Suffering in Shakespeare's Plays

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Suffering In Shakespeare's Plays

How does suffering affect one's actions? Do different types of suffering affect one in different ways? This paper seeks to determine how William Shakespeare's character's respond to various types of suffering. Suffering can be defined in two ways; physical suffering, in which the character is inflicted with physical pain and trauma, and emotional suffering, where the character suffers an emotional trauma or loss.

In The Tempest, the physically traumatized characters, are Trinculo and Stephano. They are chased by dogs but their physical trauma has not induced any sign of remorse or guilt. Ferdinand, on the other hand, is overcome by emotional suffering at the "loss" of his son. In King Lear, Lear is plagued emotionally. He feels that he has lost the love of his favorite daughter Cordelia, and he feels the harsh hatred of his two evil daughters. At the conclusion of the play, his sanity is restored but he has suffered tremendously in an emotional manner at the hands of Regan and Goneril. In Othello, Brabantio goes through emotional suffering when he must succumb to his daughter's wishes. Desdemona also goes through emotional suffering when she is accused by Othello of cheating on him when he is convinced of this by Iago.

In The Tempest, the theme of purification through suffering can clearly be seen. Prospero, in his long exile from Milan, has more than attoned for whatever mistake he might have made while he ruled. Ferdinand must suffer through Prospero's hardships and laborious tests before he can win Miranda's hand. Most significantly, Alonso must undergo the suffering that Prospero has designed for him before he is forgiven.

Prospero, who is the real Duke of Milan was overthrown 12 years earlier by his younger brother Antonio. Prospero was driven out of the island along with his daughter Miranda; the two were cast out to sea. His suffering has occured in a physical and a non-physical way, he is deeply hurt from losing his kingdom and from being cast out to die. Despite this, he is generous in forgiving. He is not only in control of those around him but he punishes the guilty and demands repentance.

When Ferdinand meets Miranda, they instantly fall in love with each other. "I might call him...a thing divine; for nothing natural...I ever saw so noble." ( Tempest, I, ii, 417-419). He is perfect for her in that he is pure and appreciates her innocence and purity. To make sure that Ferdinand is worthy to marry Miranda, Prospero makes him endure heavy labor. "The mistress which I serve quickens what's dead and makes my labors pleasure." (Tempest, III, i, 6-7)

Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio, who are denounced as "men of sin" (Tempest, III,, iii, 53) are driven by Ariel into a frenzy of madness. Alonso is deeply affected, he believes the "death" of his son to be punishment and he confesses his guilt and seeks to atone for it. He is purified through the trial and reconciled with Prospero at the play's end. Neither Antonio nor Sebastian, who are equally guilty, is affected in this way. They remain impenitent. Their incapacity for remorse is punished, Ariel suggests by a "ling' ring perdition, worse than any death." ( Tempest, III, iii, 77)

Stephano, the King's butler, and Trinculo, the jester, plot to overthrow Prospero. Their trial and suffering take form in a physical way. They are submerged in a horse pond and then hunted by Prospero's dogs.

King Lear allows one to see how physical suffering can bring on emotional suffreing. This can be seen in the two main characters of each subplot. Lear, King of Brittain, is described as "a very foolish old man, fourscore and upward." His fatal flaw of rashness causes his suffering. The Earl of Gloucester lacks Lear's capacity for wrath but shares his fatal flaw of rashness. Like Lear, he is made to suffer greatly by his children before he gains true insight....
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