch is even more alien to Shakespeare, who is too profound a realist to subscribe to the metaphysics so characteristic of feudalism. The belief that the whole historical cycle concerns itself with but the narrow problems of dynastic rule, and that this accounts for the unity of the subject-matter; is also untrue. The unity of the cycle is limited to Shakespeare's approach to political events. Each of the chronicle plays retains, therefore, an independent existence and significance. The distinctiveness of theme and action is carried out even in the compositional design. The alternation of epic, though disjointed, scenes in Henry VI, the abundance of colorful folk elements in Henry IV and Henry V, the concentration of action around the protagonist in Richard III, are differences which belie the structural unity which these critics read into the cycle.
In his chronicles, Shakespeare fully revealed his political philosophy –his attitude towards royal power and his understanding of the historical process. It is a mistake, however, to attribute too much historio-graphical wisdom to Shakespeare, as some Soviet critics do.
Since the study of socio-economic phenomena was almost nonexistent in his time, Shakespeare could not present a rounded historical conception of the epoch. However, he grasped certain basic factors and aspects of social phenomena, harmonizing them with the more specific historical traits derived from other sources, which were meager, confused, and biased.
He wrote his historical cycle at a time when all the progressive forces of the land were–or at any rate, he thought were–united. Since such unity was then possible only under absolutism, the basic theme of the chronicles is the affirmation of absolute power. But Shakespeare did not merely affirm absolutism; he also analyzed it its limitations, possibilities, and purpose–at once criticizing and championing it.
Above all, Shakespeare recognized the necessity of a strong central power, which could be assured by a rigid succession to the throne. The problem of succession was very crucial at that time, when the Wars of the Roses and the unrest preceding Elizabeth's accession were still vivid in the minds of the people. Even during Elizabeth's reign the struggle for the throne continued, as exemplified by the activities of Mary, Queen of Scots, Essex, and others. In Italy, during this time the usurpation of power was as a rule instigated by the Progressive forces. In England, it was exactly the opposite. The necessity for a rigid law of succession was a constant subject of controversy. King Lear was the first humanist English tragedy dedicated to that problem. Shakespeare had in mind the horrors of civil war attendant upon the ancient British King Gorboduc's reckless division of his kingdom. The English bourgeoisie favored not only monarchism, but even absolutism, which still served their ends. This is the basic problem which occupied Shakespeare. This also explains the peculiar omissions in his works.
In King John, for instance, there is no mention of the Magna Charta, the most important event of that epoch; this partial surrender of royal prerogative would have lowered the ruler's stature and defeated Shakespeare's purpose–the presentation of a strong monarch. His unhappy choice of King John as the subject was motivated by the attempt of this monarch–the first such effort in English history–to effect a separation between Church and State, an act of tremendous importance in the subsequent development of England. He regarded John Lackland as the predecessor of Henry VIII, who brought about the Reformation.
Nevertheless, Shakespeare's objectivity compelled him to cite some of King John's negative traits–his questionable seizure of the crown, and the cruel punishment indicted upon Prince Arthur, the lawful heir. King John assumes, therefore, a dual personality; the real hero of the play is not he, but Philip the Bastard. Neither of these acts, however, reduces his stature as much as any reference to the Magna Charta would have done. He is fighting for the cause of nationalism; Arthus is a protege of France, against whom it is necessary to protect England's power. That, King John is strong enough to do.
When first the French and then the English king try to persuade the citizens of Anglers to open the gates to the "lawful" sovereign (II, 1), they stubbornly refuse to do so; they will have nothing to do with dynastic squabbles. Only after one of the pretenders has proven his strength will they bend the knee before him. This political wisdom of the bourgeoisie dominates the entire play. Whether King John or King Philip has a legitimate claim to the throne of France is of as little importance as their moral defects; only the strength and unity of England matter. This idea is clearly formulated in the words of Philip the Bastard, which end the play:
...nought shall make us rue,
If England to itself do rest but true.
The bourgeoisie, the petty and middle gentry, and the absolutists were united by their common struggle against the powerful feudal nobles. The chronicle plays leave no doubt as to where Shakespeare's sympathies lay. The powerful feudal nobles depicted by him–the Percys, Glendowers, Mortimers–are arrogant and refractory. They are forever testing their strength against the king's and organizing rebellions and conspiracies. To Shakespeare, they were the scourge of the land. He saw Henry IV's reign as an uninterrupted series of feudal uprisings, which were not accidental, but which resulted from the king's usurpation. Shakespeare, however, is presenting not the idea of moral retribution, of a "higher, divine" judgment, but a sober political concept. Bolingbroke's usurpation of the throne set a precedent, thus showing the feudal nobles how they, too, could attain power. After he has seized the throne, they demand to be rewarded for their aid. When he refuses, they turn against him. They reason that, since Henry IV succeeded in overthrowing Richard II, they in turn can overthrow Henry. This is the "curse" of the usurper.
Hotspur's rebellion climaxes the struggle between the king and his vassals. Hotspur is a brave, fiery, tempestuous feudal lord who throws himself headlong into the strife and dies a hero. "Fare thee well, great heart!" exclaims Prince Henry as he kills him (Henry IV, Part I, V, 4). Shakespeare emphasizes Hotspur's greatness by contrasting it with the cowardice of Falstaff, who, feigning death, lies next to the fallen hero on the field. Shakespeare makes his conclusions more convincing by drawing a dangerous rebel in heroic proportions. Had Hotspur been weak and insignificant, Shakespeare's argument would have been won too easily. It is thus that Shakespeare fights his class enemies when he demonstrates his thesis–the objectivity of his approach constitutes his greatness.
Of great significance are the factors which hastened Hotspur's death: the vacillation of his own father and uncle, and their pursuit of personal political ends, which are tantamount to betrayal. The personal egotism of the feudal nobles, the lack of cohesion of their forces at a time when only the greatest unity could have assured their victory, proved fatal. Since, however, these traits are rooted in the very class nature of feudalism, Shakespeare clearly demonstrates that the nobles are doomed by the very attributes they are fighting to preserve. In Henry VI, Young Clifford is interested only in avenging his father's death; Somerset is constantly involved in political squabbles; Warwick alone is inspired by a hope for justice and desires to fight for the nation's welfare. When, however, he succumbs to his feeling of personal injury, betrays these principles and allies himself with his former enemies, he, too, perishes.
A strong king, according to Shakespeare, is the greatest political blessing a nation can enjoy; a strong monarchy is a guarantee of national prosperity. Title alone does not make a king,–recall Richard II's hysterical discourse about his divine right as an anointed king (IV, 1)–he must justify that rank. A king should be strong, upright and wise; he must express the collective will of the nation. Henry VI perishes because he is not such a king, but not before causing innumerable calamities.
Shakespeare did not say that such a king should be overthrown, but maintained that the overthrow of such a ruler was inevitable; nevertheless he repeatedly emphasized that the overthrow of a king was a great misfortune. The hopelessness of this dilemma is revealed in Shakespeare's selection of kings. King John at best is only tolerable; Henry IV is inadequate; Richard II, Henry VI, and Richard III are bad–only Henry V is a desirable king. The selection is still more illuminating when the rulers in his Roman tragedies and the kings in his historico-legendary plays are taken into account. Hamlet's father, and Duncan, had to be presented as good kings. They are, however, hardly more than mentioned. But what about Julius Caesar, Claudius, Macbeth, Lear, or even Antony? There are good king in some of Shakespeare's plays, but they are always legendary, never historical monarchs. They are the princes or dukes–the exact title does not matter; what does matter is that they are sovereign and absolute rulers. The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Romeo and Juliet, and Measure for Measure contain such good princes and dukes. They are wise and high-minded, settle all conflicts, and restore justice. It is significant, however, that the term prince or duke, rather than the term King, is applied to them. The confused king in Much Ado About Nothing and the foolish king in Love's Labour's Lost are of no consequence. Henry V, however, is an exception. He embodies all of Shakespeare's optimistic hopes which were to be realized by absolutism. Henry V refers to himself as "the sun." When such an expression is not used ironically–and it is not so used in this play–it indicates Shakespeare's own evaluation. Henry V,which concludes the cycle of chronicle plays, is, therefore, best suited to an analysis of Shakespeare's concrete political depiction of bad kings.
Henry V is shown as a sovereign who has completely crushed feudalism. The conspiracy of the feudal lords in the first act creates an impression, not of the Precariousness of the king's position–as in Henry IV–but of absolute confidence and calm assurance. The same impression is created by the discussion of his pretensions to the French throne. Instead of anxious fears of an unclear future, the exposition induces full confidence in the success of a mission that is "just," while the triumphant note on which the play ends resounds with faith in a bright future, not to be found in any of the other chronicles.
Henry's confident power is founded on the support of the masses. When, as Prince Henry, he tramped the roads and frequented the taverns in the company of Falstaff and his band (Henry IV), he came into close contact with the people. He continued this practice when he became king. On the eve of a decisive battle (Henry V, IV, 1), he makes the rounds of the English camp in disguise and chats with the officers and soldiers to discover their real thoughts and feelings. In essence, the tactic he employs is no different from that used by his father, Bolingbroke, who, as he rode through the streets on his way to exile, "dived into their hearts with humble and familiar courtesy," threw away "reverence ... on slaves," wooed "poor craftsmen with the craft of smiles," doffed "his bonnet to an oyster-wench" (Richard II, I, 4). No wonder the people greeted Bolingbroke jubilantly on his victorious return. He replied to their greetings "from one side to the other turning, bareheaded, lower than his proud steed's neck" (V, 2). Such is Shakespeare's conception of a positive king. Henry IV's son did not need to bow "lower than his proud steed's neck"; he could converse with the people in a friendly and natural fashion without loss of dignity.
The democratic composition of Henry's army is emphasized. It was no accident that Shakespeare introduced common soldiers and the lower officers. Nor did he do it simply for the sake of color and innocent comic effect. They are the base upon which rests the king's strength. Three centuries before the appearance of scientific history, Shakespeare, through his intuitive genius, knew that the Battle of Agincourt was not worn by a little group of well-born heroes, but by the English soldiers. The English yeomanry conquered the disintegrating feudal nobility of France. This is graphically demonstrated in the scenes which depict the English and French camps on the eve of battle (III, 6-7),–on the one hand is the vapid foppishness, the boasting, the badinage, in the French camp; on the other, the serious concentration, the honest concern, the feeling of great national responsibility which animates every English soldier. It is not so much a national, as a class contrast.  Henry appreciates his plebeian soldiers; because of his silent approval, Fluellen makes short work of the insolent braggart Pistol, who had insulted him. Though not a feudal aristocrat, Pistol is at any rate a remnant of the dying feudal order (V, I).  Nor does the king confine himself to democratic sympathies; his very nature is profoundly democratic. In the last scene (V, 2), Henry, in telling the Drench princess of his feelings for her, emphasizes his "plebeian" moderation and simplicity, so different from the affectation of the court. According to historical facts available in Shakespeare's time, Henry was not nearly so simple and crude as he presented him. In this vivid, if exaggerated self-characterization, we find in a more developed and more socially rooted form that which Shakespeare previously revealed in Biron's monologue in Love's Labour's Lost: protestations against all affectation and empty aristocratic polish in the name of democratic simplicity, sincerity of feelings, and natural expression. Henry's speech puts him in the company of Fluellen and Williams. This, according to Shakespeare's idea, makes him a people's king.
