Flashcards in Shakespeare Deck (16):
King Henry IV
While King Henry's England is threatened by rebellion, the king's scapegrace son Hal haunts the taverns of London, his companions crew of rogues and thieves led by the dissolute knight, Sir John Falstaff.
The Earl of Northumberland and his fiery son Hotspur scheme to overthrow the crown. Can Hal be brought to a sense of his duty as Prince of Wales? Or will the influence of Falstaff prove too strong? The issue is decided when Hal, Hotspur and Falstaff come together at the climatic battle of Shrewsbury
Henry IV (Major Characters)
King Henry IV – The ruling king of England. Henry is not actually all that old, but at the time the play opens, he has been worn down prematurely by worries. He nurses guilty feelings about having won his throne through a civil war that deposed the former king, Richard II. In addition, his reign has not brought an end to the internal strife in England, which erupts into an even bigger civil war in this play. Finally, he is vexed by the irresponsible antics of his eldest son, Prince Harry. Regal, proud, and somewhat aloof, King Henry is not the main character of the play that bears his name but, rather, its historical focus. He gives the play a center of power and a sense of stability, though his actions and emotions are largely secondary to the plot.
Prince Harry – King Henry IV’s son, who will eventually become King Henry V. Harry’s title is Prince of Wales, but all of his friends call him Hal; he is also sometimes called Harry Monmouth. Though Harry spends all his time hanging around highwaymen, robbers, and whores, he has secret plans to transform himself into a noble prince, and his regal qualities emerge as the play unfolds. Harry is the closest thing the play has to a protagonist: his complex and impressive mind is generally at the center of the play, though Shakespeare is often somewhat ambiguous about how we are meant to understand this simultaneously deceitful and heroic young prince.
Hotspur – The son and heir of the Earl of Northumberland and the nephew of the Earl of Worcester. Hotspur’s real name is Henry Percy (he is also called Harry or Percy), but he has earned his nickname from his fierceness in battle and hastiness of action. Hotspur is a member of the powerful Percy family of the North, which helped bring King Henry IV to power but now feels that the king has forgotten his debt to them. In Shakespeare’s account, Hotspur is the same age as Prince Harry and becomes his archrival. Quick-tempered and impatient, Hotspur is obsessed with the idea of honor and glory to the exclusion of all other qualities.
Sir John Falstaff – A fat old man between the ages of about fifty and sixty-five who hangs around in taverns on the wrong side of London and makes his living as a thief, highwayman, and mooch. Falstaff is Prince Harry’s closest friend and seems to act as a sort of mentor to him, instructing him in the practices of criminals and vagabonds. He is the only one of the bunch who can match Harry’s quick wit pun for pun.
Earl of Westmoreland – A nobleman and military leader who is a close companion and valuable ally of King Henry IV.
Lord John of Lancaster – The younger son of King Henry and the younger brother of Prince Harry. John proves himself wise and valiant in battle, despite his youth.
Sir Walter Blunt – A loyal and trusted ally of the king and a valuable warrior.
Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester – Hotspur’s uncle. Shrewd and manipulative, Worcester is the mastermind behind the Percy rebellion.
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland – Hotspur’s father. Northumberland conspires and raises troops on the Percy side, but he claims that he is sick before the Battle of Shrewsbury and does not actually bring his troops into the fray.
Edmund Mortimer, called the Earl of March – The Welsh rebel Owain Glyndwr’s son-in-law. Mortimer is a conflation of two separate historical figures: Mortimer and the Earl of March. For Shakespeare’s purposes, Mortimer matters because he had a strong claim to the throne of England before King Henry overthrew the previous king, Richard II.
Owain Glyndwr – The leader of the Welsh rebels and the father of Lady Mortimer (most editions of 1 Henry IV refer to him as Owen Glendower). Glyndwr joins with the Percys in their insurrection against King Henry. Well-read, educated in England, and very capable in battle, he is also steeped in the traditional lore of Wales and claims to be able to command great magic. He is mysterious and superstitious and sometimes acts according to prophecies and omens.
Archibald, Earl of Douglas – The leader of the large army of Scottish rebels against King Henry. Usually called “The Douglas” (a traditional way of referring to a Scottish clan chief), the deadly and fearless Douglas fights on the side of the Percys.
Sir Richard Vernon – A relative and ally of the Earl of Worcester.
The Archbishop of York – The archbishop, whose given name is Richard Scrope, has a grievance against King Henry and thus conspires on the side of the Percys.
Ned Poins, Bardolph, and Peto – Criminals and highwaymen. Poins, Bardolph, and Peto are friends of Falstaff and Prince Harry who drink with them in the Boar’s Head Tavern, accompany them in highway robbery, and go with them to war.
Gadshill – Another highwayman friend of Harry, Falstaff, and the rest. Gadshill seems to be nicknamed after the place on the London road—called Gad’s Hill—where he has set up many robberies.
Mistress Quickly – Hostess of the Boar’s Head Tavern, a seedy dive in Eastcheap, London, where Falstaff and his friends go to drink.
