Human Nature in Shakespear’s Plays

Topic- in Shakespeare’s plays how is his unusual detailed knowledge of nature as well as of human beings shown? Shakespeare was a man who deeply loved nature and the beauty of it. He was not just an author who experienced and enjoyed nature but also as someone who studied, understood and knew nature intimately. In this essay there will be discussions about how Shakespeare would often use examples from nature to describe the nature of human beings in his plays and how did he show a deep understanding and knowledge of human nature which he would put that deep knowledge in his plays and poems.

Shakespeare’s greatest influences were the works of other great writers as well as from variety of books, and plays which he used as subject materials for his own plays. He got most of his ideas from existing written literature. All of his plays were based on British history, adjusted to suit the occasion. He also drew ideas from many things that he grew up with, like his love for nature gave him several ideas how to write some of his plays and poetry. Besides this, he got many ideas from his childhood as his father is known to have often told him ‘bedtime stories’.

Shakespeare may have got inspirations from nature and some ideas of characterizations from real life experiences but his plots where never made from events that happened in his life. Two of his favorite writers were Geoffery Chaucer (1340- 1400) and Plutarch (46-120). Chaucer, who was the first poet ever to be buried at the “poet’s corner” in Westminster Abby was from a wealthy family where his father was as a deputy to King Edward the third’s butler. Chaucer’s poetry was in Middle English and he was known to be one of the finest poets in England. Shakespeare admired him and many of the sources of his plays came from Chaucer’s poems.

Plutarch studied philosophy and he taught it as a teacher in Rome where he earned the admiration of the emperors Trajan and Hadrian. Plutarch’s work was translated by Sir Thomas North which had become very popular in Renaissance England. His translations were then used by Shakespeare himself as sources for many of his plays like Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, etc. The way Shakespeare examined and admired nature was quite different from regular viewers. His way of seeing nature was deep and he would use it in many other forms as well.

He would usually find ideas for his poems by what he saw and nature was the biggest part that inspired him how to write his poems and plays. For example in one of his plays named King Lear, the concept of nature is considered to be the groundwork of the whole play. From Kingship through to personal human relations, to the views of the empire, from the representation of human nature to the animal imagery, there was nature filling every line of King Lear. Nature is a socially constructed concept which is made in order to legitimize the existing social order.

By drawing a brief sketch of the political and social beliefs of the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages, it will be at the same time outlining the arguments for believing that nature truly is the socially constructed concept. The Elizabethan and Jacobean age was a time of change and disorder. They were not known for their unity. Elizabeth had her subjects worry about who would succeed her as she was not married, therefore there was no heir to carry on with the throne. ‘Kings are justly called Gods for that they exercise a manner or resemblance of divine power on the earth. This quote was taken from the speech of James I where he describes the divine rights of Kings. James I had succeeded Elizabeth I to be the first Stuart King. Although he had the Kingship, he still was not able to overcome the political and financial problems of the state. In order for the continuation of his reign, the unity and harmony of the state and nature was of great importance. He legitimized his power by naturalization. Therefore by ‘nature’ everyone has its place, and knows the duties and obligations to that place, and those who have power cannot be questioned which are the divine rights of Kings.

The belief in the social order restricting from the natural order is an important concept to hold when probing the idea of nature being utilized to maintain the status quo. The interdependence of man and nature as a theme is explored in King Lear. Men are always represented in the relation to the divine hierarchy which is the physical world and the world of animals but they are never represented in isolation. It becomes easier to understand the actions of Lear with the almost constant references to nature, once the concept of correspondence between man’s nature and the natural world is understood in terms of legitimizing the social order.

In King Lear, the tragedy shown in the play is when Lear tries attempting to overthrow the ‘natural’ social order by handing over his crown to his daughters. Once disorder is initiated by Lear’s revocation of his powers and rights as King, disaster in corresponding hierarchies follow. Lear’s abandonment of his power is in direct opposition to the concept of the Divine Right of Kings. According to the laws of nature, it was impossible for Lear to stop being a king, because that was his rightful position by divine ordination and in fact throughout the play he is still referred to as the King, even though he has divided his crown.