Shakespeare's selection of soldiers is extremely interesting. Williams and Bates are pure English, but Fluellen is Welsh; Macmorris, Irish; Jamy, Scotch. Here are the nationalities of the future Great Britain; they are depicted fighting side by side like brothers for the common good, for the future imperial state. This amazingly perspicacious picture Shakespeare painted at a time when Ireland, nominally under the rule of the English king, was in a state of constant insurrection, and when Scotland was still completely independent.
Henry V is Shakespeare's "ideal" king. Nevertheless, in spite of its felicitous conception, this play is among the weakest of Shakespeare's works. Critics unanimously proclaim it too discursive and unconvincing. Is it not possible that the play was a failure because Shakespeare had already begun to be tormented by doubts; because his attitude towards absolutism had already become ambiguous,–a state of mind which prevented him from mobilizing all his creative resources in its defense?
Shakespeare's most brilliant play of this type is Richard III, an historical tragedy of epic proportions. Its distinguishing characteristics are the unity of its plot and the concentration of action around the leading character. Richard dominates the other characters. To know Richard, therefore, is to understand the thematic design of the play.
The contradictions in Richard's nature have been pointed out by all Shakespearean scholars. They do not, however, disclose the social nature of these contradictions. According to them, Richard is a villain, a monster, a devil incarnate, who is, nevertheless, not devoid of a certain attraction, particularly in the final scenes of the Battle of Bosworth Field.
In order to mate the transition from the psychological to the social antithesis, it is necessary to begin with the most positive basic constant in Richard's character, a constant which Shakespeare endows with immense human and social values. In intelligence, will-power, and even in valor, Richard excels everyone around him. He is a true hero in the style of Marlowe's Tamburlaine or Faust. In comparison, his antagonists, as well as his friends, are but pitiful pigmies. If, from the point of view of abstract morality, Richard is a villain, then who among the others is beyond reproach? Edward, the impotent voluptuary? The boastful and ambitious kinsmen of the queen: Rivers, Grey, Vaughan? Buckingham, the unprincipled careerist? The dull and stupid Hastings? Stanley, the hypocritical politician? Or Catesby, Richard's devoted slave?
The youthful princes slaughtered by Richard evoke pity, nothing more. Sympathy for Clarence is neutralized by his apathy and stupidity. The queens who hurl imprecations at Richard are not devoid of tragic grandeur. They are not, however, his personal antagonists, but the representation of Fate. Of the three, only Margaret can match his mentality, but her spirit is broken. Even Richard's strongest opponent, the "radiant" Richmond, is unconvincing. His role in the play is that of the deus ex machina, who ends the feudal Wars of the Roses. Richard towers over him as Hamlet over Fortinbras.
The selection of characters is significant; it emphasizes Richard's true greatness. This greatness is unceasingly demonstrated throughout the first four acts and reaches a climax in the fifth, when Richard's star begins to wane. He is revealed as a true hero, fighting against inexorable fate, and perishing in a burst of tragic glory. Shakespeare, mighty master that he was, has few passages as forceful as the one in which Richard reveals the daring mind and will of a conqueror, as he challenges the decrepit feudal morality (V, 3):
Let not our babbling dreams affright our souls;
Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devis'd at first to keep the strong in awe:
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.
Or the passage in which Richard calls his men to the battle which is to be fatal to him (V, 3) :
Hark! I hear their drum.
Fight, gentlemen of England! fight, bold yeomen!
Draw, archers, draw your arrows to the head!
Spur your proud horses hard, and ride in blood;
Richard's greatness is more than an abstract psychological attribute; it is an expression of Shakespeare's social and political thought. Richard represents the strong ruler, who firmly holds the reins of power and puts on end to the intrigues and quarrels of the court cliques. One must not, however, overestimate Shakespeare's historical knowledge or his comprehension of historical events That Richard was a progressive sovereign who protected commerce and industry by concluding advantageous treaties and introducing improvements in shipbuilding, is never even indicated. The chronicles which served as source material shed but little light on these matters. It is possible that even if Shakespeare were aware of these events, he did not care to make use of them. He was interested in only one central problem, the basic theme of all his chronicles: the affirmation of the principle of absolutism as the only power strong enough to suppress the anarchy of feudalism.
It does not follow, as Levidov states in his Three Shakespeares, that Richard is Shakespeare's favorite protagonist, whom he pretended to vilify in order to placate the censors and the court. Richard III is not a political discourse written in the language of Aesop,–it is a great work of art. Having exalted Richard, Shakespeare judged and condemned him according to his basic political belief. Richard is a scoundrel; such a man is not fit to control the reins of state. Shakespeare, instead of suppressing, emphasizes this aspect, attributing crimes to Richard the latter never committed.
This is more than mere moralizing, more than mere humanism; sentimentality is alien to Shakespeare,–when necessary he is stern and courageous. Hamlet slays the objectionable but innocuous Polonius as he would kill a rat, and Romeo does not for a moment hesitate to kill the harmless Paris. Friar Lawrence's speech in Romeo and Juliet is the key to many of Shakespeare's ideas (II, 3):
For naught so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give;
Nor aught so good but, strain'd from that fair use,
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse;
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
And vice sometimes by action dignified.
Shakespeare's condemnation of Richard indicates a definite political view. Power, based on villainy, violence, and usurpation, undermines its own roots. Like Bolingbroke (Henry IV), Richard combats feudalism and attains absolute power by means which give rise to anarchy and strengthen the forces of feudal reaction. The violation of the tradition of succession to the throne, so dear to the heart of Hastings, is of no importance; in Shakespeare's day, changes in the law of succession were constantly being formulated and accepted. Shakespeare was not opposed to such changes. Bolingbroke had at least maintained his usurpation through the support of the masses, whose hearts he succeeded in winning, but Richard was forced to rely on his mercenaries and on those lords who were attached to him for reasons of their own.
Immediately after his seizure of the throne, Richard's allies demand an accounting. New revolts, new wars are imminent. it is fortunate for England that Richard's conqueror is Richmond, Elizabeth's grandfather. Richard falters for lack of support. He merits his fate, –none of his actions had been dictated by concern for the welfare of the nation, but were all products of his boundless ambition and egoism.
Falstaff, who makes his first appearance in Henry IV, is mentioned in Henry V, and is resurrected in The Merry Wives of Windsor, is a figure of great social significance. Much has been written about his social import. The majority of bourgeois critics agree that Falstaff is a parody on the degenerate feudal nobility, the embodiment of all their vices–boastfulness, swashbuckling, drunkenness, libertinism. This evaluation is correct but not complete. It needs amplification, in order to explain Falstaff's vitality and inimitable appeal.
Falstaff is of feudal origin. He is forever swearing, he tries to dazzle the bourgeois Mistress Ford with his title; throughout, he makes use of feudal terms and ideas. His celebrated band–Nym, Poins, Bardolph–to whom he paid no wages, but who served him as vassals for a share in chance booty, is an amusing burlesque on the retainers of the medieval lord. He is not, however, the feudal lord of the old order, but an opportunist who has adapted himself to the spirit of the times and assimilated all the worst habits of primary accumulation; in short, he represents, on a lower and comic plane, the feudal lord for whom money became "the power of all powers."
This degenerate and declassed feudal knight has freed himself from all the illusions of his class. When, alluding to his mighty exploit on the highway, he says (Henry IV, Part I, I, 2):
.... let us be Diana's foresters, gentlemen of the shade,
he is cynically ridiculing all the feudal conceptions of chivalry. Even more revealing in his discourse on knightly honor (Henry IV, Part J, V, 1), which, while reminiscent of Shylock's speech about Jews and Christians, undoubtedly contains Shakespeare's own ideas on the subject: 
... how if honour prick me off when I come on? how then? Can honour set-to a leg? no: or an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no. Honour hath no still in surgery, then? no. What is honour? a word. What is in that word, honour. What is that honour? air. a trim reckoning!–Who hath it? he that died o' Wednesday, Doth he feel it? no. Doth he hear it? no. Is it insensible, then? yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? no. Why? detraction will not suffer it:–therefore I'll none of it: honour is a mere scutcheon: and so ends my catechism.
Falstaff could so successfully adapt himself because of the similarity of the activities of the feudal knights and the "profit knights" of primary accumulation. The former, protected by their castles, plundered on the highways; the latter on the sea and in the colonies. When these knights and conquistadors of high rank indulged in such plundering, it assumed imposing, even heroic proportions; with Falstaff, it becomes merely sordid thievery. He sinks to such a level that he is kept by the mistress of a tavern. His end is well known; like refuse, he is thrown into the Thames, in a hamper of dirty clothes.
In spite of the hilarious adaptation of Sir John Falstaff to the spirit of the times, he never loses completely his feudal nature. Like the landowning nobility of the sixteenth century, the masters of the sheep-walks and enclosures, he too, on a lesser and comic plane, has but superficially acquired a "new quality." His class nature has not changed; he is a thorough parasite. His world perspective is not that of the Renaissance. He is no humanist, no daring individualist, he is not even the passionate anarchist of Marlowe's plays; he is only a cynic. He has lost the principles of the past and become imbued with the spirit of negation, retaining however, his lusty desire for life and pleasure.
Why, then, does he attract us? Because he is his own accuser, exposing and ridiculing himself through both word and deed. His cynicism thus becomes a moral attribute. Falstaff is clever and astute. His laughter spares no one, not even the king. He is witty, and a butt for others. Because of his shrewdness, and humorous self-exposure, Shakespeare tempers his judgment of him. Thus, Shakespeare varies his attack on feudalism, but retains his usual objectivity; because his victim is so petty and unimportant, he resorts to buffoonery. Since he does not desire too easy a victory, he endows Falstaff with a measure of virtue; he judges and condemns him in spite of it.
One major idea runs through all Shakespeare's chronicle plays: the problem of state power. Perhaps even more significant is the face that they also contain, in undeveloped, though clearly evidenced form, the philosophy of the historical process.
As emphasized by Marx and Engels, the social background in Shakespeare is not a mere detail of the plot, as the bourgeois critics conceive it to be. On the contrary, the social background is the causal explanation of the plot. Since scientific learning was practically nonexistent in Shakespeare's day–not even Bacon had fully succeeded in laying its foundations–Shakespeare's persistent though unformed striving to discover causal explanations of the historical process were remarkable. The insistence of bourgeois Shakespearean scholars that the action in his plays is determined solely by the individual will and energy of the protagonists, is completely untenable. Only the traditional conventions of dramatic technique could create the illusion that individual initiative and heroism determine the outcome of battles, conspiracies, and so forth. The protagonists of the plays personify the power of the mass rather than of the individual. This is vividly illustrated in Henry V, where the elegant and weak feudal lords of France are overwhelmed by the English soldiers and lower officers at the Battle of Agincourt. An even more striking example is to be found in Troilus and Cressida (V, 8), when Achilles, after ordering his bodyguard to kill Hector, boasts of his "brilliant victory."
