In his novel, Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds (referring to strictly literary criticism) Harold Bloom argues that “We read to find ourselves, more fully and more strangely than we could otherwise hope to find.” Similarly, in Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, he writes that “…the representation of human character and personality remains always the supreme literary value, whether in drama, lyric or narrative.” These are examples of just a few of the points that Bloom illustrates in his criticism that Genius, is essentially the discovery of what is oldest and best within the individual, to paraphrase his own words, and that Shakespeare’s capacity for such is demonstrated in his capacity to create for believable characters within his works, which is an observation that I rather agree with. The most painstakingly obvious exemplification of this, is that of Shakespeare’s astute understanding of love, it’s many faces, forms, and complexities, and above all else, the human characteristic of a type of insatiable desire to love, and to be loved, and all that that entails; an overarching theme that heavily proliferates throughout a great many of Shakespeare’s works. In this way, a type of parallelism could be made to the extent of Joseph Campbell’s, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in that, despite the many different shapes that love can take, that in it’s most rudimentary element, it is still essentially the same in every instance, and it is for this reason that love conquers all and that such ancient riddles exist, as what has no conditions but one condition, to which the answer, of course, is love. An in-depth comprehensive analysis of the prevalent theme of romantic love that is so intrinsically interwoven within Shakespeare’s works reveals his critique on the matter that love is one of, if not the most important components to our human existence.
“You hear, Count Claudio? I can be secret as a dumb man, I would have you think so. But on my allegiance, mark you this, in my allegiance! He is in love. With who? Now that is your grace’s part. Mark how short his answer is: with Hero, Leonato’s short daughter, (1.1 169-173). In short, this passage uttered by Benedict highlights the many ways that that Act I, Scene I of Much Ado About Nothing sets the stage for the issues and precedents surrounding the matter of love throughout the rest of the play. Like a game of chess, the introduction or beginning takes hold of and drastically shapes the entirety of the progression, and this is certainly the case in this specific illustration. For example, in this particular conversation, Shakespeare subtly presents the stark juxtaposition that can be found in the relationship dynamics that can be found between Claudio and Hero, as compared to the likes of Beatrice and Benedick. On the surface level, through the dialog offered in this brief canto, the reader receives a brief glimpse at the conventional approach to love and marriage that was typical in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England as is exemplified in the case of Claudio and Hero. Conversely, in the case of Benedick and Beatrice, we see a sort of highly charged, we see a progression into love with a hint of unorthodox, and that is even chaotic, while at the same time highlighting how opposites attract. In the first demonstration, the more socially accepted course so to speak is highlighted by such exchanges between the characters as when Benedick asks Claudio, “Would you buy her, that you enquire after her,” to which Claudio wittingly replies, “Can the world buy such a jewel,” and of course in recognition to Benedict’s sort of arrogant sarcasm. Just as it is depicted in Claudio’s remark that almost immediately follows his previous comment as he states, “I would scarce trust myself though I had sworn the contrary if Hero would be my wife.” At this point, it is interesting to note how hastily Claudio is willing to thrust his heart into this relationship, to engage, court, and otherwise merry Hero, when considering that this is supposed to be a typical illustration of the conventional standards at the time. On the other hand, in the relationship with Beatrice and Benedick, the reader is presented with a unification of two people that is in many ways, the polar opposite of that of Claudio and Hero. We receive this message in the form of the witty insults that they hurl at each other as it commented by Leonato in the opening moments of the scene as he remarks, “You must not, sir, mistake my niece. There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signor Benedick and her. They never meet but there’s a skirmish of wit between them;” a type of interaction between the two that makes the reader question if they might have had some previous fling or affair that had failed (1.1 49-50) It is also signified in their views pertaining to love and marriage, which is best exemplified in Benedick’s speech of sorts as he goes on a tangent saying, “That a woman conceived me, I thank her. That she brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks…I will live a bachelor (1.1 195-201).” And, as the reader will later discover, that these thoughts coupled with his sentiments concerning cuckoldry are so eerily similar to Beatrice’s own views, that it’s hard to even begin to differentiate one from the other, which only acts to illustrate how much they have in common. This juxtaposition of relationship dynamics, however, only scratch the surface level of issues concerning love that are presented in this one scene in particular. With Benedict’s comment of whether or not Claudio would buy Hero, there are issues of coverture and other financial obligations that are associated with love and marriage which permeate throughout the play. We see the of course in greater detail later, as Claudio asks her father as to whether or not Leonato has any male sons, in an assessment of whether or not he will take over his inheritance as a result of his marriage, which at best illustrates