The role of people and politics in I, Claudius and King Henry IV part 1
Individuals in power play a dangerous game as their agenda and leadership skills can subsequently result in the demise of a governing system, hence demanding the engagement with the political process. Shakespeare’s historical play king Henry IV part 1 endorses the Tudor view of the War of Roses as it represents the complexities of individual motivations and actions. This political text unearths characteristics of a leader that are disadvantageous; foreshadowing rebellion. In Robert Grave’s novel I, Claudius the corruption of Ancient Rome is evident through the exploration of manipulative women in a male dominant society, as well as the nepotism that secures power.
Qualities of leadership are highlighted in Shakespeare’s King Henry IV through the embodiment of characters that can reflect the dangers of indifference. Prince Hal’s language acquisition crystalizes his ability to govern as ‘he can tinker with any man in his own language’ hence associating with commoners in the tavern world, as well as royals in the political sphere. Hal’s language, speech and rhetoric is aligned with authority and control, despite Hal spending a lot of time with the larrikin Falstaff (subversive leader of the commoners). He also shifts to a role of responsibility when the audience is introduced to his interactions with his father in the court. Shakespeare’s representation of Hal as a delinquent in the tavern world accentuates the common values that are still relevant today. In order to play a role in justice and be a successful leader, especially in a time or political and moral turmoil, you must e able to interact with all the people you’re governing. Shakespeare uses a juxtaposition by linking contrasting scenes to each other, which also enhances our view of Prince Hal as he switches from engaging the audience through metatheater with Falstaff and then to his apologetic and sacrificial manner when in the court with the King. Through Prince Hal engaging in the political process he represents characteristics of a successful leader.
In contrast to Shakespeare’s representation of Prince Hal, Graves’ expression of people and politics through I, Claudius in Ancient Rome uses the character Livia as an example of the epitome of expedience. Graves writes in a persistent narrative tone with emphatic prose through the eyes of Claudius, a minor character with an emotional attachment to the drama. Having a woman given so much indirect power in a time of the marginalization of women, is a powerful statement. Livia, Claudius’ grandmother, seizes power through her husband Augustus and rules vicariously through him. This subtle female power that permeated the government changes the power balance in ancient Rome. However, the cleverness and manipulation exercised through Livia has a demonized undertone. Graves implemented irony through Livia’s character as there is moral hypocrisy in her judgement of other characters being punished for ‘crimes’ when she commits murder herself. Their is dramatic emphasizes on Livia’s character as an evil, machiavellian puppet-master and serial murderess. The exaggeration of female characters either being passive or extremely conniving illuminates the vilification of women in power that is still present today. The quote ‘I have done many impious things – no great ruler can do otherwise’ accentuates the empirical view on politics in the perspective of women. Despite the belligerent and antagonistic depiction of Livia, she is a character that engaged with the political process and defied odds by succeeding in power.
Hotspur is a character whose leadership is undoubtedly the reason for his demise. His hot- headed temperament leads him to band with the rebels in spite of the King. The religious allusion Shakespeare has implemented for the usurped throne that King Henry IV sits on, can be considered sinful and is mirrored in Hotspur’s political motivation to overthrow the King. His wife’s testimony about his actions awake and asleep are vastly different to his actions leading men to battle. Despite his glorious militant reputation, the role of honor is the root of his downfall. Falstaff says that ‘honour has no means if you’re dead’ whereas Hotspur challenged this by chase for militant honor in a time of civil unrest. Quick to act on his grievances, Hotspur’s politics ambitions accentuate the moral allegory that is represented through his character. Shakespeare has created Hotspur so that the audience are aware that his actions are not morally right but in his head they are because he sees the rebellion as justice. He has a skewed idea on politics that veers him into the direction of justice on the basis of personal interpretation, hence highlighting the dangers of indifference.
Claudius’ representation of himself is patronized, with an insight to a scheming, privileged world of debauchery. He states ‘there are two different ways of writing history: one is to persuade men to virtue and the other is to compel men to truth’, which highlights his perspective on the politics of ancient Rome. The character Augustus, Claudius’ grandfather in-law is presented in a positive light, as successful and popular among the citizens. However the nepotism that is dominant in this period spears to be a succession of leaders in one family and can be traced back to Livia’s political tactics. Augustus emphasizes the semblance and illegitimacy of characteristics that comprise a ‘good’ leader. The manipulation of the throne on Livia’s behalf gives the impression to the audience that Augustus isn’t capable of independence and has a lack of authority, hence the irony of the power that a leader is supposed to possess is present. Augustus demonstrates the facade of leadership and the perpetuation of corruption in politics when expedience is present. The representation of rulers in the Claudius family creates a sense that they are lacking the divine anointment and qualities of a ruler, especially when the engagement with the political process is through a third party, such as Livia ruling through Augustus.
Shakespeare’s King Henry IV part 1 explores the qualities of leadership that are significant in the engagement with the political process to pursue peace through a time of civil unrest. Whilst Shakespeare accentuates the characteristics of a worthy leader and an incompetent one, Graves’ I, Claudius establishes the lack of quality in some rulers that have established a long reign. I, Claudius also includes the exaggerated, negative portrayal of women in politics. Both texts represent the interactions of people and politics, with the reflection of values that are still relevant in modern society.
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