Also Lear is unable to stop seeing himself as the King, which can be seen from his banishment of Kent, soon after he has relinquished his powers: Hear me, recreant, on thine allegiance, hear me: That thou hast sought to make us break our vows, Which we durst never yet, and with strained pride To come betwixt our sentence and our power, Which nor our nature, nor our place can bear, Our potency made good take thy reward. King Lear (1. 1. 169-173)

In this speech Lear not only uses the power of the King which he no longer holds to banish Kent, but he also, unknown to himself, explains why he cannot or should not divide his kingdom, for it goes against both his ‘nature’ and his ‘place’ to divide his ‘power’ from his ‘sentence,’ which is exactly what he does, thereby attempting to deny his nature and position. Aside from the natural position of Kings the natural social order can also be seen in terms of power relations between characters: King over subjects, fathers over daughters, husbands over wives. This naturalization can be seen as being represented by the character of Lear.

He possesses his daughters, because he controls over them, therefore it is only ‘natural’ that they should proclaim their love for him. Cordelia’s refuses this which is therefore shocking to Lear and he calls her ‘a wretch whom nature is ashamed’. (1. 1. 213-214) The animal imagery that is shown in King Lear indicates the unnaturalness of a character‘s behavior in comparison to how they should behave if they observed the natural social order. This contradiction again underlines the distinction between nature and the ‘natural social order’. Shakespeare was good in phycology and describing the human character.

He did not state many new ideas of human nature in his place as much as he did on the personalities and behaviors that all human beings have. There still are experts that claim that Shakespeare was the ‘inventor of human nature. However, these were Shakespearean experts and not the experts in psychology or human personality. It was not that Shakespeare new more things around him than other people but it was how he saw and examined things and people around him. In many of his plays and poems he showed deep knowledge of human nature. The way in which we experience fear, love, hatred, jealousy, despair, or anything else one can name.

The way he wrote it and staged it would leave many artists in the dust and that the meaning of his work would stay with readers and viewers while everything around them changed. Shakespeare managed to grasp what it took to shape the essence of human nature in many of its aspects and drop it into text and drama in a way that would draw our ears, our eyes and our hearts. Unlike psychology, Shakespeare tries attempting to understand why people do what they do. He simply outshone most others, in many times and many places, at drawing portraits of the mystery of human behavior.

Shakespeare used to combine nature and human nature together in many of his plays and poems. He used to describe human behavior by relating them with nature. In one of his plays known as Troilus and Cressida, he quotes the following: Let not virtue seek Remuneration for the thing it was; For beauty, wit, High birth, vigor of bone, desert in service, Love, friendship, charity are subjects all To envious and calumniating time One touch of nature makes the whole world kin, That all with one consent praise new-born gawds, Though they are made and moulded of things past, And give to dust that is a little gilt

More laud than gilt o’erdusted. (3. 3. 169–179) This quote was spoken by the character known as Ulysses where he says this to the great Greek warrior Achilles who did not participate in the Trojan War because he contained a broken pride and was in love with a Trojan. He did not understand why he was not liked by the other Greeks and Ulysses tried to get Achilles mind back into action by giving him an uncomplimentary lecture on human nature. In the seventh line of Ulysses’ quote, he speaks about the ‘touch of nature’ which means ‘natural traits’. These are vital characteristics that make us all in this world kin.

The phrases nowadays used for our ‘touch of nature’ as warmth or generosity or any other romantic ideal is different from how Ulysses describes it. He sees unanimity in our gaudy originalities as our ‘touch of nature’ is a short memory. The past deeds of Achilles, like beauty, wit, love, and so on, are subject to the ravages of time. In other words, it is our nature to forget these types of faded glories because they do not seem important anymore as there are bigger things that should be remembered instead of wasting it on these small glories that will be slowly forgotten in the future.

Shakespeare’s unusual yet deep ways of describing human nature through his characters in his plays were unique. From the way he wrote his plays and poems, it would almost feel like to the reader and viewer that he lived in another type of world and that he saw everything around him very differently from normal people. He was very good in describing what he felt through what he saw as well. In one of his well-known plays called Hamlet, one of Hamlet’s quotes he says as following: What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how nfinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me— nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so. (2. 2. 303–312). This passage exemplifies how Hamlet says that man is like an angel or god in apprehension. The ‘quintessence of dust’ states that from all God’s work, Man is one of the noblest. Despite all this nobility, Hamlet is not delighted by all this grace or beauty of man.

This is one of the moments where his sincerity is genuinely in question as he explains this to two of the king’s followers or ‘parasites’ as he seems them as, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He feels like there is nothing in Denmark for him and that it feels like a prison to him where he is stuck in following his uncle’s orders and wished that there was another choice for him to follow instead. Even though Man is described as the beauty of God’s works, from what he sees man as in his life gives him another image of human nature.

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