King Lear (Major Characters)
Cordelia – Lear’s youngest daughter, disowned. The king of France marries her for her virtue alone, overlooking her lack of dowry. She remains loyal to Lear despite his cruelty toward her, forgives him, and displays a mild and forbearing temperament even toward her evil sisters, Goneril and Regan.
Goneril – Lear’s ruthless oldest daughter and the wife of the duke of Albany. Goneril is jealous, treacherous, and amoral. Shakespeare’s audience would have been particularly shocked at Goneril’s aggressiveness, a quality that it would not have expected in a female character. She challenges Lear’s authority, boldly initiates an affair with Edmund, and wrests military power away from her husband.
Regan – Lear’s middle daughter and the wife of the duke of Cornwall. Regan is as ruthless as Goneril and as aggressive in all the same ways. In fact, it is difficult to think of any quality that distinguishes her from her sister. When they are not egging each other on to further acts of cruelty, they jealously compete for the same man, Edmund.
Gloucester – A nobleman loyal to King Lear whose rank, earl, is below that of duke. The first thing we learn about Gloucester is that he is an adulterer, having fathered a bastard son, Edmund. His fate is in many ways parallel to that of Lear: he misjudges which of his children to trust. He appears weak and ineffectual in the early acts, when he is unable to prevent Lear from being turned out of his own house, but he later demonstrates that he is also capable of great bravery.
Edgar – Gloucester’s older, legitimate son. Edgar plays many different roles, starting out as a gullible fool easily tricked by his brother, then assuming a disguise as a mad beggar to evade his father’s men, then carrying his impersonation further to aid Lear and Gloucester, and finally appearing as an armored champion to avenge his brother’s treason. Edgar’s propensity for disguises and impersonations makes it difficult to characterize him effectively.
Edmund – Gloucester’s younger, illegitimate son. Edmund resents his status as a bastard and schemes to usurp Gloucester’s title and possessions from Edgar. He is a formidable character, succeeding in almost all of his schemes and wreaking destruction upon virtually all of the other characters.
Kent – A nobleman of the same rank as Gloucester who is loyal to King Lear. Kent spends most of the play disguised as a peasant, calling himself “Caius,”
Albany – The husband of Lear’s daughter Goneril. Albany is good at heart, and he eventually denounces and opposes the cruelty of Goneril, Regan, and Cornwall.
Cornwall – The husband of Lear’s daughter Regan. Unlike Albany, Cornwall is domineering, cruel, and violent,
Oswald – The steward, or chief servant, in Goneril’s house. Oswald obeys his mistress’s commands and helps her in her conspiracies.
King Lear (Plot)
Lear, the aging king of Britain, decides to step down from the throne and divide his kingdom evenly among his three daughters. First, however, he puts his daughters through a test, asking each to tell him how much she loves him. Goneril and Regan, Lear’s older daughters, give their father flattering answers. But Cordelia, Lear’s youngest and favorite daughter, remains silent, saying that she has no words to describe how much she loves her father. Lear flies into a rage and disowns Cordelia. The king of France, who has courted Cordelia, says that he still wants to marry her even without her land, and she accompanies him to France without her father’s blessing.
Lear quickly learns that he made a bad decision. Goneril and Regan swiftly begin to undermine the little authority that Lear still holds. Unable to believe that his beloved daughters are betraying him, Lear slowly goes insane. He flees his daughters’ houses to wander on a heath during a great thunderstorm, accompanied by his Fool and by Kent, a loyal nobleman in disguise.
Meanwhile, an elderly nobleman named Gloucester also experiences family problems. His illegitimate son, Edmund, tricks him into believing that his legitimate son, Edgar, is trying to kill him. Fleeing the manhunt that his father has set for him, Edgar disguises himself as a crazy beggar and calls himself “Poor Tom.” Like Lear, he heads out onto the heath.
When the loyal Gloucester realizes that Lear’s daughters have turned against their father, he decides to help Lear in spite of the danger. Regan and her husband, Cornwall, discover him helping Lear, accuse him of treason, blind him, and turn him out to wander the countryside. He ends up being led by his disguised son, Edgar, toward the city of Dover, where Lear has also been brought.
In Dover, a French army lands as part of an invasion led by Cordelia in an effort to save her father. Edmund apparently becomes romantically entangled with both Regan and Goneril, whose husband, Albany, is increasingly sympathetic to Lear’s cause. Goneril and Edmund conspire to kill Albany.
The despairing Gloucester tries to commit suicide, but Edgar saves him by pulling the strange trick of leading him off an imaginary cliff. Meanwhile, the English troops reach Dover, and the English, led by Edmund, defeat the Cordelia-led French. Lear and Cordelia are captured. In the climactic scene, Edgar duels with and kills Edmund; we learn of the death of Gloucester; Goneril poisons Regan out of jealousy over Edmund and then kills herself when her treachery is revealed to Albany; Edmund’s betrayal of Cordelia leads to her needless execution in prison; and Lear finally dies out of grief at Cordelia’s passing. Albany, Edgar, and the elderly Kent are left to take care of the country under a cloud of sorrow and regret.