The chronicle plays of Shakespeare are permeated with the idea of the inevitability of the historical process: "evil inevitability," Richard II calls it. There are many references to the "times" and the "spirit of the times." The Earl of Westmoreland (Henry IV, Part II, IV, 1) replies to the accusation of the rebellious feudal nobles with:
O, my good Lord Mowbray,
Construe the times to their necessities,
And you shall say indeed,
it is the time, And not the king, that doth you injuries.
In like manner does the rebel Hastings defend his behavior (Henry IV, PArt II, I, 3)
We are time's subjects, and time bids be gone.
The role played by individual temperament and personality in shaping the course of events is not minimized, but the individual is helpless to cope with the force of circumstances. This is shown by Warwick, when he comments on the Earl of Northumberland's treason (Henry IV, Part II, III, 1):
There is a history in all men's lives,
Figuring the nature of the times deceas'd;
The which observ'd, a man may prophesy,
With a near aim, of the main chance of things
As yet not come to life.
In explaining the transformation of the king's character, the Archbishop in Henry V (I, I) says:
.... miracles are ceas'd;
And therefore we must needs admit the means
How things are perfected.
Shakespeare not only states his thesis of the causal conditioning of historical events, but demonstrates it through all the means at his command. One of his chief means is the social background. In Henry IV, the scenes in which Falstaff appears; in Henry V, the scenes in the camp; and in Richard III, the scenes of Richard's proclamation as king, depict the life which is the foundation from which spring major political events. A similar background is to be found in the Roman tragedies and the historico-legendary plays, not explicitly, but implicitly, in the pointed and expressive allusions of the characters. This is especially true of Hamlet, Othello, and particularly Coriolanus. Finally, this social background is also present in the comedies, where it is usually to be found on the "lower" plane, above all in the speeches of the jesters. Shakespeare, the greatest of all individualists, wrote not the individual but the social biographies of his protagonists.
Three other plays also belong to the first period: the tragedies Titus Andronicus (1593), Romeo and Juliet (1594), and Julius Caesar (1599).
The first is too unimportant to merit much attention, especially since its authorship is disputed. The second, however, deserves consideration.
The social aspect of the love theme in Romeo and Juliet is more obvious than in Shakespeare's other comedies. Here it becomes the struggle of the new man of the Renaissance against the feudal order. This struggle takes the form of a demand for freedom in love and opposition to antiquated moral traditions. The fact that the type of hereditary family feud, exemplified by the Montagues and Capulets, dates from pre-feudal times is of little consequence, since feudalism adopted, even perfected the institution of the blood feud. Nor is it of any greater importance that the two families involved are not members of the feudal aristocracy. They are bourgeois "patricians," rather than members of the new bourgeoisie of the epoch of primary accumulation, thoroughly medieval urban philistines permeated by feudal ideas. The struggle of the lovers against their social environment is the struggle of bourgeois humanism against feudalism, the Renaissance against the Middle Ages.
To make the situation clearer, Shakespeare introduces a number of secondary characters who indirectly bring into relief the class nature of the chief actors and the conflicting class forces. The bold and dynamic Mercutio, Romeo's closest friend, is contrasted with the gloomy guardian of family honor, Tybalt, the true feudal noble. Juliet's suitor, Count Paris, also represents feudalism. He woos Juliet through her father, not taking the trouble to inform himself about her feelings. Handsome and punctilious, he is as dull and lifeless as Orsino in Twelfth Night, a wax figure, as he is characterized by the coarse, but astute Nurse. He is a Count; his title is no accidental attribute. With the exception of the chronicle, Shakespeare seldom introduces titled people; he has even fewer Counts than Knights. Count Paris is an aristocrat in every sense of the word. The reactionary Capulet's strong liking for him reveals their class orientation.
Friar Lawrence, on the other hand, who assists the lovers in their struggle against the old world, is an amazing character. A churchman in name only, he is both scholar and philosopher, a stranger to all ecclesiastical bigotry, a true pantheist. He stems directly from Saint Francis of Assisi, the most progressive force of medieval Christianity, and Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for his bold opinions. He is one of Shakespeare's most progressive characters.
The social background against which the conflict is projected is broadly developed; every stage is shown. The two old men, Montague and Capulet, are secretly oppressed by the burden of the long family feud, which they permit to smoulder from inertia, but there are always young hot-heads such as Tybalt to inflame it anew. Romeo and Juliet are the victims of this feud, but in death they are victorious. The play ends with an affirmation of the new life; over the bodies of the lovers, the two families are at last reconciled. This reconciliation is expressed by the Prince, the absolute ruler, the exponent of the new morality.
The struggle against feudal aristocracy is also shown by the language and style of the play. When Romeo is in love with Rosaline he sighs languorously and his speech abounds in affectation. After meeting Juliet, he is completely transformed. Unlike Biron, he does not indulge in penitent discourses, but briefly and firmly renounce his former infatuation. From that moment his language is as passionate and unaffected as are his actions.
Julius Caesar was written at the end of the first period, when absolutism in England was beginning to show clear signs of deterioration. The court had become a centre of intrigue and favoritism; feudal reaction once more became a threat, while the bourgeoisie, together with the leading ranks of the new nobility, began to be imbued with greater and greater antagonism towards monarchical power.. Shakespeare was keenly aware of this, and his ideal of the absolute monarch, typified by Henry V, becomes tarnished; this awareness is shown in Julius Caesar, with its concept of tyranny.
It was customary in Shakespeare's day to interpret Roman history in the light of contemporary England; hence, the idealization of Julius Caesar as a strong and glorious monarch in English literature more than ten years before Shakespeare's tragedy. In his earlier plays, Shakespeare himself presented this point of view on more than one occasion, notably in Henry VI, Part III (V, 5), where the assassination of Caesar is stigmatized as the greatest of crimes. In Julius Caesar, however, he adopted a radically different attitude. Plutarch, from whom Shakespeare drew the material for his tragedy, was to a great extent responsible for this transformation. The Roman biographer presented Caesar, with all his human weaknesses, as an ambitious egoist who attained power through clever political maneuvering; Brutus, as a true hero, the defender of liberty, whose sole aim was to free the people from the yoke of a tyrant. Shakespeare took over this attitude in his play. Like Plutarch, he completely disregarded both the progressive, democratic character of Caesar's activities, and the reactionary tendencies of Brutus, the aristocrat-republican. Shakespeare concentrated on the problem of power and a ruler's responsibility to the people. Caesar lacks this sense of responsibility. He is another Richard III, an egoist, who, drunk with power, cares only for his crown.  Though he did not fail to emphasize Caesar's positive traits, his courage and colossal will-power, Shakespeare unhesitatingly condemned him, as he had condemned Richard III.
Brutus is, on the contrary, idealized. Shakespeare disregards all the moral defects pointed out by Plutarch: his greediness (he charged forty per cent interest on his loans), his hypocrisy (he accepted many favors and posts of honor from Caesar), and his cruelty to prisoners of war. Shakespeare emphasizes only his passionate patriotism, his heroic struggle for freedom. And yet Brutus depresses us. The tone of the play is more despairing than the gloomiest of Shakespeare's tragedies Brutus perished because the masses, carried away by the demagogic eloquence of Antony, denied him their support.
A great deal has been written about Shakespeare's portrayal of the masses. Bourgeois scholars are unanimous in their opinion that Shakespeare "despised and hated" the masses, that he depicted them as a dart, dangerous, unstable force. These scholars have not troubled to probe Shakespeare's attitude towards the people, nor to question the reasons for such an attitude.
As the ideologist of the rising bourgeoisie in the epoch of primary accumulation, an epoch of relentless conflict between the nascent capitalism and the peasant masses it was exploiting Shakespeare might conceivably not have been too tenderly inclined towards the masses. A contemptuous attitude towards the "rabble" is common to all the humanists, the "aristocracy of intellect"; to Chaucer, the founder of English humanism; even to the two most "democratic" contemporaries of Shakespeare, Heywood and Dekker. It was the feudal lords of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who made the "people's misery" an issue in their struggle against absolutism. Marx characterizes the "feudal socialism" of the first half of the nineteenth century as follows:
The aristocracy, in order to rally the people to them, waved the proletarian almsbag in front for a banner. But the people, as often as it joined them, saw on their hind-quarters the old feudal coats-of-arms, and deserted with loud and irreverent laughter. 
It is an old tactic, which dates from the beginning of the struggle between the nobility and the bourgeoisie. It is no accident that a "sympathetic" depiction of the people is often found in the most aristocratic of Shakespeare's contemporaries, Beaumont and Fletcher.
Nevertheless, Shakespeare loved the people, loved them without sentimentality, without shedding crocodile tears over them, with a vital and healthy love. Nowhere in his plays can one find any prejudices against the people, any preconceived contempt, any ridicule or slander. Solicitude for the welfare of the people, he considers to be one of the first duties of a king. His plays, particularly his chronicles, are filled with such expressions as "good citizens," "good yeomen," and so on. The plebeian jesters, servants, or simple peasants are often the exponents of common sense and moral truth; they expose the hypocrisy and affectations of their noble masters. Several times, he makes the people be the judge of the great ones of this world, and pronounce sentence on them. When Richard III, the usurper, is pronounced king, the people are expressively silent; these same people are jubilant when, in Richard II, Bolingbroke triumphantly ascends the throne. In Hamlet, Claudius admits that Hamlet is "lov'd by the multitude."
At the same time, Shakespeare points out the people's political immaturity, their fickleness, their lack of independent thought or action, their credulity. All this was true of the English people of his time. The Cade Rebellion of 1450 was, from the point of view of the development of capitalism, a reactionary movement; and a whole series of peasant uprisings in the sixteenth century were inspired by the Catholic clergy, who used them to gain their reactionary ends, and by the feudal lords who were dissatisfied with the absolutist regime. This is how the rebellious masses are depicted by Shakespeare. That is why Hamlet, who is so "lov'd by the multitude" does not seek the help of the undependable, immature masses, who, under the influence of demagogic agitators, are ready to follow anyone, even Laertes, who is completely useless to them.
Shakespeare's second period included the tragedies, Hamlet (1601), Othello (1604), King Lear (1605), Macbeth (1605), Antony and Cleopatra (1606), Coriolanus (1607), Timon of Athens (l607); and the comedies Troilus and Cressida (1601), All's Well That Ends Well (1602), Measure for Measure (1604), and Pericles  (1608). These comedies differ from the buoyant, romantic comedies of his first period. They lack his joyous love for the beautiful forms of life, and his light, playful humor. Instead, there is such an overtone of tragedy that the term drama would be more suitable, especially when applied to Measure for Measure. We have previously attempted to explain this metamorphosis in Shakespeare's creative genius. The last years of Elizabeth's reign and the first years of the reign of James I were marked by a grave political cleavage,'which caused a spiritual conflict in Shakespeare. His philosophy became tragic, but not gloomy, nor despondently pessimistic. Despite the austerity of his tragedies, they almost always end on a note of a courageous, heroic affirmation of life. According to Shakespeare, the value of life is in heroic struggle, even if this struggle ends in defeat.
