“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal longings in me.”
When Cleopatra uttered these lines in “Antony and Cleopatra”, maybe she was describing the ambitions of the man who gave her this line. William Shakespeare, the sixteenth century English poet, playwright and actor is widely considered the world’s greatest dramatist. Ben Johnson, his contemporary, once said, “William Shakespeare is not of an age, but for all time.” He could not have been more right.
William Shakespeare commands a unique position in World Literature. While most of his contemporaries have mostly been forgotten, read only by the literature enthusiasts now, the bard has thrived through generations. He appeals to everyone—readers fall in love with his written word and spectators are mesmerised with his plays being enacted on the stage. People discover him every day, they see themselves in Shakespeare’s characters and he speaks to them. His ability to draw everyone in makes him so popular and successful.
So on the eve of William Shakespeare’s 403rd death anniversary, here is a list of seven characters that contribute to making him immortal.
· Hamlet from Hamlet
Hamlet is widely considered as William Shakespeare’s best play. It is also his most memorable character. Hamlet is an enigma—he is indecisive and chides himself for being so, he hates ‘man’, then says that ‘man’ delights him. For every person who observes him, he turns out to be different. Everyone is fascinated with his hesitation, he does not kill Claudius when he is unarmed and keeps planning the murder. He is witty, intelligent and words are his constant companion. Shakespeare has given him the most beautiful monologues, that continue to enthral the audience.
A number of critics have tried to decode the character of Hamlet—none of them have been very successful.
· Portia from The Merchant of Venice
Portia is one of the most delightful heroines of Shakespeare’s comedies. While his tragedies have always shown the world to be a bleak place, his comedies have been awe-inspiring. Portia is immensely tactful—she bends the rules according to her will, thus not breaking them but doing as she wishes. She is beautiful, has a lot of money and does not let anyone stop her from getting what she wants only because she is a woman. Her presence of mind saves Antonio’s life. She never boasts about it—however, she teases her husband enough to not let him forget the truth.
Portia is the real protagonist of the play, she holds the play together and pulls the strings.
· Iago from Othello
Iago is perhaps Shakespeare’s most sinister villains—there is no convincing reason for his actions yet he is willing to destroy anyone to cause harm to Othello. He has a deep hatred for Othello and seems to enjoy the pain he causes to everyone. Terrifying—he lets the audience know what he is doing and is very proud to be that way. He shows no remorse, is highly aware of everyone’s flaws and uses them to his advantage.
A master manipulator, Iago is horrific because he has no real reason to cause the destruction that he causes, or maybe he is unable to convey the reason properly. It is precisely for this trait, that Iago continues to fascinate everyone.
· King Lear from King Lear
King Lear values appearances over reality. He is not blind to the truth—he knows Cordelia loves him the most but he chooses the flattering of Goneril and Regan over her and that leads to his downfall. However, there is one redemption. His character undergoes the most transformation—he is the unruly king at the beginning of the play and by the time the play ends—he becomes humble and true to himself.
He loses his kingdom and everything else but gains his wisdom and humility.
· Shylock from The Merchant of Venice
The most note-worthy character of “The Merchant of Venice”, Shylock has many layers. While some characterize him as a bloodthirsty Jew, many think of him as a tragic figure. Shylock is the antagonist, however, for a lot of people, he is also the victim—he constantly talks about the prejudices he faced by the citizens of Venice. He coldly calculated move makes us hate him, however, he has also suffered a lot in his life. It is this dual nature, that does not allow one to decipher what to feel about him and this makes him one of the most fascinating characters Shakespeare created.
· Lady Macbeth from Macbeth
One of Shakespeare’s most frightening female characters, Lady Macbeth is the person who motivates Macbeth to murder Duncan. She is ruthless, manipulative and ambitious. At the beginning of the play, it is she who is more ambitious, she commands her husband, pulls the strings and makes the plans.
The relationship between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth is of equals and her strength of will is very prominent in the play and Shakespeare uses her and the three witches to dissolve the idea that ambition and cruelty can also be shown by men.
· Voila from Twelfth Night
One of the most likeable characters of Shakespeare, Voila is an orphan who has survived a shipwreck and disguises herself as a man to earn her living. She is resourceful and secures herself a place in Duke Orsino’s court. One of Shakespeare’s most sexually ambiguous character, Voila’s major problem is of identity. As opposed to most people in the play, Voila is deeply in love with Orsino and wishes to be with him.
A question everyone asks, why would a brilliant woman like Voila fall in love with Orsino?