issues surrounding love at the time such as how marriage was viewed as a type of financial exchange between the son and father and law, as well as raising the question of whether or not we marry or fall in love strictly for the sake of love, or for other reasons such as financial and social benefits. Similarly, in the exchange between Claudio and Benedick as found in, “Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signor Leonato? I noted her not, but I looked on her,” we also become familiarized with the overarching theme of noting one’s character, reputation, qualities, and other facilities, as well as other social factors or pressures that are present between two people falling in love. The list continues in this fashion in great lengths, such as how one could note the type of palpable sexual tension built up between Benedick and Beatrice, and the implications that this has about sexuality, which is further reinforced by the title of the work in and of itself. That being said, with everything being kept into consideration, the take away from all of this is that, despite all social pressures, norms, conventions, differences, ideologies, that at its very core, love is essentially the same in every instance. That is, a coming together of two people, in both understanding and acceptance, in that in their agreeing to care for one another, learn to grow with each other. While this scene alone from Much Ado About nothing, clearly emphasizes the importance of love as part of the human condition, a further examination of various elements inherent within Twelfth Night, further bolsters this argumentation.
“Why, what would you? Make me a willow cabin at your gate and call upon my soul within the house, write loyal cantons and contemned love, and sing them loud even in the dead of night; Halloo your name to the reverberate hills, and make the babbling gossip the air cry out Olivia! O, you should not rest between the elements of air and earth but you should pity me. You might do much (1.5 237-246).” This conversation between Viola and Olivia as taken from Act I, Scene V of the tempest, is arguably one of the best exemplifications of Shakespeare’s profound insight into the of love, and all of its intimate complexities. More specifically, through the catalyst of the many love triangles interwoven throughout this scene, and the entirety of the play for that matter, Shakespeare is able to illustrate how love transcends social norms, gender roles, socioeconomic and sociopolitical affiliations, and other such notions. The most obvious demonstration of this is found in the case of Oliva who presents herself as Cesario. Without question, Viola, or Cesario is arguably one of the most complex characters in all of Shakespeare’s works. As a female disguised as a male, she seemingly breaks every gender norm fathomable in this specific epoch in human history; a matter that is only further highlighted and complicated in the way that she would have been played by a young male character. In matters of love, things are only made the more complex in that she would have otherwise been expected to reciprocate the love that Olivia shows for her under the pretense that she believes her to be a male, whereas conversely, she can no give in to her own desire, lust, or love for Orsino for similar reasons, and it is worth noting that the love that she feels for him is greatly paralleled to Orsino’s, in that she pines for him, but that love is not returned, just as is the case in the relationship between Orsino and Olivia. But, as is typical with most Shakespearian works, there is a lot packed into one scene. What is most interesting, is the way that Olivia falls for Cesario are Viola in this interaction. Viola, as Orsino’s messenger, conveys his undying love for her in highly poetical terms, that he himself could have never hoped to express, and when considering that she herself is a female, it is arguable that she does so in a way that would be appreciated or appealing to another female. Given this fact, coupled with the notions that are raised by her gender, it makes the audience question what was found to be attractive at this time. In matters of love, it is also worth mentioning that we see again, how issues of social status and financial means are something to be kept into consideration, which is implied by such statements made by Olivia as, “What kind o man is her,” “Of what personage and years is he,” and of course as she asks Viola, “What is your parentage.” In their exchange, the reader also gets a sense of how, to a certain extent, we view things on a surface level, in terms of attractiveness, and as such that we hope not to be objectified, although we are certainly guilty of doing it ourselves at times, as is illustrated by Oliva’s remark, “I will give out divers schedules of my beauty. It shall be inventoried and every particle and utensil labeled to my will, as, item, two lips, indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to them; item, one neck, one chin, and so on,” and similarly, as is found in, “Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions, and spirits,” as she so hypocritically does the same thing to Viola that she did not wish to be done to herself. As we study this, it is hard not to see the question that Shakespeare seems to be making here, as to whether or not we first fall in love with people for their appearances, on a type of superficial surface level, or as a result of the internal qualities. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as Olivia makes up a fake story to have Viola returned to her, we get a sense of how at times love can be this sort of irrational sort of thing, that not only defies gender roles, and social norms, but reason and logic as well. Again, the message is further hammered home, that there is no length too great that the human being is willing to go for the name of love. Just as this scene serves to illustrate the importance of love found in Shakespeare’s work, an in-depth scrutiny of The Tempest reveals the same insight.
