Summing up so far

The great plays about love take us to the core of Shakespeare's work. We meet a rich assortment of attitudes, embedded in different contexts and circumstances. Among the most important circumstances are youth, war, and threats from others. Different cases are contrasted to throw light on their intrinsic worth. Clashes are portrayed with clear warnings directed towards the spectator's sense of self-preservation.

The action as it unfolds is often complicated. The author's simplest starting point is natural attractions. In themselves they are never so consistent that they can be a safe foundation for lasting arrangements, since all natural feelings can come into conflict with other, equally strong, feelings, or with unfortunate consequences. Enduring relationships demand care in addition.

Even though Shakespeare tells us a lot about the consequences of actions, little emerges about the backgrounds of the different personality types. Through plays like
As You Like It we get an inkling, but no more, that ordinary family backgrounds are preferable to growing up within political power-games.

The depth of each individual is therefore limited. Shakespeare contents himself with differentiating between types of characters and between heroes and villains. The rest is elaborations of the interactions and brushes with the unfolding forces. Why is Iago so evil, why is Desdemona so much of an angel? Is Cleopatra in love with Antony at all, or is she just concerned about power and security for her children? Such questions are at most touched upon briefly, and they remain largely unanswered.

The story that comes the closest to offering an explanation is the one about Troilus. Clearly his betrayal by his beloved causes his aggressiveness to grow. Troilus therefore points to an intimate connection between our personal world and that larger world which we have in common.

In the late play
The Winter's Tale jealousy echoes again, this time as pure aberration. The play shows a case of how power destroys those who hold it, and the story develops into a critical consideration of the class pride of the absolute monarch. The Winter's Tale leads far into the revolt of the citizens against the feudal society of the past. In England that revolt led to the revolution and Cromwell, only thirty years later.

On this note we can suitably end our first section, in which we have delved into Shakespeare's analysis of individuals and their personal relationships. A major line of thought from the early plays is precisely the relationship of political developments to basic attitudes taken from everyday life. The intertwining gains in importance through the historical plays and the tragedies. As we penetrate Shakespeare's love stories further, we perceive increasingly clearly that emotions are connected to politics; and the deeper we dig down into the political plots, the more important personal background turns out to be. In such ways we are led over towards a consideration of life in society.