The Tempest (characters)
Prospero, rightful duke of Milan; a magician
Gonzalo, a good old counselor
Miranda, Prospero's daughter
Trinculo, Alonso's jester
Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples
Stephano, Alonso's drunken butler
Ariel, a bird-like spirit, servant of Prospero
Adrian & Francisco: attendants to Naples
Caliban, half man, half beast
Master of the Ship
Alonso, King of Naples
Sebastian, Alonso's traitorous brother
Antonio, Prospero's usurping brother
Iris, Ceres, Juno: spirits of the pageant
Gonzalo, a good old counselor
Nymphs and reapers
Act I: A tempest at sea batters the ship of the King of Naples, which is returning from the wedding of the King's daughter in Africa. On a nearby island, Prospero, a magician and a Duke who has lost his realm, controls the sea and brings to shore his usurping brother and other old enemies aboard the ship. Prospero and his daughter Miranda came to this isle after having been set adrift by his brother, Antonio. Only the assistance of a good old counselor, Gonzalo, allowed their survival. On the isle, Prospero commands a spirit of the winds, Ariel, who has been the agent of the tempest. He also rules over the island's only other occupant, the fishy Caliban, born of the witch Sycorax. Prospero brings all the voyagers safely ashore, but scatters them in groups about the island. Ferdinand, the young Prince of Naples, is led by Ariel's singing to Prospero's cave. Miranda, who has seen no man other than her father, falls instantly in love with him
Act Two Stranded in another part of the island, Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, and Gonzalo presume Ferdinand is dead. Alonso and Gonzalo fall asleep, but Sebastian and Antonio remain awake, plotting the death of the sleeping king and his counselor. Ariel wakes the intended victims just in time. In another area of the island, Trinculo, the jester, encounters Caliban. Stephano joins them and provides Caliban with liquor, so engaging his devotion
Act Three Just as Sebastian and Antonio, upon arriving in this new land, plot to kill the King of Naples, so too Stephano and Trinculo engage Caliban in a plot to kill Prospero and seize the island. Meantime, Miranda exchanges vows with Ferdinand, whom Prospero has set upon a labor of log-bearing as a testament of his devotion. On the shore, Ariel mocks the royal party with a vanishing banquet and appears in the form of a Harpy to remind them of their crime against Prospero and his daughter
Act Four At the cave, Prospero produces a pre-wedding masque for Ferdinand and Miranda, which is peopled with the spirits of goddesses and nymphs. Remembering the threat of Caliban's plot, the magician abruptly stops the masque and sends Ariel to punish the conspirators, whom Ariel pursues in the form of hunting dogs and drives through filthy ditches.
Act Five The royal party is now brought, spell-bound by Ariel's music, to Prospero, who reveals himself to them, orders Antonio to restore his dukedom, and warns Sebastian against further plots. Alonso is allowed a view within the cave of Ferdinand and Miranda playing at chess. Ariel brings in the three drunken conspirators, and Caliban submits himself to his true master. The task of reconciling past wrong and reforming character completed, Prospero abjures his magic. All prepare to sail to Naples the next day.
Macbeth is a Scottish general and the thane of Glamis who is led to wicked thoughts by the prophecies of the three witches, especially after their prophecy that he will be made thane of Cawdor comes true. Macbeth is a brave soldier and a powerful man, but he is not a virtuous one. He is easily tempted into murder to fulfill his ambitions to the throne, and once he commits his first crime and is crowned King of Scotland, he embarks on further atrocities with increasing ease. Ultimately, Macbeth proves himself better suited to the battlefield than to political intrigue, because he lacks the skills necessary to rule without being a tyrant. His response to every problem is violence and murder. Unlike Shakespeare’s great villains, such as Iago in Othello and Richard III in Richard III, Macbeth is never comfortable in his role as a criminal. He is unable to bear the psychological consequences of his atrocities.
Lady Macbeth – Macbeth’s wife, a deeply ambitious woman who lusts for power and position. Early in the play she seems to be the stronger and more ruthless of the two, as she urges her husband to kill Duncan and seize the crown. After the bloodshed begins, however, Lady Macbeth falls victim to guilt and madness to an even greater degree than her husband. Her conscience affects her to such an extent that she eventually commits suicide. Interestingly, she and Macbeth are presented as being deeply in love, and many of Lady Macbeth’s speeches imply that her influence over her husband is primarily sexual. Their joint alienation from the world, occasioned by their partnership in crime, seems to strengthen the attachment that they feel to each another.
The Three Witches – Three “black and midnight hags” who plot mischief against Macbeth using charms, spells, and prophecies. Their predictions prompt him to murder Duncan, to order the deaths of Banquo and his son, and to blindly believe in his own immortality. The play leaves the witches’ true identity unclear—aside from the fact that they are servants of Hecate, we know little about their place in the cosmos. In some ways they resemble the mythological Fates, who impersonally weave the threads of human destiny. They clearly take a perverse delight in using their knowledge of the future to toy with and destroy human beings.
