Bard Bits: Will’s Politics
Shakespeare’s stated politics are not overtly known; however, some ideas can be gathered from his plays with some sleuthing, and a small bit of supposition.
For instance, his thoughts on the ruling class come through as somewhat mocking in the Henry plays, with the heir apparent, Henry IV, carousing with rowdies and hanging out in taverns, while portraying King Lear as being irresponsible with his power by dividing it before he is done with the throne (and see where that got him). Then again, Henry and Lear did end up redeeming themselves, but at high cost: loss of friendship, loss of loved ones, and even loss of sanity.
Shakespeare also mocks hardened, pompous rulers evidenced in Richard III, Coriolanus, Hamlet, The Winter’s Tale, and even The Tempest. It’s true he does his fair share of mocking commoners, with Bottom as the poster boy of ridiculous in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Then, is he considered a proponent of politics or simply an observer of human nature?
During Shakespeare’s reign on the stage he served Queen Elizabeth I and King James. He came close to sharing a cell with the Essex instigators against the queen when they requested Richard II be played out for the deposition scene. The Bard escaped judgement. The Earl did not. Footnote: the 1597 version omitted the abdication scene.
Shakespeare knew not to bite the hand that paid him, which accounts why his portrayal of Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s father, is toned down. What he thought of King Henry privately did not necessarily make it to the stage, and the history books are mute on William’s opinions on the monarchs beyond his plays.
Several of his plays deal with seizing the crown or regicide, sometimes the two being combined. This could be interpreted two ways. One way is that Shakespeare is emphasizing how chaos erupts when the ruler is violently taken–see Julius Caesar. The second way could be postulating that he understood how his fellow common folk were sometimes tired of their rulers and it was time for a change. The stage allowed for historical reenactment with artistic license–give the paying crowd what they want.
It looks like Shakespeare played both sides by pleasing the monarchy (thus protecting his life), and pleasing the audience (thus protecting his income).
Sounds like Shakespeare could have run for office himself.
Then again he was smart enough to use the stage to present his politics in the guise of entertainment, and aren’t the majority of politicians merely players?