Hamlet, which begins the series of Shakespeare's tragedies, is the most difficult to analyze. The idealist criticism or the nineteenth century, influenced by Goethe, claimed the basic idea in the tragedy to be the conflict between Hamlet's thought and will, in which he appears as the victim of the dominance of thought over will, a martyr to reflection, incapable of realistic action. This idea, however, is utterly false. It sprang from nineteenth century German petty-bourgeois thought, which strove to comprehend and justify its political and spiritual impotence. Actually, Hamlet is capable of action to the highest degree, even of heroic action, as evidenced by the episode of his sea-journey, and by the series of daring deeds performed in the palace. The idea of conflict between thought and action was alien to the artists of the Renaissance, and particularly to Shakespeare, who could not conceive of thought as divorced from action. What, then, prevents Hamlet from avenging his father's murder? Some critics claim that Hamlet's postponment of the killing of Claudius, the usurper, was logically motivated–for instance, Hamlet's reluctance to murder Claudius while praying, lest his soul should enter heaven–and that a five act play, without such delays, would not have been possible. But it is not so much his hesitation, as the tone which Hamlet adopts when he speaks of his revenge, that proves him lacking in will-power. No conflict, however, exists between his thought and will. He is horrified by the crime, by his mother's inconstancy in marrying the usurper, "ere those shoes were old," and by the rampant hypocrisy and debauchery of the entire court, even of his beloved Ophelia,–a debauchery and hypocrisy which he attributes to the world at large. It never occurs to him to take revenge as an act of personal justice. Firstly, because his father is dear to him, not only as a father, but as an image of beauty, a great man as well as a great monarch, especially in comparison with the insignificant and morally warped Claudius. Secondly, because Hamlet views this private crime only as an indication of the general corruption of the age, of universal and irreparable evil. Under such circumstances, personal revenge is futile. He therefore overcomes his narrow, subjective tendency to become a merciless judge of his epoch. It undoubtedly grieves Hamlet to break with Ophelia, but he does not lament, and ostensibly seems unaffected as he drowns this pain in a much greater pain for all humanity. What type of action could and should such thought produce? Only one, inner renunciation and departure from this world. This he succeeds in accomplishing. For Hamlet, the heir to the throne, a man of passionate, energetic nature, with an inherent capacity for appreciating the full joy and beauty of life, this is an act of tremendous strength. The traditional idea of ancestral revenge, an idea existing in society before social classes, and which later became one of the bases of the feudal world outlook, is minimized and almost utterly discarded in the tragedy. Hamlet is 'not entirely free from the idea of revenge, but he has lost the urgent impulse for it. He is essentially a man of the new age–a humanist. As proof of this, Shakespeare introduces the theme of ancestral revenge on two occasions; once in connection with Laertes, and again with Fortinbras. In both instances, their reactions are utterly different from those of Hamlet. When Laertes learns of his father's death, he behaves like a feudal lord, bursting into the palace with armed men to demand an answer from the king. Fortinbras, on the contrary, has no belief in the efficacy of ancestral revenge. Like a skillful man of business and a diplomat, he uses it merely as an excuse for political advancement. He is a thorough representative of primary accumulation. Hamlet stands midway between these two men. In the process of becoming a new man, a humanist, he frees himself only with difficulty from the old feudal outlook. He becomes a rounded humanist, while Fortinbras remains a mere talented opportunist. Hamlet suffers because he is far in advance of his time. He is tormented by his passivity. What underlies the great disillusionment and sorrow that Shakespeare expressed through Hamlet, and which he himself unquestionably experienced at this time? It is possible to interpret this attitude of Shakespeare's in terms of the decay of absolutism around 1600. The degeneracy of the English court stood out in sharp relief. Shakespeare depicted it with unusual depth, transferring the scene of action to Denmark. He portrays various degrees of pettiness and vulgarity,–the corrupt agents of the King, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; the empty-headed and obsequious Osric; the shrewd but foolish Polonius. Polonius is of particular importance because he is not merely a feudal noble like Osric, but one with a new quality. Many traits reveal the aristocrat who has adapted himself to primary accumulation, and has become partly bourgeois–sagacious, and solicitous for his family. His son and daughter are equally practical and calculating, although, quite naturally, they also have feudal characteristics. Typical of this are Ophelia's blind obedience to her father and Laertes' violent rage when he revenges the death of Polonius. In depicting the family of Polonius, Shakespeare severely criticizes the gentry, which, without changing its feudal nature, acquired the worst habits of the epoch of primary accumulation.
To what, then, should Hamlet cling? The practical philistinism of the bourgeoisie disgusts him. He has no faith in the masses, seeing only their instability and political immaturity; he is surrounded by a tragic emptiness. Were he an egocentric, he would have seized the crown, led a secluded life, and found epicurean consolation in the society of his friends. Hamlet, the humanist, can exist only by comprehending and accepting the world–hence the hopelessness of his plight. But all these psychological motivations are but concrete personal reactions to the general socio-historical conditions. Court debauchery and the disintegration of absolutism are only the immediate clauses of Hamlet's deeply rooted pessimism. The epoch in which Shakespeare lived saw the rise of the bourgeoisie, which has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors," and has left no other bond between man and man than naked self-interest and callous "cash payment." It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation.... The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe...The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation. 
All this happened later, but the beginnings of this gigantic moral cataclysm existed in Shakespeare's time and he reflected it with exceptional clarity and depth (Falstaff, Edmund in King Lear, Timon). The old morality was collapsing and Shakespeare was among the first to undermine it. No new morality had as pet been substituted, and the one being formulated by Shakespeare's class, Puritan morality with all its class limitations, repelled him. He therefore attempted to create a new morality based upon the great ideas and problems advanced by the humanist bourgeoisie of the Renaissance, which, in turn, had been derived from all the social classes except the ruling feudal class. The bourgeoisie did not carry out its promises at that time nor later. Immediately after its first victories, its class limitations and contradictions forced it to change; instead of universal truth, it advocated philistine hypocrisy; instead of universal freedom, the enslavement of the lower classes.
Even at that time, when the bourgeoisie was in its infancy, its best representatives, the great humanists of the Renaissance, felt the inevitability of this betrayal. They sensed the discrepancy between the magnitude of the problems which their class had undertaken to solve, and the possibility of putting their solutions into effect. Hence, the greatest creations of Michelangelo reflect angry grief, the canvases of Leonardo da Vinci, sad smiles, and Shakespeare's Hamlet is filled with "worldly sorrow." Hamlet, i.e. Shakespeare, saw the break which had already started in the old world of feudal morality; he did not bewail it. On the contrary, he exerted all his efforts to destroy the old world outlook. In his monologue "to be or not to be" he reaches the highest point of skepticism possible at that time. Even Marlowe did not permit himself such frankness. Hamlet's reasoning –that "your worm is your only real emperor for diet," that "your fat icing and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table" (IV, 3), and that Alexander of Macedonia "returned into dust; the dust is earth; of earth we make loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer-barrel?" (V, l)–destroys the idea of feudal monarchy in particular, and the entire feudal dogma of class hierarchy in general. "Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretched heroes the beggars' shadows," says Hamlet to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (II, 2). "The toe of the peasant comes so near the heel of the courtier, he galls his kibe," says Hamlet to the grave-digger (V, l)–hinting at agrarian revolt. This is said with sarcasm but not at the peasants' expense. Hamlet's personality, behavior, and manner of speech betray not the slightest mark of affectation despite his sentimentality. He is anti-feudal, humanist, democratic. He does not mourn the old world. But, like the best minds of his time, he shudders at the sight; shudders because he does not see a new world that will satisfy him. Caught between the corruption of the court, the vulgarity of the growing bourgeoisie, and the masses in whom he has no belief, there is only one outlet for him: the half-pretended madness and apathetic action by which he accidentally brings about his futile revenge before he himself perishes. Thus, Hamlet yields to the healthier and less exacting Fortinbras. This mirrors the crisis of humanism. Although Hamlet is deeply pessimistic, it cannot be said to reflect Shakespeare's world perspective. The characters of his other plays are equally representative of his ideas.
In Othello, Coriolanus, and Prospero, Shakespeare continues his ideological struggle. Hamlet's pessimism is transitory and does not reveal Shakespeare's striving for his still nebulous ideals and for his love of life, which, in itself, is a fundamental basis of optimism. In Othello, Shakespeare returns to love as a theme. The first act echoes the theme of Romeo and Juliet, a love which struggles with a hostile social environment representative of the feudal conception of the home. But in Othello, love conquers immediately and its victory is the greater because it is attained despite the most tenacious of prejudices, that of race. The concept of Othello as a Moor was borrowed from the Italian novella. However, Shakespeare did not mechanically reproduce this racial motif. Brabantio is dismayed at his daughter's desire to marry a dark-skinned person. Iago, in attempting to strike Othello's most vulnerable spot in order to inflame his jealousy, never permits him to forget the color of his skin: "She will compare your appearance to the appearance of her magpies" (III, 3). Iago's efforts are unavailing; Desdemona loves Othello despite his race and color. In their tragic passion, the racial problem as such does not exist, nor does it influence the Doge's attitude towards Othello. Shakespeare solves the race problem in a more radical fashion than in the Merchant of Venice. In the latter, only one monologue, which is not even an integral part of the play, treats the problem whereas in Othello, the theme is treated in full. Othello is a thorough representative of the new age. The fact that the play hints Othello is of royal descent is unimportant. This is but an empty decoration that serves no thematic function. Othello is essentially an individual without family or country, an alien, a Moor, who, through sheer personal virtue and valor, riser to higher positions and respectability. Othello and Desdemona are not united by parental will, nor.by elemental passion, as are Romeo and Juliet, but by mutual understanding and friendship–the highest form of human love. This explains the nature of Othello's jealousy. It is not the wounded honor of a nobleman, nor is it the proprietary attitude of a philistine husband, whose rights have been invaded. It is rather a feeling of outrage at the violation of the implicit trust and mutual confidence that had united Othello and Desdemona. It is Desdemona's falseness that overwhelms Othello. His jealousy is of the same texture as his love. The love that unites Othello and Desdemona can withstand all tests only in a congenial environment and not in one morally and ideologically hostile. To Shakespeare, the tragic struggle does not bear an abstract psychological character, but is based upon a class conflict. Such is the nature of all Shakespeare's tragedies.
Othello and Desdemona are surrounded by Roderigo, Cassio and Iago. Roderigo is a noble who disposes of his estate, pockets the gold, and follows the young Desdemona to Cyprus, hoping to cuckold her Moorish husband. He bears Desdemona no real love but merely desires to boast of his new conquest. He represents the degenerating, vapid, feudal gentry. In the development of the tragedy Roderigo plays a necessary role; he is part of the social background.
Cassio resembles him in many respects. Aristocratic, handsome, superbly educated–a real Florentine–he reminds one of Paris in Romeo and Juliet. More wasted and slovenly than the latter, he gets drunk easily, and is inordinately fond of prostitutes.