Banquo – The brave, noble general whose children, according to the witches’ prophecy, will inherit the Scottish throne. Like Macbeth, Banquo thinks ambitious thoughts, but he does not translate those thoughts into action. In a sense, Banquo’s character stands as a rebuke to Macbeth, since he represents the path Macbeth chose not to take: a path in which ambition need not lead to betrayal and murder. Appropriately, then, it is Banquo’s ghost—and not Duncan’s—that haunts Macbeth. In addition to embodying Macbeth’s guilt for killing Banquo, the ghost also reminds Macbeth that he did not emulate Banquo’s reaction to the witches’ prophecy.
King Duncan – The good King of Scotland whom Macbeth, in his ambition for the crown, murders. Duncan is the model of a virtuous, benevolent, and farsighted ruler. His death symbolizes the destruction of an order in Scotland that can be restored only when Duncan’s line, in the person of Malcolm, once more occupies the throne.
Macduff – A Scottish nobleman hostile to Macbeth’s kingship from the start. He eventually becomes a leader of the crusade to unseat Macbeth. The crusade’s mission is to place the rightful king, Malcolm, on the throne, but Macduff also desires vengeance for Macbeth’s murder of Macduff’s wife and young son.
Malcolm – The son of Duncan, whose restoration to the throne signals Scotland’s return to order following Macbeth’s reign of terror. Malcolm becomes a serious challenge to Macbeth with Macduff’s aid (and the support of England). Prior to this, he appears weak and uncertain of his own power, as when he and Donalbain flee Scotland after their father’s murder.
Hecate – The goddess of witchcraft, who helps the three witches work their mischief on Macbeth.
Fleance – Banquo’s son, who survives Macbeth’s attempt to murder him. At the end of the play, Fleance’s whereabouts are unknown. Presumably, he may come to rule Scotland, fulfilling the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s sons will sit on the Scottish throne.
Lennox – A Scottish nobleman.
Ross – A Scottish nobleman.
The Murderers – A group of ruffians conscripted by Macbeth to murder Banquo, Fleance (whom they fail to kill), and Macduff’s wife and children.
Porter – The drunken doorman of Macbeth’s castle.
Lady Macduff – Macduff’s wife. The scene in her castle provides our only glimpse of a domestic realm other than that of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. She and her home serve as contrasts to Lady Macbeth and the hellish world of Inverness.
Donalbain – Duncan’s son and Malcolm’s younger brother.
Macbeth begins as King Duncan and his son, Malcolm, both fresh from battle, encounter a bloody sergeant, who reports that Macbeth and Banquo have fought successfully and bravely for the king. Duncan punishes the Thane of Cawdor, who has turned traitor, and gives his title to Macbeth.
Macbeth and Banquo, returning from battle, encounter three 'weird sisters' on the heath. The sisters prophesy that Macbeth will become both Thane of Cawdor and King and that Banquo will be the father of kings.As the weird sisters disappear, Ross and Angus arrive and greet Macbeth as the new Thane of Cawdor.
Lady Macbeth receives a letter from her husband telling her of the prophecy. When he arrives at his castle, Dunsinane, she pushes him to bring the prophecy to pass by killing the king, who will stay in their home that evening. That evening, Macbeth and Banquo discuss the sisters' prophecies, then Macbeth imagines he sees daggers floating around him. After all are in bed, Macbeth kills the sleeping king and, horrified by what he has done, rejoins Lady Macbeth. She takes the daggers from him and smears the sleeping guards with blood to put the blame on them.
As the Macbeths go to clean up, there is a knocking at the gate, which is answered by the drunken porters. Macduff and Ross arrive and discover the murdered king. Macbeth murders the sleeping guards. The princes, Malcolm and Donalbain, flee because they fear for their lives, and suspicion falls on them. The scene shifts to Macduff, the Thane of Fife, and his wife at home with their children, and we discover that Macbeth has been crowned king. Macbeth, fearing Banquo and his heirs, arranges to have Banquo and Fleance murdered, but Fleance escapes. That night at a state dinner, Macbeth is haunted by Banquo's ghost.
Tormented, Macbeth seeks the sisters again and receives three new prophecies: that he should beware Macduff, that no one born of woman will harm him, and that he will never be vanquished until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill. They also show him that Banquo's heirs will eventually rule Scotland. After they leave, Macbeth learns that Macduff has fled to Malcolm in England and he orders Macduff's family murdered. When Macduff learns of the deaths, his intense grief steels his resolve to march on Scotland with Malcolm, Donalbain, Ross, and Siward.
Back at the castle, Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, distraught over all that has happened. A doctor can offer Macbeth no hope for her. Macbeth prepares for the coming battle, but he is confident in the protection offered him by his prophecies. Lady Macbeth kills herself. A messenger reports that Birnam Wood appears to be moving toward Dunsinane; in reality, Malcolm's soldiers are using tree branches to disguise their numbers. The battle begins and it seems as though Macbeth will win the day until, confronted with Macduff, he finds that Macduff was not born of woman, but from his mother's womb untimely ripped. Macbeth continues the battle, but is killed. Malcolm will become king.
Othello – The play’s protagonist and hero. A Christian Moor and general of the armies of Venice, Othello is an eloquent and physically powerful figure, respected by all those around him. In spite of his elevated status, he is nevertheless easy prey to insecurities because of his age, his life as a soldier, and his race. He possesses a “free and open nature,” which his ensign Iago uses to twist his love for his wife, Desdemona, into a powerful and destructive jealousy (I.iii.381).