“I am in my condition a prince, Miranda, I do think a king – I would not so – and would no more endure this wooden slavery than to suffer the flesh fly blow my mouth. Hear my soul speak. The very instant that I saw you did my heart fly to your service; there resides to make me slave to it. And for your sake am I this patient log-man. Do you love me? O heaven, o earth, bear witness to this sound, and crown what I profess with kind event if I speak true! If hollowly, invert what best is boded me to mischief! I, beyond all limit of what else in the world do love, prize, honor you (3.1. 59-73).” Once again, in Act III, Scene I of The Tempest, Shakespeare presents the reader, with another thought-provoking insight into the nature of love. On a microscopic level, as is indicated in this passage, while sparks flare instantaneously, and the appearance is made that these two star—crossed lovers met by chance, as is implied by the theme of divinity or manifest destiny that is an integral part of the play, the truth is so far from what is evident. In the musings of Prospero, we see that he has in a sense set them up, and to a certain degree is manipulating them into thinking, feeling, and acting in ways that are in accordance with his own personal agenda and will. As he does so, the reader can not help but question, whether or not in his approval of this matter, as we usually seek the approval of our parents in our potential significant others, is due to the fact that he wants what is best for his daughter, which is ostensibly the case, or, if this is for some larger self-serving purpose, as their union brings with it more power and social prestige. What is also interesting, is the way he goes about telling them how he does not want them to act, in the hopes that they will do the very things he cautions them to refrain from, for the purpose that he hopes that it will make their union seem all the more legitimate.
In conclusion, this study of the importance of level that is stressed in Shakespeare’s work, is one that is severely restricted, limited, and otherwise constrained in terms of length requirements, the selection of works that we have to choose from, and in the topic of romantic love alone. One could very well argue, that someone could write an entire book dedicated to the issue of love as is inherent within Shakespeare’s work, as well as offering an analysis of what this means. That being said, there is no questioning how important the notion of love was to Shakespeare in an attempt at capturing the human condition. Time and time again, we see that it is something worth fighting, and even dying for, case in point Romeo and Juliet. And we see it in so many contexts asides just an assessment of romantic love. In Hamlet we are offered insight into the type of father son love relationship, as Hamlet feigns insanity, very well nearly abandons his religious, moral, and ethical judgements, as he endeavors to avenge his father’s death, risking his very soul in the name of thy father. He explores this relationship and several others further in the case of Henry IV, in which in Act III, he illustrates the type of tough love that a parent would show to their child for the sake of what is best of them, and in the hopes that they will rise up to meet their expectations. In likewise fashion, Hal reciprocates this love, as he does in fact rise to the occasion, meeting the requirements necessary of him as a Prince, and latter, in becoming a better King then his father in Henry V. In the same work, one can not help but overlook the way that Shakespeare illustrates the love that a ruler should have for his people, as is best demonstrated in Hal misunderstood of socializing with the lower class people, in his attempt to better understand and accept the individuals who will potentially be his loyal subjects, all of which are characteristics synonymous with love. As I muse this over further, I can not help but think back to a quote of his made in A Midnight Summer’s Dream, as he noted, “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet are of imagination all compact,” and especially in it’s relationship to Malvolio in Twelfth Night, as we see how his deranged narcisstic obsession and fancies for Olivia, and not that very unlike the other types of demonstrations of love expressed by the other characters of the play. Finally, I would argue that Shakespeare’s writing, and his mastery over the English language in and of itself is the greatest exemplification of his understanding of love, and the importance of it. The way he went about understanding every aspect of writing in it’s entirety, is very much likened to the way that an individual would want to know everything about their lover, and I think it is demonstrated further in the common theme of the importance of language or of narrative that is repeated in his work. In this way, that is much congruent with the eastern philosophy that, choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life, that writing acted as a sort of origin point in coming to understanding love, and that it was something that took effect in all areas of his life, especially his writing. So, to end the semester, I conclude by quoting the late John Lennon, as he said, “All you need is love,” to which I will follow with Benedick’s remark, “I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?”