Shakespeare's Characters

Students of Shakespeare from William Hazlitt through Harold Bloom think of Shakespeare as someone who embraced the new philosophy of individualism by making each of his characters a unique personality, responsible to noone but his or her self. But a late medieval mind or an early Elizabethan one might have appreciated Shakespeare differently, his characters embodiments of abstract virtues and vices, Polonius of self-importance and pomposity, Macbeth of ruthless ambition, Romeo and Juliet of love heedless of its surroundings, very much like Dante’s Paolo and Francesca  who swirl around as the winds of Hell will carry them because they have no anchors. If that is the case, then Shakespeare stocked his plays with characters who acted according to the types of characters available to a playwright of the time. A way of bringing those two ideas together and which enhances not only our sense of Shakespeare but of modern psychology, is to realize that Shakespeare presented each of his characters as true to their own essence and, moreover, that they were each, deep down, what they each appeared to be. 

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