Desdemona – The daughter of the Venetian senator Brabanzio. Desdemona and Othello are secretly married before the play begins. While in many ways stereotypically pure and meek, Desdemona is also determined and self-possessed. She is equally capable of defending her marriage, jesting bawdily with Iago, and responding with dignity to Othello’s incomprehensible jealousy.
Iago – Othello’s ensign (a job also known as an ancient or standard-bearer), and the villain of the play. Iago is twenty-eight years old. While his ostensible reason for desiring Othello’s demise is that he has been passed over for promotion to lieutenant, Iago’s motivations are never very clearly expressed and seem to originate in an obsessive, almost aesthetic delight in manipulation and destruction.
Michael Cassio – Othello’s lieutenant. Cassio is a young and inexperienced soldier, whose high position is much resented by Iago. Truly devoted to Othello, Cassio is extremely ashamed after being implicated in a drunken brawl on Cyprus and losing his place as lieutenant. Iago uses Cassio’s youth, good looks, and friendship with Desdemona to play on Othello’s insecurities about Desdemona’s fidelity.
Emilia – Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s attendant. A cynical, worldly woman, she is deeply attached to her mistress and distrustful of her husband.
Roderigo – A jealous suitor of Desdemona. Young, rich, and foolish, Roderigo is convinced that if he gives Iago all of his money, Iago will help him win Desdemona’s hand. Repeatedly frustrated as Othello marries Desdemona and then takes her to Cyprus, Roderigo is ultimately desperate enough to agree to help Iago kill Cassio after Iago points out that Cassio is another potential rival for Desdemona.
Bianca – A courtesan, or prostitute, in Cyprus. Bianca’s favorite customer is Cassio, who teases her with promises of marriage.
Brabanzio – Desdemona’s father, a somewhat blustering and self-important Venetian senator. As a friend of Othello, Brabanzio feels betrayed when the general marries his daughter in secret.
Duke of Venice – The official authority in Venice, the duke has great respect for Othello as a public and military servant. His primary role within the play is to reconcile Othello and Brabanzio in Act I, scene iii, and then to send Othello to Cyprus.
Montano – The governor of Cyprus before Othello. We see him first in Act II, as he recounts the status of the war and awaits the Venetian ships.
Lodovico – One of Brabanzio’s kinsmen, Lodovico acts as a messenger from Venice to Cyprus. He arrives in Cyprus in Act IV with letters announcing that Othello has been replaced by Cassio as governor.
Graziano – Brabanzio’s kinsman who accompanies Lodovico to Cyprus. Amidst the chaos of the final scene, Graziano mentions that Desdemona’s father has died.
Clown – Othello’s servant. Although the clown appears only in two short scenes, his appearances reflect and distort the action and words of the main plots: his puns on the word “lie” in Act III, scene iv, for example, anticipate Othello’s confusion of two meanings of that word in Act IV, scene i.
Othello begins on a street in Venice, in the midst of an argument between Roderigo, a rich man, and Iago. Roderigo has been paying Iago to help him in his suit to Desdemona. But Roderigo has just learned that Desdemona has married Othello, a general whom Iago begrudgingly serves as ensign. Iago says he hates Othello, who recently passed him over for the position of lieutenant in favor of the inexperienced soldier Michael Cassio.
Unseen, Iago and Roderigo cry out to Brabanzio that his daughter Desdemona has been stolen by and married to Othello, the Moor. Brabanzio finds that his daughter is indeed missing, and he gathers some officers to find Othello. Not wanting his hatred of Othello to be known, Iago leaves Roderigo and hurries back to Othello before Brabanzio sees him. At Othello’s lodgings, Cassio arrives with an urgent message from the duke: Othello’s help is needed in the matter of the imminent Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Not long afterward, Brabanzio arrives with Roderigo and others, and accuses Othello of stealing his daughter by witchcraft. When he finds out that Othello is on his way to speak with the duke, -Brabanzio decides to go along and accuse Othello before the assembled senate.
Brabanzio’s plan backfires. The duke and senate are very sympathetic toward Othello. Given a chance to speak for himself, Othello explains that he wooed and won Desdemona not by witchcraft but with the stories of his adventures in travel and war. The duke finds Othello’s explanation convincing, and Desdemona herself enters at this point to defend her choice in marriage and to announce to her father that her allegiance is now to her husband. Brabanzio is frustrated, but acquiesces and allows the senate meeting to resume. The duke says that Othello must go to Cyprus to aid in the defense against the Turks, who are headed for the island. Desdemona insists that she accompany her husband on his trip, and preparations are made for them to depart that night.
In Cyprus the following day, two gentlemen stand on the shore with Montano, the governor of Cyprus. A third gentleman arrives and reports that the Turkish fleet has been wrecked in a storm at sea. Cassio, whose ship did not suffer the same fate, arrives soon after, followed by a second ship carrying Iago, Roderigo, Desdemona, and Emilia, Iago’s wife. Once they have landed, Othello’s ship is sighted, and the group goes to the harbor. As they wait for Othello, Cassio greets Desdemona by clasping her hand. Watching them, Iago tells the audience that he will use “as little a web as this” hand-holding to ensnare Cassio (II.i.169).