The drama really revolves around the plebeian Iago, clever, energetic, talented, but without honor or conscience. In Iago many Shakespearean scholars have seen "evil incarnate," the offspring of the devil in medieval miracle plays. This is not the case. Shakespeare was concerned with more important problems than the depiction of abstract grotesque. Iago is not the embodiment of the medieval Christian devil, but of the predatory, cynical philistine merchant of the period of primary accumulation, rage's philosophy is expressed by the phrase, "put money in thy purse," advice which he continually imparts to Roderigo, and by the idea that the end justifies the means. This is the thesis of moral relativism and nihilism, or, as it was then called in England, Machiavellism, which was one of the chief doctrines of the epoch. Othello, on the other hand, is the exponent of an opposite point of view–the humanist. He believes in goodness and truth, and demands absolute moral standards, determined by the individual conscience of man. From this springs his credulity, of which Iago takes advantage.
The empty-headed Cassio, because of his noble birth, good manners, and influence in high places, is elevated over the head of the talented plebeian, Iago. Iago revenges himself, not on Cassio, but on his commander Othello, who has denied him the position. Revenge, arising from concrete, personal antagonism, develops into a struggle of two world outlooks, corresponding to two conflicting ideologies within the same class.
Othello perishes in this struggle, perishes at that moment when his trust in Iago conquers his faith in Desdemona. His murder of Desdemona marks the climax of this struggle; but as soon as Othello realizes that his jealousy was groundless, he transcends the deed and regains his faith. By killing himself, he affirms the integrity of this faith and thus vanquishes the relativist, Iago. Othello has overcome the hopeless gloom of Hamlet.
In King Lear, Shakespeare returns to his favorite theme, the problem of royal and state power, but this time expounds his meaning clearly.
Lear is absorbed in the illusion of kingship even more than the half-mad Richard II. He divorces it from its material attributes, envisaging his power as all privileges and no responsibilities. Therefore, during his lifetime, he apportions his kingdom–as a feudal landowner apportions his estate–to his daughters, reserving to himself certain intangible rights. He is the perfect type of feudal king. Feudal symbols, feudal formulas, are everything to him. He demands from his daughters not vital expressions of sincere feeling, but only ceremonial phrases expressing the love and devotion of a vassal. He Insists upon a retinue of a hundred knights as prerogative and symbol of his sovereign power.
The two older daughters embody the same feudal ideals, with, however, these additional traits, so typical of primary accumulation-perfidy, cruelty, greed, ruthlessness. Since these traits were as typical of feudalism, Regan and Goneril, like Falstaff, mark the transition. Cordelia, on the contrary, expresses the new era. She is a humanist, who knows only one law, the law of truth and simplicity. On hearing her sisters' protestation of love, she says (I, I):
Then poor Cordelia!
And yet not so, since I am sure my love's
More ponderous than my tongue.
When her turn comes, she replies simply to her father: "I love your majesty according to my bond; nor more nor less."
Lear: So young, and so untender?
Cordelia: So young, my lord, and true.
Lear, outraged, disowns her.
Later, Lear's delusions are dispelled. He undergoes great suffering, but through this he is regenerated. Having endured need and privation, he begins to understand a great deal of what had hitherto been incomprehensible, and to regard his power, life, and mankind in a different light (III, 4):
Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,
That hide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? 0, I have ta'en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.
He begins to sense the monstrous injustice of the feudal-aristocratic system, that system which he had unthinkingly upheld (IV, 6):
Through tatter'd clothes small vices do appear;
Robes and furr'd gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks;
Arm it in rags, a pigmy's straw doth pierce it.
Here and elsewhere Lear merely repeats that which his jester, who symbolizes the wisdom and expresses the moral of the play, expounds in his bitterly sarcastic song (III, 2):
When nobles are their tailors' tutors;
No heretics burn'd, but wenches' suitors;
When every case in law is right; No squire in debt, nor no poor knight;
When slanders do not live in tongues;
Nor cutpurses come not to throngs;
When usurers tell their gold i' the field;
And bawds and whores do churches build;–
Then shall the realm of Albion
Come to great confusion:
Then comes the time, who lives to see't,
That going shall be us'd with feet.
But is there no character in the tragedy who exemplifies an active force,–it is difficult to consider Cordelia as such–free from the feudal illusions of Lear, and in that sense, distinct from him? Goneril and Regan appear to be such characters. But, to an even greater degree, this is true of Edmund, the son of Gloster. Edmund negates all the "most heavenly ecstasies," and all the "feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations." The quotations from the Communist Manifesto, previously cited in reference to Hamlet, are even more applicable to Edmund. Edmund destroys his brother through calumny, dooms his father to horrible torments, successively deceives Goneril and Regan, in his designs on the throne. Clever, crafty, energetic, he plays his game so skillfully, that were it not for the fact that disaster overtakes one of his agents, Goneril's steward, and for the foresight of Albany, his intrigues would have been completely successful. He is even more machiavellian than Iago, because there is some concrete justification–the insult he has received–for the latter's malice and cruelty. Only cupidity and ambition guide Edmund. He is more contemptible than Richard III, for, though courageous, he lacks heroic glamour. Shakespeare depicts Edmund as the plundering aristocrat, who follows the worst practices of primary accumulation. Goneril, Regan and Edmund–here is a new generation rising to replace the old; a new force, no less ruthless than the old and dying one.
Are there, then, no progressive characters in the drama? Besides Kent, who is a minor figure, and the unfortunate Gloster, there are Cordelia and Edgar. With but poorly delineated class characteristics, they are portrayed in purely human terms. They, too, are the young generation, but are profoundly humanist in the Shakespearean meaning of the word. Even if Cordelia is defeated, there remains Edgar, whom Albany invests with the royal power. Hope for a better future is not lost.
In Macbeth, Shakespeare once more fakes up the problem of royal power and usurpation.
Macbeth is, in a way, another Richard III, but more profoundly conceived. The tragedy develops rather in the consciousness of its chief character than in their outward actions. Like Richard and Bolingbroke, Macbeth, with his bloody usurpation, paves the way for a counter-usurpation. But, unlike Richard and Bolingbroke, Macbeth is aware from the very beginning of the consequences attendant upon his action. Even before killing Duncan he states the iron law (I, 7):
...in these cases
We still have judgment here; that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which being taught return
To plague the inventor: This even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
To our own lips.
After the crime and his seizure of the throne, long before there are any indications of revolt, Macbeth, recognizing the inexorability of this iron law, begins to prepare his defenses by new murders and acts of violence, which only serve to hasten the inevitable counter-action. It may be said, that having created the necessary conditions for counter-usurpation, Macbeth also supplied the immediate provocation.
In Richard III, some accident or other can always be adduced to explain any event–his enemies might have been frightened by Richard and might not have given him battle; Richmond might have been defeated; or, for that matter, there might have been no Richmond at all. In Macbeth similar alternatives are impossible. Macbeth himself creates his Richmond. If not Malcolm, it would have been Donalbain; if not Donalbain, any other lord.
No fear, except in the early scenes, or shadow of remorse is to be discerned in Macbeth and his wife. This is purely a struggle of active forces, developed in Macbeth's consciousness, which psychically reflect that which must inevitably transpire in the socio-historical arena.
This transference of the basic action to the psychic plane explains the prevalence of the supernatural in the tragedy. Shakespearean scholars have pointed out that, at the time of the writing of Macbeth, belief in spirits and witches was extremely widespread in England, even in the most cultivated circles of society. Shakespeare does not employ the supernatural in Macbeth as the creation of a deranged imagination. This is true, and it is possible that even Shakespeare, notwithstanding his enlightened mind, believed a little in the existence of spirits and witches. Vestiges of medieval superstitions are to be encountered in the works of the most brilliant scholars and philosophers of the Renaissance, and even in the works of Bacon, the creator of English materialism. Nevertheless, this bears no relation to Shakespeare's or Bacon's art and thought. For Shakespeare, the artist, the supernatural has no objective existence and no independent meaning, as for Calderon, nor does it even appear as a primary motivating force. As background and allegory, it serves only to emphasize the realistic elements which are the basic content of his plays. In Macbeth, which is utilized by some critics in their attempt to prove Shakespeare a symbolist and mystic, the supernatural as such is completely negated by the transference of the basic action to the psychic plane. The conversations of Macbeth with the witches and phantoms, like the famous dialogue of Ivan Karamazov with the devil, are but the inner dialectical struggle of Macbeth with himself. This struggle is projected on the supernatural plane, just as the socio-historical events arising from Macbeth's concrete actions are projected on the spiritual plane.
The lofty tragic pathos of this drama, one of the most profound and mature of Shakespeare's plays, has misled critics into emphasizing its gloominess. Such emphasis is correct insofar as it refers to the basic theme and situation. But on the periphery of the tragedy there move figures who relieve the gloom and prevent our accepting Macbeth as a picture of universal vileness. The chief protagonists, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, are surrounded by wholesome, energetic individuals: Duncan, Malcolm, Donalbain, Macduff, Siward. Macbeth and his wife are a canker on the body of a society which, in contrast to that of Hamlet or Lear, is completely healthy.
The optimistic tone of the tragedy asserts itself especially in the figure of Malcolm. Fortinbras, who somewhat attenuates the pessimism of Hamlet, or Edgar, who partially dispels the gloom in King Lear, are vaguely outlined in their relationship to society. Malcolm's social relation, on the other hand, is fully revealed in the scene in which he and Macduff sound each other out before uniting against Macbeth (IV, 3). Malcolm, pretending he is unfit for the crown, mentions his fondness for women and his cupidity. Macduff is disturbed but is willing to overlook these defects. When, however, Malcolm announces that he is devoid of "justice, verity, temperance, stableness," Macduff recoils from him; he is placated only when he realizes that Malcolm has been subjecting him to a test. The advent of such a king augurs a beneficent reign.
In Antony and Cleopatra, we find in developed form the impact of two worlds: the old feudal and the new absolutist. The first is embodied in Antony, the second in Octavius. Antony is a ruler of the old type, devoid of responsibility to the people and to himself. As ruler, he exults in his power, gained and held through sheer force and valor, subordinating it to his selfish, hedonistic desires. These desires find expression in Cleopatra, for whom he is ready to sacrifice everything. At the decisive moment, when his fate hangs in the balance, although fully aware that only on land could he hope for victory, he elects to fight at sea, so that he may be near Cleopatra, who was reluctant to forsake her ship.
Shakespeare definitely debased Plutarch's portrayal of Cleopatra. He does not show the subtle mind of the "rare Egyptian," her elegance of wit, her art in handling people; he presents only her physical charms, and the dangerous capriciousness of her moods. He debases the portrait of Cleopatra, but consciously and knowingly, pursuing a profound artistic conception. He wanted to show that Antony was motivated by blind sensuality and frenzied passion, rather than by the lofty, humanist love which generally characterizes such ideologically positive forces as Romeo, Othello, and others. This sensuality was a basic defect in Antony's nature, which, if not provoked by Cleopatra, would have been aroused by mother woman.
Shakespeare endows Antony with spiritual strength, nobleness and charm, exalting him to such an extent that the majority of critics have concluded that he was one of the dramatist's favorite heroes. They reason, contrasting him with the dull and dry Octavius, that Shakespeare ennobles Antony and mourns the ruin of the "beautiful world" symbolized by Antony, which was being superseded by the new world of the prosaic man of affairs, Octavius. They forget the Antony in Julius Caesar who is an attractive adventurer of gigantic breadth, an egoist pursuing narrow personal aims with no regard for his country and no sense of responsibility. Even more important is the fact that they overlook Shakespeare's favorite method,–not to debase, not to caricature, but to elevate, to show objectively those forces which he exposes and judges, thus adding strength and cogency to his portrayal of great class conflicts.
