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Michelle Wendt Wednesday, May 09, 2007 Fall 2003 Shakespeare with Professor Ken Tomkins. In at least four plays of the Shakespeare Canon, A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, Richard II, and Romeo and Juliet, the function of class structure and economics governs the conduct of the characters and provides a central conflict that moves each story towards it's climax. Shakespeare wrote these plays with the social class system in mind. Audiences from all economic levels of society viewed these plays, which included characters from each social set as well. The economic fortunes of certain classes is influenced by life at court and the political and social commentaries which are imbedded in particular plays reflect the injustices which were common practice during those times. Dutiful daughters, regarded as second-class citizens, rebel against advantageous marriages, kingdoms are overthrown, commoners discuss royal figures with derision, and characters reject court life and tyranny. Economics is a fine web that supports different characters and the destinies they are to fulfill. One not born to an economically advantaged world cannot fulfill that destiny.1 We, as audience, are invited to court to learn the mannerisms of the nobility and we experience banishment into the "green world"2 countryside, with its resulting restoration of social order. Audience Audience is one key to understanding the function of class and economics in William Shakespeare's plays. We generally understand that he wrote his plays for economic gain as well as for artistic expression; therefore, we cannot afford to overlook his audience, and the potential impact they had upon his writing style. ...read more.


The role that government fulfills also affects the economic stability of their subjects. When speaking to one another they use the more formal poetry, and when they speak to someone below their station, they tend to resort to a simpler prose form of speech. As rulers, they are also targets, everyone will come out of the woodwork to overthrow them or create stress for them. Duke Sr. in As You Like It, holds forth, " Hath not old custom made this life more sweet Than that of painted pomp?" Are not these woods More free from peril than the envious court?" (2.1.2-4). 2. Middle-ranks- (landed gentry and merchants) The survival of the middle ranks depends upon the survival of the highest ranks, that is changes in power are reflected at this level because they are the supporting class. As gentry, their lives can be forfeit or spared, their lands can be confiscated or returned, and their titles bestowed or revoked. As merchants or citizens, they can experience economic changes that can enhance or deplete their fortunes. Their speech patterns also vary according to their conversations, just as we use different language with our bosses than we do with our peers, so did they use prose when speaking with lower classes and poetry with those in the upper ranks. 3. Lower-ranks- (peasants and laborers)- This class of society "enjoys the most freedom and their lives are the least bruised" by whoever is in power, as they never alter their position in society. ...read more.


Shakespeare, by his choice of speeches, shows us that court life is truly preferable in terms of creature comforts. Orlando complains of his treatment by his brother Oliver, " For my part, he keeps me rustically at home, " and "Stays me here at home unkept; for call you that keeping for a gentleman of my birth, that differs not from the stalling of an Ox?"(1.1.7-11). Duke Sr. complains in a roundabout way, " Here feel we not the penalty of Adam, The seasons difference, as the icy fang And churlish chiding of the winter's wind-"(2.1.7). The symbols of office are of important economic importance in Richard II and represent something of a crisis to Bullingbrook. Without the symbols of office, he is not truly king. He needs to secure those symbols because without them his character is still one exiled from his country and disinherited from his family line. He is a man without any social class at all without that crown (4.1.175-80). The young gentry in A Midsummer Night's Dream act strangely once they are out of the court setting. They, under the spell of the fairy kingdom, fight and act rudely towards one another. Lysander said, "Get you gone you dwarf; You minimus, of hind'ring knot-grass made; You bead, you acorn." It appears that with the removal of the trappings of court, or higher society, former members of high society experience a breakdown of manners and class characteristics (3.2.327-9). ...read more.

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