Othello arrives, greets his wife, and announces that there will be reveling that evening to celebrate Cyprus’s safety from the Turks. Once everyone has left, Roderigo complains to Iago that he has no chance of breaking up Othello’s marriage. Iago assures Roderigo that as soon as Desdemona’s “blood is made dull with the act of sport,” she will lose interest in Othello and seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere (II.i.222). However, Iago warns that “elsewhere” will likely be with Cassio. Iago counsels Roderigo that he should cast Cassio into disgrace by starting a fight with Cassio at the evening’s revels. In a soliloquy, Iago explains to the audience that eliminating Cassio is the first crucial step in his plan to ruin Othello. That night, Iago gets Cassio drunk and then sends Roderigo to start a fight with him. Apparently provoked by Roderigo, Cassio chases Roderigo across the stage. Governor Montano attempts to hold Cassio down, and Cassio stabs him. Iago sends Roderigo to raise alarm in the town.
The alarm is rung, and Othello, who had left earlier with plans to consummate his marriage, soon arrives to still the commotion. When Othello demands to know who began the fight, Iago feigns reluctance to implicate his “friend” Cassio, but he ultimately tells the whole story. Othello then strips Cassio of his rank of lieutenant. Cassio is extremely upset, and he laments to Iago, once everyone else has gone, that his reputation has been ruined forever. Iago assures Cassio that he can get back into Othello’s good graces by using Desdemona as an intermediary. In a soliloquy, Iago tells us that he will frame Cassio and Desdemona as lovers to make -Othello jealous.
In an attempt at reconciliation, Cassio sends some musicians to play beneath Othello’s window. Othello, however, sends his clown to tell the musicians to go away. Hoping to arrange a meeting with Desdemona, Cassio asks the clown, a peasant who serves Othello, to send Emilia to him. After the clown departs, Iago passes by and tells Cassio that he will get Othello out of the way so that Cassio can speak privately with Desdemona. Othello, Iago, and a gentleman go to examine some of the town’s fortifications.
Desdemona is quite sympathetic to Cassio’s request and promises that she will do everything she can to make Othello forgive his former lieutenant. As Cassio is about to leave, Othello and Iago return. Feeling uneasy, Cassio leaves without talking to Othello. Othello inquires whether it was Cassio who just parted from his wife, and Iago, beginning to kindle Othello’s fire of jealousy, replies, “No, sure, I cannot think it, / That he would steal away so guilty-like, / Seeing your coming” (III.iii.37–39).
Othello becomes upset and moody, and Iago furthers his goal of removing both Cassio and Othello by suggesting that Cassio and Desdemona are involved in an affair. Desdemona’s entreaties to Othello to reinstate Cassio as lieutenant add to Othello’s almost immediate conviction that his wife is unfaithful. After Othello’s conversation with Iago, Desdemona comes to call Othello to supper and finds him feeling unwell. She offers him her handkerchief to wrap around his head, but he finds it to be “[t]oo little” and lets it drop to the floor (III.iii.291). Desdemona and Othello go to dinner, and Emilia picks up the handkerchief, mentioning to the audience that Iago has always wanted her to steal it for him.
Iago is ecstatic when Emilia gives him the handkerchief, which he plants in Cassio’s room as “evidence” of his affair with Desdemona. When Othello demands “ocular proof” (III.iii.365) that his wife is unfaithful, Iago says that he has seen Cassio “wipe his beard” (III.iii.444) with Desdemona’s handkerchief—the first gift Othello ever gave her. Othello vows to take vengeance on his wife and on Cassio, and Iago vows that he will help him. When Othello sees Desdemona later that evening, he demands the handkerchief of her, but she tells him that she does not have it with her and attempts to change the subject by continuing her suit on Cassio’s behalf. This drives Othello into a further rage, and he storms out. Later, Cassio comes onstage, wondering about the handkerchief he has just found in his chamber. He is greeted by Bianca, a prostitute, whom he asks to take the handkerchief and copy its embroidery for him.
Through Iago’s machinations, Othello becomes so consumed by jealousy that he falls into a trance and has a fit of epilepsy. As he writhes on the ground, Cassio comes by, and Iago tells him to come back in a few minutes to talk. Once Othello recovers, Iago tells him of the meeting he has planned with Cassio. He instructs Othello to hide nearby and watch as Iago extracts from Cassio the story of his affair with Desdemona. While Othello stands out of earshot, Iago pumps Cassio for information about Bianca, causing Cassio to laugh and confirm Othello’s suspicions. Bianca herself then enters with Desdemona’s handkerchief, reprimanding Cassio for making her copy out the embroidery of a love token given to him by another woman. When Desdemona enters with Lodovico and Lodovico subsequently gives Othello a letter from Venice calling him home and instating Cassio as his replacement, Othello goes over the edge, striking Desdemona and then storming out.