At the end of the sixteenth century, feudalism, as exemplified by Antony, was far from that decay which it later suffered. But it had already received crushing blows, although the force which was to extirpate it was as yet inchoate. This was the first act of that great historical tragedy of which Marx writes: "So long as the ancien regime as the existing world order struggled with a nascent world, historical error was on its side, but not personal perversity. Its downfall was therefore tragic."  To convey this tragedy, Shakespeare ennobles Antony and does not invest Octavius with many attractive dualities, because by this time the dismal side of absolutism had already been disclosed to Shakespeare, as had the rising philistine capitalist culture. Shakespeare's moral perspicacity, wisdom, and objectivity, are here in evidence.
He perceived the tragic greatness of Antony, perhaps pitied him as he pitied the perishing Lear, but his world perspective prevented any regret at the passing of the reign of the Lears and the Antonys.
Unusually important for an understanding of Shakespeare's moral and Political views is the tragedy Coriolanus, which, unfortunately, has been subject to most erroneous interpretations by both bourgeois (G. Brandes) and Soviet (V. N. Friche) critics. Brandesin particular, with his untenable thesis about Shakespeare's "aristocracy," his "esthete's detestation of the "rabble," and the stupid and "stinking" masses, wrongly identifies Shakespeare with Coriolanus.
Coriolanus is a man of the Renaissance: an heroic individualist, consumed by boundless ambition and a lust for battle. Unlike the adventurers of the sixteenth century, or Richard III, he is not amoral; he is honorable, noble, generous. Truth, his highest law, compels him to shun indignantly his hypocritical and cowardly brother patricians, adherents of a compromising and double-dealing policy, whose sole aim was to betray the plebeians.
The mother of Coriolanus, the worthy matron Volumnia, fully approves this tactic of the patricians. In the scene where all those close to Coriolanus plead with him to humble himself hypocritically and to flatter the people, not only in order to insure his election as consul, but also to exonerate himself from a terrible accusation (III, 2), Volumnia counsels her son, "I would have had you put your power well on, before you had worn it out."
But Coriolanus does not wish to lie and dissemble. Just as he betrayed all his stubborn haughtiness and contempt for the plebeians before (II, 3), so does he now disdain to defend himself, preferring instead a direct attack, knowing full well that this invites ruin, yet unable to renounce native honesty and straightforwardness. He denounces the jesuitic tactics of the patricians in the most unsparing terms (III, 1):
Mangles true judgment, Mangles true judgment, and bereaves the state
Of that integrity which should become't;
And later, when the patricians and his mother persuade him to make a humble apology to the people, he exclaims (III, 2):
I will not do't,
Lest I surcease to honour mine own truth,
And by my body's action teach my mind
A most inherent baseness.
But he is not guilty of this baseness.
Like Hamlet, Cordelia, and Othello, Coriolanus knows only one law, the law of honour and truth, and in this he is at one with Shakespeare. This does not mean, however, that Shakespeare agrees with Coriolanus in his fierce hatred of the people and the betrayal of his country which this implies thereby.
The whole play contradicts such a conception. To the unprejudiced reader, the Roman plebeians are portrayed in the tragedy with rare sympathy, and, moreover, with a profound understanding of their socio-historical position. Of course, the plebeians are not yet politically mature, nor are they distinguished for military prowess, but, in their struggles with the patricians, Shakespeare's sympathies are all on their side.
As if to preclude any possible misunderstanding,-which nevertheless arose–in the very first lines of the play, which are as significant as the last, Shakespeare has the plebeians express their demands fully, in such a way that his own attitude towards them remains clear until the end. One of them exclaims (I, I) :
One word, good citizens.
But another interrupts him:
We are accounted poor citizens; the patricians good. What authority surfeits on would relieve us: if they would yield us but the superfluity, while it were wholesome, we might guess they relieved us humanely; but they think we are too dear: the leanness that afflicts us, the object of our misery, is an inventory to particularize their abundance; our sufferance is a gain to them.–Let us revenge this with our pikes ere we become rakes: for the gods know I speak this in hunger for bread, not in thirst for revenge.
One can find no hypocrisy in such words, and the poet who can write them must be in sympathy with them. The force and character of expression here are approached only by Shylock's monologue (III, 1), and by the words of the disillusioned Lear (IV, 6):
Through tatter'd clothes small vices do appear;
Robes and furr'd gowns hide all.
Neither in this nor in any other scene in Coriolanus is there the faintest indication of hypocrisy, greed, or baseness on the part of the plebeians.
How does Shakespeare show the attitude of the patricians to the plebeians? Menenius recounts the fable of the stomach and the head (I, 1). Does Shakespeare agree? Menenius assures the plebeians:
..... for the dearth,
The gods, not the patricians make it; and
Your knees to them, not arms, must help.
You are transported by calamity
Thither where more attends you; and you slander
The helms o' the state, who care for you like fathers,
When you curse them as enemies.
To which one of the citizens answers:
Care for us! True indeed! they ne'er cared for us yet. Suffer us to famish, and their storehouses crammed with grain: make edicts for usury, to support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act established against the rich; and provide more piercing statutes daily, to chain up and restrain the poor. If the wars eat us not up, they will; and there's all the love they bear us
He who so precisely explained that the aim of the patricians is only to betray the people could not possibly agree with Menenius that "the gods, not the patricians," are responsible for want and misery.
Coriolanus, however, sincerely believes that the demands of the plebeians arise solely from their rebellious nature. He is afflicted with social blindness, which, although it does not prevent him from being subjectively noble and ethical, is responsible for his crimes against society, such as treason. That the followers of Brandes are misled in their belief that Shakespeare justified and condoned such a crime, is amply proven by his series of chronicles, in which he emphasizes healthy patriotism and unselfish devotion to national unity as the highest attribute of king and citizen. This is clearly seen in Volumnia's speech to her son, when he is about to attack his native city (V, 3):
Making the mother, wife, and child to see
Me The son, the husband, and the father tearing
His country's bowels out........
Whose chronicle thus writ,–The means was noble,
But with his last attempt he wip'd it out;
Destroy'd his country; and his name remains
To the ensuing age abhorr'd.
Coriolanus persists in his blindness; if he finally gives in to his mother's supplications, he does so only because of compassion for her rather than because of patriotic impulse. The blind, anarchistic Coriolanus is motivated by personal, not social, considerations; Shakespeare therefore, condemns him unequivocally, despite his magnitude.
Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's gloomiest tragedies. It reflects his profound disillusionment with absolutism, the court, the state officials, and the upper classes, as is evidenced by the total absence of positive characters drawn from the privileged classes. Collectively, the plebeians constitute the only positive force in the play. Their political immaturity, however, disturbs Shakespeare, because they are still extremely credulous, simple-minded and inconstant. Shakespeare expresses this (I, 1) at the appearance of Menenius Agrippa, the most dangerous enemy of the people; a citizen announces (I, i):
Worthy Menenius Agrippa, one that hath always loved the people
And another hastens to corroborate him:
He's one honest enough; would all the rest were so!
The people allow themselves to be dazzled by the exploits of Coriolanus and trustingly give him their votes.
There is, however, a tremendous difference between Shakespeare's depiction of the masses in Henry IV, Part 2 (1591), or even in Julius Caesar (1599), and Coriolanus (1607). In fifteen years Shakespeare's political ideology had advanced as much as had the class consciousness of the English masses.
The last of Shakespeare's tragedies, Timon of Athens, is artistically one of his weakest plays; the characters are not clearly delineated and their emotional transitions are too abrupt. For these reasons its authenticity has been frequently doubted. This assumption is groundless; around 1609 Shakespeare passed through a crisis, brought on by disappointment with the social reality of his time, a crisis which undoubtedly marred his creative genius. Coriolanus was Shakespeare's last great tragedy.
Nevertheless, in Timon of Athens there are moments of power. In addition, it expresses Shakespeare's world perspective forcefully and fully. He exposes the very basis of primary accumulation: the corrupting influence of money, which debases all human relations, and which, in the words of Marx, "transforms all categories into their opposites."
The thrusts at the power of money, against the spirit of cupidity, which kill all noble motives in man, are so numerous in Shakespeare's works that it would be impossible to cite them all at this time. For instance, the familiar example from Romeo and Juliet (V, 1), when Romeo buys poison from the apothecary:
There is thy gold; worse poison to men's souls,
Doing more murders in this loathsome world ....
I sell thee poison, thou hast sold me none.
Shakespeare is not alone in this position. It is also held by all the great humanists of the epoch, the ideologists of the bourgeoisie, who critically revealed the great evils which their class inflicted upon the world. No humanist, however, expressed so powerfully the evil force of money as did Shakespeare, and nowhere can it be found so explicitly proclaimed as in the celebrated monologue in Timon of Athens (IV, 3). 
In Antony and Cleopatra Shakespeare condemns the dying world of feudalism; in Coriolanus, the aristocracy who tried to adapt themselves to the new historical conditions without surrendering their class nature; in Timon of Athens, the bourgeoisie, already sufficiently mature to discard their humanist cloak, to reveal all their class limitations, and to enter the struggle for power openly.
Timon is a bourgeois, free from aristocratic traces, but a bourgeois of the type of the old merchant class so admired by Shakespeare. He is another Antonio, receptive to the "touches of sweet harmony," noble, generous, and ready to make any sacrifice for his friends. But the era of generosity and nobleness has come to an end. The people surrounding Timon, his friends of yesterday, members of his class, all prove ungrateful, greedy and venal, hastily abandoning their "wounded comrade."
While Shakespeare does not mourn the death of the feudal world, he laments the passing of the world of the idealized bourgeois Timon, the shattering of the humanist dreams of his youth. The decade separating Timon of Athens from The Merchant of Venice was rich in political events and class upheavals; the bourgeoisie advanced toward the decisive struggle for power with feudalism, but with each of these steps, it narrowed its ideological scope and renounced the humanist standards it had set up. Shakespeare was driven to portray the ruination of the bourgeois superman. Hence the misanthropic gloom of his last tragedy.
However, Shakespeare express only a part of his thought in Timon of Athens; the tragedy is not entirely pessimistic. Through the mouths of sober characters such as Apemantus, Alcibiades, and the Fool, he criticizes the prodigal generosity and credulity of Timon. and later, his similarly unrestrained hatred of mankind. There are several positive characters in the play: Timon's faithful servants, the Fool, and, to a certain extent, the thieves, representative of the "lower" plane; and, on the other hand, Alcibiades, who has risen to a high position by virtue of his talent. Shakespeare curbed his own despair; he could not renounce life or abandon his struggle for an ideal.
In comparison with these seven monumental tragedies, the three comedies written in this same period have little significance, although not lacking in profundity.
Most complex of all is Troilus and Cressida, since it is not clear when Shakespeare wrote this motley and contradictory play. It is very probable that the love scenes, which are similar to those in Romeo and Juliet, were written around 1602, and that around 1609 Shakespeare radically revised the play, adding the story of Achilles and Hector. The years 1602 and 1609 mark the darkest moments of Shakespeare's pessimism--Hamlet and Coriolanus.
