Foolishness and Wisdom in Shakespeare: Turnabout Makes a Fair Play

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Helen Palmer
Shakespeare
Spring Semester 2012

Foolishness and Wisdom in Shakespeare: Turnabout Makes a Fair Play

After reading the Shakespeare plays we were assigned this semester, one thing in particular caught my interest. It was the turnabout in the tetralogy; the turn from foolishness to wisdom and being changed by the choices made. The choices made become catalysts. The protagonist is broken down into base components and re-forged into a new being. Even the antagonists are changed. The only character that doesn’t seem to be affected is the Fool, who is an amalgam of both foolishness and wisdom. Shakespeare used the interaction and transition between the foolishness and wisdom of the kings to form the crux of these plays for the purpose of showing that man can rise above any circumstance, can learn from his mistakes, and grace can be restored.

In the tetralogy of Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V we see three sequential kings who have to take stock of their existence. They are faced with their shortcomings and through circumstance are forced to take a look deep inside themselves and make a change. Richard II was a vain, petty young man who hadn’t learned that when he put on the crown he became more than himself and his desires. He grew up with power yet didn’t understand that the power was not for his sole benefit but derived from adding the personhood of the state to his own. He surrounded himself with people that fed his sole ego and foolishly listened when they told him what he wanted to hear. When faced with defeat, he found wisdom and recognized his duty to a duality that had become lost to him. In being broken, he was made whole and gained the right to his kingship. Henry Bolingbroke, Henry IV, was certain of his right to question the authority of King Richard due to inequities of Richard’s rule. He was unjustly deprived of his station due to Richard’s greed. However, certainty is shown for foolishness and used as a pretext by Henry to...
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