That night, Othello accuses Desdemona of being a whore. He ignores her protestations, seconded by Emilia, that she is innocent. Iago assures Desdemona that Othello is simply upset about matters of state. Later that night, however, Othello ominously tells Desdemona to wait for him in bed and to send Emilia away. Meanwhile, Iago assures the still-complaining Roderigo that everything is going as planned: in order to prevent Desdemona and Othello from leaving, Roderigo must kill Cassio. Then he will have a clear avenue to his love.
Iago instructs Roderigo to ambush Cassio, but Roderigo misses his mark and Cassio wounds him instead. Iago wounds Cassio and runs away. When Othello hears Cassio’s cry, he assumes that Iago has killed Cassio as he said he would. Lodovico and Graziano enter to see what the commotion is about. Iago enters shortly thereafter and flies into a pretend rage as he “discovers” Cassio’s assailant Roderigo, whom he murders. Cassio is taken to have his wound dressed.
Meanwhile, Othello stands over his sleeping wife in their bedchamber, preparing to kill her. Desdemona wakes and attempts to plead with Othello. She asserts her innocence, but Othello smothers her. Emilia enters with the news that Roderigo is dead. Othello asks if Cassio is dead too and is mortified when Emilia says he is not. After crying out that she has been murdered, Desdemona changes her story before she dies, claiming that she has committed suicide. Emilia asks Othello what happened, and Othello tells her that he has killed Desdemona for her infidelity, which Iago brought to his attention.
Montano, Graziano, and Iago come into the room. Iago attempts to silence Emilia, who realizes what Iago has done. At first, Othello insists that Iago has told the truth, citing the handkerchief as evidence. Once Emilia tells him how she found the handkerchief and gave it to Iago, Othello is crushed and begins to weep. He tries to kill Iago but is disarmed. Iago kills Emilia and flees, but he is caught by Lodovico and Montano, who return holding Iago captive. They also bring Cassio, who is now in a chair because of his wound. Othello wounds Iago and is disarmed. Lodovico tells Othello that he must come with them back to Venice to be tried. Othello makes a speech about how he would like to be remembered, then kills himself with a sword he had hidden on his person. The play closes with a speech by Lodovico. He gives Othello’s house and goods to Graziano and orders that Iago be executed.
On a dark winter night, a ghost walks the ramparts of Elsinore Castle in Denmark. Discovered first by a pair of watchmen, then by the scholar Horatio, the ghost resembles the recently deceased King Hamlet, whose brother Claudius has inherited the throne and married the king’s widow, Queen Gertrude. When Horatio and the watchmen bring Prince Hamlet, the son of Gertrude and the dead king, to see the ghost, it speaks to him, declaring ominously that it is indeed his father’s spirit, and that he was murdered by none other than Claudius. Ordering Hamlet to seek revenge on the man who usurped his throne and married his wife, the ghost disappears with the dawn.
Prince Hamlet devotes himself to avenging his father’s death, but, because he is contemplative and thoughtful by nature, he delays, entering into a deep melancholy and even apparent madness. Claudius and Gertrude worry about the prince’s erratic behavior and attempt to discover its cause. They employ a pair of Hamlet’s friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to watch him. When Polonius, the pompous Lord Chamberlain, suggests that Hamlet may be mad with love for his daughter, Ophelia, Claudius agrees to spy on Hamlet in conversation with the girl. But though Hamlet certainly seems mad, he does not seem to love Ophelia: he orders her to enter a nunnery and declares that he wishes to ban marriages.
A group of traveling actors comes to Elsinore, and Hamlet seizes upon an idea to test his uncle’s guilt. He will have the players perform a scene closely resembling the sequence by which Hamlet imagines his uncle to have murdered his father, so that if Claudius is guilty, he will surely react. When the moment of the murder arrives in the theater, Claudius leaps up and leaves the room. Hamlet and Horatio agree that this proves his guilt. Hamlet goes to kill Claudius but finds him praying. Since he believes that killing Claudius while in prayer would send Claudius’s soul to heaven, Hamlet considers that it would be an inadequate revenge and decides to wait. Claudius, now frightened of Hamlet’s madness and fearing for his own safety, orders that Hamlet be sent to England at once.
Hamlet goes to confront his mother, in whose bedchamber Polonius has hidden behind a tapestry. Hearing a noise from behind the tapestry, Hamlet believes the king is hiding there. He draws his sword and stabs through the fabric, killing Polonius. For this crime, he is immediately dispatched to England with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. However, Claudius’s plan for Hamlet includes more than banishment, as he has given Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sealed orders for the King of England demanding that Hamlet be put to death.
In the aftermath of her father’s death, Ophelia goes mad with grief and drowns in the river. Polonius’s son, Laertes, who has been staying in France, returns to Denmark in a rage. Claudius convinces him that Hamlet is to blame for his father’s and sister’s deaths. When Horatio and the king receive letters from Hamlet indicating that the prince has returned to Denmark after pirates attacked his ship en route to England, Claudius concocts a plan to use Laertes’ desire for revenge to secure Hamlet’s death. Laertes will fence with Hamlet in innocent sport, but Claudius will poison Laertes’ blade so that if he draws blood, Hamlet will die. As a backup plan, the king decides to poison a goblet, which he will give Hamlet to drink should Hamlet score the first or second hits of the match. Hamlet returns to the vicinity of Elsinore just as Ophelia’s funeral is taking place. Stricken with grief, he attacks Laertes and declares that he had in fact always loved Ophelia. Back at the castle, he tells Horatio that he believes one must be prepared to die, since death can come at any moment. A foolish courtier named Osric arrives on Claudius’s orders to arrange the fencing match between Hamlet and Laertes.