In the comedy All's Well That Ends Well, one of Shakespeare's basic ideas is brought forth in its most developed and lucid form–equality and personal merit as the only criterion of man's "nobility." Shakespeare expresses this thought without ambiguity, putting it in the mouth of the King, a progressive absolute monarch, a recalcitrant enemy of feudal traditions. He chides Bertram, Count of Rousillon, the boastful aristocrat, who fears to "besmirch" his family honor by marrying a woman of the people, in a monologue (II, 3), which brings to mind Shylock's words about the human rights of Jews and the speeches of the plebeians in Coriolanus about honor:
'Tis only title thou disdain'st in her,
I can build up. Strange is it that our bloods,
Of colour, weight, and heat, pour'd all together,
Would quite confound distinction, yet stand off
in differences so mighty.......
From lowest place when virtuous things proceed,
The place is dignified by the doer's deed:
Where great additions swell 's, and virtue none,
It is a dropsied honour: good alone
Is good without a name; vileness is so:
The property by what is it should go
Not by the title.
Earlier in the play he drew the figure of the deal" lord, using as his model Bertram's late father (I, 2):
...... who were below him
He us'd as creatures of another place;
And bow'd his eminent top to their low ranks,
Making them proud of his humility,
In their poor praise he humbled.
He also champions the equality of the sexes, showing the superiority of the clever, enterprising, and deeply human Helena over the worthless, insipid Bertram.
The ideology in Measure for Measure is just as clear as that in All's Well That Ends Well. It is a defense of humanist morality in contrast to the hedonistic amoralism of the degenerate nobility and the narrow-minded bourgeois morality of the Puritans, whose severity in the extermination of vice engendered new vices. Lucio, and, to a lesser extent, Claudio, represent the degenerate nobility; Angelo, the Puritan tradition, and Isabella, humanist morality. Like Portia, she protests against the literal interpretation of the law, and pleads for mercy (II, 2):
Well, believe this,
No ceremony that to great ones 'longs,
Not the king's crown nor the deputed sword,
The marshal's truncheon nor the lodge's robe,
Become them with one half so good a grace
As mercy does.
An even stronger exponent of this morality is Vicentio, Duke of Vienna. He is a progressive, absolute ruler, like the Dukes and Kings in A Midsummer Night's Dream, All's Well That Ends Well, and in other plays. His political activities, however, are more fully depicted.
This tragi-comedy shows better than any of Shakespeare's plays the internal problems of absolute monarchy, as is disclosed when Vicentio deplores his ignorance of the life of his subjects, criticizes himself, realizes his responsibilities, and seeks better ways of governing the people (I, 1, 4). Shakespeare also presents the social background–his subjects commenting on the character of Vicentio and on current political events; the dregs of humanity; young profligates of the court; procurers; corrupt constables; swindlers. Similar scenes are to be found in Whetstone's play, Promos and Cassandra (1578), from which Shakespeare derived some of the basic material for è In Whetstone's drama, however, they were inserted as comic interludes; in Shakespeare, they are an integral part of the root action, in that they serve to motivate Claudio's crime, Angelo's moral defection, and all Vicentio's political acts. Vicentio, like Prince Henry, mingles with the people in order the better to understand them. Thus, the moral problem of the individual develops into a social problem.
If we except Pericles, the authorship of which is extremely doubtful, Shakespeare wrote only three plays during his last period: Cymbeline (1609), The Winter's Tale (1610), and The Tempest (1611). Only a few of the scenes in Henry VIII were written by Shakespeare. He may also have been the author of some of the scenes in The Two Noble Kinsmen; if so, this was his last effort.
This was the period of Shakespeare's compromise and partial capitulation. The presentation of problems is less vivid, the emotional and ideological conflicts less strong. Themes, which during the first and second periods were presented in the light of heroic struggle against a broad social background, have now lost some of their former vigor and color. Such, for instance, is the theme of Cymbeline. The love of Posthumus for Imogen is but a faint echo of Romeo and Juliet; Iachimo is but a lesser Iago; and the Queen but a feeble Lady Macbeth. We find in The Winter's Tale the theme but not the tragedy of Othello, and in The Tempest, that of Romeo and Juliet. A happy ending is assured by the very tone and character of the exposition, stated by Prospero in the first act of The Tempest. There is no tragic tension; there is only captivating, slightly disturbing activity which ends happily. These are all typical tragi-comedies.
The conception of a fate stronger than man's will or intellect appears for the first time in these plays. It is radically different from that of Fortuna, which played so important a role in Shakespeare's earlier comedies. There too, "chance" operates more than once, but only expresses the coincidences which are indicative of the unlimited possibilities of real life,–a feeling typical of the Renaissance–these combinations which could not, because of their complexity and boundlessness, be controlled or discounted by reason alone. In the endless game of life, man's will and reason are the most important factors. It was the feeling, the urge to conquer and master the unknown, which animated the bold and enterprising merchant adventurers of Elizabethan England and induced them to risk their lives and all their wealth. Such is the meaning of Fortuna, a purely Renaissance conception, which played an important role in Boccaccio's Decameron as well as in many other works of the epoch.
An entirely different philosophy permeates the plays of the last period. In every one of them, with the possible exception of The Tempest, the role of destiny is to stand guard over man's thought and will. To all appearances, by rubbing the eyes of the sleeping lovers with the magic potion, Puck, in A Midsummer Night's Dream, abandons them to the mercy of fate. Actually, however, through this means he helps them to achieve the end for which they themselves are striving, although they never quite succeed in disentangling their emotions. The happy ending of the comedy is not so much the result of Puck's meddling–the imp merely plays the role of the lovers good fairy–but of the energetic struggle the lovers wage in the name of freedom, against paternal tyranny, the traditional law of Athens, and even the Duke himself, who does not at first side with them. Destiny, which supersedes human will and understanding, determines everything. Its role is indicated in the episode of The Winter's Tale in which the prophecy of the oracle, so reverently extolled by the King's envoys, is fulfilled (III, 1). The supernatural becomes a powerful agent in motivating the action. As a corollary, the psychological analysis, the driving force of the action, the emotional transformation, and the revelation of character, are weakened. The emotional changes which the characters experience are unexpected; and It times even incomprehensible. Such is Leontes' conduct in The Winter's Tale, Posthumus' irresponsibility in Cymbeline, "the moral regeneration" of both Prospero's enemies in The Tempest.
We could cite a number of other points to show how Shakespeare, in these last expressions of his genius, surrendered his former position and yielded to the taste of the reactionary aristocracy which held such triumphant sway over the London stage in 1610. Motifs now appeared which were formerly completely alien to him–the idea of the "inherent" nobility of the two princes in Cymbeline who are unaware of their royal birth (IV, 4), and Prospero's insistence that Ferdinand and Miranda remain chaste until united in wedlock (The Tempest, IV, I). In addition, there are to be found a super-abundance of complicated and colorful episodes, whose obvious purpose is to entertain (Cymbeline), and numerous court genres in all three of the tragi-comedies: masques, pastorals–this time not as an example of lower forms as in As You Like It--and an almost overzealous adaptation of ancient mythology (The Tempest, IV, 1; Cymbeline, V, 4).
Shakespeare, nevertheless, had not yet abandoned the most essential aspects of his credo. In all three plays, he still insists, though in an indistinct voice, masked by a wealth of ornamentation, on his former demands: truth, moral freedom, nobility, and creative love of life.
The most significant of the three plays is the last, The Tempest. This play presents Prospero, the wise humanist, who, with his knowledge–the magic and the spirits are, of course, allegorical–and nobility of soul, curbs all egoistic impulses, including his own, and succeeds in guiding the destinies of those around him towards their own as well as the general welfare. But all this happens without conflict; it is performed at the wave of Prospero's magic wand, the Prospero who knows in advance how he must act and what the results will be.
The Tempest contains another new and significant factor. Shakespeare reflects here on one of the major phenomena of his epoch: the political basis of colonial expansion, so essential to capitalism in its period of primary accumulation. His solution of these problems is as perspicacious as it is ambiguous.
The French humanist Montaigne, one of the older contemporaries of Shakespeare, who abhorred the rising feudal reaction, replied to it with an idealization of the American Indian, a new subject to the readers of that period. He presented a fantastic picture of the blissful existence of primitive people, ignorant of an oppressive state, of titles, rank, mercenary interests in short, of all the things which were tormenting civilized Europe. Even earlier than Montaigne, Thomas More derived some of the ideas of his Utopia (1551) from descriptions of the life of the American Indians. In The Tempest, however, Shakespeare not only justified but provided a basis for the enslavement of the natives as a policy of colonization by depicting Caliban as an inherently stupid and vicious creature, mentally and morally unfit, whose only usefulness consists in dragging wood and being lashed for his obstinacy. Prospero is shown as Caliban's natural master, a true bearer of culture to uncivilized lands. How little does such a solution of the racial problem resemble that of The Merchant of Venice or Othello. Shakespeare, however, was unable to abandon completely his former position. Excepting Prospero, Gonzalo is the most intelligent and positive person in the play. Like Montaigne, who is here Shakespeare's direct source, Gonzalo, too, dreams of creating a new state on this island where there would be "no contracts, succession; bound of land, tilth...." (II, 1). The other characters ridicule him, but Gonzalo enjoys the sympathy of Shakespeare
The play contains a still more revealing scene (II, 2)–the remarkable portrayal of the methods used by the "colonizers," when Stephano makes Caliban drunk, and the latter offers his island, with all its natural wealth, and himself as an eternal slave, in exchange for the "divine" drink:
I'll show thee every fertile inch o' the island;
And kiss thy foot: I pr'ythee, be my god.
I'll show thee the best springs: I'll pluck thee berries ;
I'll fish for thee, and get thee wood enough.
Drink and the whip–such were the methods employed on the natives by the first apostles of capitalist civilization. Caliban's revolt is also significant. He pours forth his complaints simply and awkwardly (I, 2):
This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou tak'st from me....
For I am all the subjects that you have,
Which first was mine own king; and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest of the island.
This is followed by open revolt, not, it is true, in the name of complete liberation, but in order to exchange one master for another, a "bad" master for a "good," according to Caliban's understanding. That Caliban is confused does not matter; he is possessed by a passion for freedom. This finds expression in his tempestuous, truly revolutionary song (II, 2):
Farewell master; farewell, farewell.......
No more dams I'll make for fish;
Nor fetch in firing,
Nor scrape trenchering, nor wash dish,
'Ban 'Ban, Ca-Caliban
Has a new master–get a new man.
Freedom, hey-day! hey-day freedom! freedom! hey-day, freedom!
His method of revolt is instructive. Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo depart to kill Prospero, but are distracted from their aim by garments hung in their path by Ariel. In despair, Caliban begs his companions to disregard them, not to delay. He alone is inspired by freedom, he alone is a true revolutionary.
Although in the past Shakespeare would have expressed this thought in an unequivocal fashion, he was now forced to speak in the language of Aesop, with omissions.