The sword-fighting begins. Hamlet scores the first hit, but declines to drink from the king’s proffered goblet. Instead, Gertrude takes a drink from it and is swiftly killed by the poison. Laertes succeeds in wounding Hamlet, though Hamlet does not die of the poison immediately. First, Laertes is cut by his own sword’s blade, and, after revealing to Hamlet that Claudius is responsible for the queen’s death, he dies from the blade’s poison. Hamlet then stabs Claudius through with the poisoned sword and forces him to drink down the rest of the poisoned wine. Claudius dies, and Hamlet dies immediately after achieving his revenge.
At this moment, a Norwegian prince named Fortinbras, who has led an army to Denmark and attacked Poland earlier in the play, enters with ambassadors from England, who report that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. Fortinbras is stunned by the gruesome sight of the entire royal family lying sprawled on the floor dead. He moves to take power of the kingdom. Horatio, fulfilling Hamlet’s last request, tells him Hamlet’s tragic story. Fortinbras orders that Hamlet be carried away in a manner befitting a fallen soldier.
Hamlet - The Prince of Denmark, the title character, and the protagonist. About thirty years old at the start of the play, Hamlet is the son of Queen Gertrude and the late King Hamlet, and the nephew of the present king, Claudius. Hamlet is melancholy, bitter, and cynical, full of hatred for his uncle’s scheming and disgust for his mother’s sexuality. A reflective and thoughtful young man who has studied at the University of Wittenberg, Hamlet is often indecisive and hesitant, but at other times prone to rash and impulsive acts.
Read an in-depth analysis of Hamlet.
Claudius - The King of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle, and the play’s antagonist. The villain of the play, Claudius is a calculating, ambitious politician, driven by his sexual appetites and his lust for power, but he occasionally shows signs of guilt and human feeling—his love for Gertrude, for instance, seems sincere.
Read an in-depth analysis of Claudius.
Gertrude - The Queen of Denmark, Hamlet’s mother, recently married to Claudius. Gertrude loves Hamlet deeply, but she is a shallow, weak woman who seeks affection and status more urgently than moral rectitude or truth.
Read an in-depth analysis of Gertrude.
Polonius - The Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’s court, a pompous, conniving old man. Polonius is the father of Laertes and Ophelia.
Horatio - Hamlet’s close friend, who studied with the prince at the university in Wittenberg. Horatio is loyal and helpful to Hamlet throughout the play. After Hamlet’s death, Horatio remains alive to tell Hamlet’s story.
Ophelia - Polonius’s daughter, a beautiful young woman with whom Hamlet has been in love. Ophelia is a sweet and innocent young girl, who obeys her father and her brother, Laertes. Dependent on men to tell her how to behave, she gives in to Polonius’s schemes to spy on Hamlet. Even in her lapse into madness and death, she remains maidenly, singing songs about flowers and finally drowning in the river amid the flower garlands she had gathered.
Laertes - Polonius’s son and Ophelia’s brother, a young man who spends much of the play in France. Passionate and quick to action, Laertes is clearly a foil for the reflective Hamlet.
Fortinbras - The young Prince of Norway, whose father the king (also named Fortinbras) was killed by Hamlet’s father (also named Hamlet). Now Fortinbras wishes to attack Denmark to avenge his father’s honor, making him another foil for Prince Hamlet.
The Ghost - The specter of Hamlet’s recently deceased father. The ghost, who claims to have been murdered by Claudius, calls upon Hamlet to avenge him. However, it is not entirely certain whether the ghost is what it appears to be, or whether it is something else. Hamlet speculates that the ghost might be a devil sent to deceive him and tempt him into murder, and the question of what the ghost is or where it comes from is never definitively resolved.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - Two slightly bumbling courtiers, former friends of Hamlet from Wittenberg, who are summoned by Claudius and Gertrude to discover the cause of Hamlet’s strange behavior.
Osric - The foolish courtier who summons Hamlet to his duel with Laertes.
Voltimand and Cornelius - Courtiers whom Claudius sends to Norway to persuade the king to prevent Fortinbras from attacking.
Marcellus and Bernardo - The officers who first see the ghost walking the ramparts of Elsinore and who summon Horatio to witness it. Marcellus is present when Hamlet first encounters the ghost.
Francisco - A soldier and guardsman at Elsinore.
Reynaldo - Polonius’s servant, who is sent to France by Polonius to check up on and spy on Laertes.
"Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York"
Merchant of Venice
Issues of Judaism, conversion, anti-Semitism. Portia's act as lawyer. Mercy v. Justice. "Hath not a Jew eyes?"
Taming of the Shrew
Cf. Chaucer's Wife of Bath's tale
Characters: Petruchio, Lucentio, Grumio, Gremio, Hortensio, Tranio, Vincentio, Baptista, Bianca, Katherine