Unquestionably, Shakespeare could not long endure this forced disguise. He preferred to retire from the theatre to lead the life of a bourgeois paterfamilias in Stratford-on-Avon, His decision was a conscious one, and we agree with those bourgeois critics who view The Tempest as Shakespeare's farewell to the stage.
The crisis of humanism, already reflected in Hamlet and Timon of Athens, found its final expression in The Tempest. According to some critics, the island and its spirits symbolize the stage and the forces of art, to which Shakespeare was bidding farewell. This is very possible, but should be interpreted in a different light. Prospero's departure from the island is the capitulation of a humanist. The bourgeoisie who had given birth to humanism, later distorted and rejected it. Rebellious Puritanism forced all true humanists to seek uncertain refuge in the camp of the enemy–in the patronage of the reactionary court. Because of his moral inability to accept such a compromise, Shakespeare was silenced forever.
Shakespeare was a humanist, a thorough representative of the epoch that Engels called "the greatest progressive revolution mankind had known up to that time. Inasmuch as he expounded the new morality, the new philosophy and ideology, which were about to supplant those of deteriorating feudalism, Shakespeare was an integral part of his epoch in the broadest sense of that word. But because a thousand threads bound him to the specific conditions which attended the development of capitalism in England, he also belonged to his generation.
The ideological contradictions and the extraordinary complexity of his work are due even more to the combination of these two factors than to the involved socio-economic conditions of his time, although these, too, were important. What Engels called "bourgeois content in feudal form" is always manifest in his works. Often in the same play, and even in the same act, there may be found conflicting ideas.
This complexity has so bewildered the bourgeois critics, that they have gone so far as to maintain that Shakespeare was a genius who merely presented all the possibilities and tendencies of human thought with no consideration or awareness of world perspectives. Some of them have attempted to ascribe Shakespeare's work to an aristocratic author; others have advanced the hypothesis that Shakespeare's plays were written by several authors, differing in their ideological and class position, and that Shakespeare merely edited the entire collection. Even Soviet critics have at times formulated incorrect theories, which attempted to settle the question by dismissing it. There has appeared quite recently the thesis of the "three" Shakespeares: the political adapter, the technical formalist, and the philosophical poet. Such theories are evasions. It is necessary not only to indicate the complexity of the plays, but to determine its causes, the organic rather than the formal unity.
The organic unity of Shakespeare's work emanates from his striving to mirror objectively the life process, by distinguishing the fundamental from the accidental, the permanent from the transitory, and to interpret this process in the light of the new world perspective.
The contradictions mentioned previously prevented Shakespeare's world perspective from fully crystallizing This world perspective is, therefore, revealed only as an aspiration and a tendency, which, because of the nature of the class that had championed it, could not be realized.
It would be futile to attempt to find a prescribed morality in Shakespeare. His morality is of a general tenor, not consisting of dogmatic tenets, but of broad rules of conduct. Such is the rule, or principle, of trust in Hamlet, King Lear, and, to a lesser extent, in Coriolanus; the principle of conscience in Othello and Macbeth; the principle of mercy in The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure, and so on. Even surpassing these is the principle of the creative love of life, and the heroic struggle for the preservation of its best aspects.
From his own generation, Shakespeare drew the material for the concrete expression of these abstract principles. It had either been created by his own generation or had survived in tradition. Together with a positive interpretation of royal power as the servant of the nation, his plays contain an apology for absolutism; together with a passionate plea for humanity, a relative exoneration of murder; together with an unconditional recognition of equality, a relative defense of hierarchy. Thus his vision of the present contained unerring intimation of the future.
Shakespeare does not sermonize; he is never didactic. The moral aspects of each problem and each situation are revealed so forcefully, that the reader is inescapably compelled to draw his own conclusions. In this light, it can be said that Shakespeare's work abounds in moral elements. Accordingly, he elucidates the problems of the individual: his rights, his relations to the family, the state and society, and the race question. He always stresses the social roots of every problem. His conception of society is based on a broad and profound conception of the individual.
The tragic and comic elements are presented with equal force; however, they are not confined to tragedy and comedy respectively. A sense of the tragic permeates the gayest comedies, each of which contains socio-molal dramatic conflicts which bring the protagonists to the verge of ruin. Every tragedy is illuminated by an affirmation of life: Lear's suffering leads to a spiritual regeneration; Othello's, to a rebirth of faith in Desdemona's purity and in human nature at large; Antony's death, to an enlightening revelation of the universal historical process. Shakespeare unceasingly strove towards an understanding of the life process in all its extent and profundity. He explored the depths of human suffering, and through his understanding pointed the way to ethical and social values. Shakespeare rejected the medieval notion of "predestination" and mans "mission on earth." He recognized but one destiny; to exhaust all human creative possibilities. Having faith, like all the other great humanists, in the innate "goodness" of human nature, he believed that if man were allowed to develop naturally and fully in accordance with the needs and demands of society, he would achieve not only happiness, but social perfection.
As for the problem of "evil," Shakespeare's point of view is best summed up in Romeo and Juliet (II, 3) :
Nor aught so good but, strain'd from that fair use,
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
And vice sometimes by action dignified.
The whole meaning and content of the life process is man's unceasing struggle to achieve the "common good." It is a heroic struggle but there is no assurance of complete victory. Shakespeare's optimism, is strengthened by this philosophy. The necessity for man's development thus becomes the unavoidable result of his nature, which in turn is determined by a series of causal relations.
Shakespeare's analysis of the life process leads to a disclosure of these interconnections. His method is scientific, combining as does Bacon's, the empirical and rational approach to an explanation of natural events and the spiritual activities of man. We are, therefore, justified in characterizing it as a materialist method. Objectively, Shakespeare does not accept the supernatural; religion is not an active factor in his work. Religious phraseology is seldom found; when it does appear, as in Measure for Measure, it merely reflects the language of his day. Not one of his thirty-seven plays, although written when England was torn by religious dissension, contains any evidence as to whether he was Catholic or Protestant. Shakespeare accepts only two forces: nature and man, the latter being the highest and most complex manifestation of the former. Shakespeare is essentially a monist.
That Shakespeare was not the ideologist of the feudal aristocracy is definitely established by his characters, in whom the aspects and forms of feudalism are subjected to the most merciless criticism. King Lear and Antony represent the glory and historical grandeur of feudalism; the feudal lords of the chronicles, its tottering but as yet unbroken power; the French knights in Henry V, its bankruptcy; Bertram in All's Well That Ends Well, its degeneration; the Montagues and Capulets, its pernicious remnants.
Nor is it possible to accept the thesis that Shakespeare was the ideologist of that section of the nobility which was acquiring bourgeois trappings. They, too, are subjected to the severest criticism: the courtiers in Love's Labour's Lost, Falstaff, Polonius and his family, Edmund in King Lear, the patricians in Coriolanus.
The conclusion that Shakespeare was the ideologist of the bourgeoisie is inescapable. It is impossible, however, to designate him as such without reservations. The rapacity, greed, cruelty, egoism, and philistinism so typical of the English bourgeoisie-embodied in Shylock, Malvolio, Iago–are no less scathingly denounced.
Shakespeare was the humanist ideologist of the bourgeoisie, the exponent of the program advanced by them when, in the name of humanity, they first challenged the feudal order, but which they later disavowed. This enabled Shakespeare to subject his class to keen and profound criticism, a criticism motivated by a definite, though not clearly formulated ideal. His strong sense of concrete reality deterred him from creating a utopia, yet he possessed utopian ideals.
At a later stage of bourgeois development Shakespeare became a threat to that class which had given him birth. The bourgeoisie have never been able to understand or accept the revolutionary elements in Shakespeare's work, because these immeasurably transcend the narrow confines of bourgeois thought. They have attempted, therefore, to transform his revolutionary humanism into specious philanthropy and to interpret his concepts of mercy and truth as "tenderness" and "righteousness"; his continued appeals for patience–perseverance in the struggle to attain the ideal–as "submissiveness"; his disregard for religion and metaphysics as "philosophical and religious tolerance." And so, the bourgeoisie have crowned him with the empty title: "The Universal Man."
1. Holy Family, Section VI, Chapter 24; in English in Ludwig Feurbach, p. 85, N. Y., 1935;–A. F.
2. Capital (E. & C. Paul translation), Vol. I, Chapter 24, p. 793. New York, 1929.–A. F.
3. ibid, p. 832.
4. ibid, p. 835-836
5. Capital ed. cit., p. 796.
6. Anti-Dühring, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 186. N. Y. 1935.–A. F.
7. Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Introduction, p. 19, N. Y. 1935.–A. F.
8. Franz Mehring: Die Lessing-Legende, p. 347. Stuttgart, 1920 (siebte unveränderte Auflage)–A. P.
9. Cf., Fletcher and Massinger's comedy, The Little French Lawyer.
10. Karl Marx: Spanish Revolutions, in "N. Y. Daily Tribune," Sept. 9, 1854, p. 4.–A. F.
11. The Origin of the Family, pp. 97-98. Kerr Edition, 1902. However, we quote from Emile Burns' re-translation in Handbook of Marxism, p. 310. New York, 1935.–A. F.
12. ibid., p. 97; Handbook, p. 310.–A. F.
13. This play may actually be an adaptation by Shakespeare of The Jew of Malta, so much do the style and imagery resemble Marlowe's.
14. Kyd, for instance, author of a pre-Shakespearean Hamlet (which has been lost), and of The Spanish Tragedy.
15. Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy, p. 63. N. Y.-A. F:
16. "Alte Einleitung zur 'Naturdialektik'" in Marx-Engels Archiv, II, p. 240 Frankfurt, 1927.–A. F.
18. Master Tubal Holofernes, Gargantua's first teacher, whom Rabelais ridiculed, is considered, not without foundation to be his prototype. [cf. Chapter XIII of Rabelais' Gargantua.–A. F.
19. in analyzing this epoch Marx says: "... The Middle Ages had handed down two distinct forms of capital, ripening under extremely different socio-economic auspices; and both of these, prior to the era when the capitalist method of production became established, ranked as 'capital' without qualification. I refer to usurers' capital and merchants' capital." Capital, ed. cit. p. 831.–A F.
20. Shakespeare was strongly patriotic, but never indulged in the cruder forms of nationalism He does not refrain from praising the French when they deserve it. His "slandering" of Joan of Arc in Henry IV, Part I, which grieved the liberal critics of the nineteenth century, was due to her Catholicism.
21. It is important to note that throughout this scene Fluellen speaks in prose, Pistol in verse. This is a fine illustration of the fact that the smallest stylistic details in Shakespeare's plays are often full of ideological significance.
22. Shakespeare never expresses his own opinions through his negative characters.
23. This was also Bacon's interpretation of Caesar.
24. The Communist Manifesto, p. 32, N. Y., 1936. (6th & 7th ed.)
25. The authorship of Pericles is doubtful.
26. The Communist Manifesto, p. 11. N. Y., 1935. (6th be 7th ed.)–A.F.
29. A Criticism of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right, in Selected Essays, pp. 18-19, N.Y., 1926–A.F.
30. Cf. Capital, Vol. I, Chap. 2.
31. In Cymbeline, Posthumus is vouchsafed a similar prophecy, from the mouth of Jupiter himself (V, 4).