Shakespeare’s Most Powerful Characters
A discussion of some of the most powerful characters in the works of William Shakespeare
Who are Shakespeare’s most powerful characters?
Hamlet, from the play of that name, has proved to be one of the most frequently discussed and iconic figures in Shakespeare’s work, as a direct result of the many ambiguities in his psychology and behaviour depicted throughout the play. Of particular note is that he is a subversion of the revenge tragedy protagonist: this archetype is typified by characters who act quickly, decisively and mercilessly (following the principles of Stoic philosophy) to avenge the wrongdoing in the play, when discovered. By contrast, Hamlet is plagued by doubt, and when the fact of his father’s murder, implicating Claudius is communicated to him by the Ghost, he chooses not to credulously believe this, but sets up ‘The Mousetrap’ play scenario to ascertain, from his uncle’s reaction, the truth of his guilt. Even when this is verified, he withdraws from the opportunity to enact his revenge when he finds Claudius in a pious state, fearing that to kill him then would spoil the revenge by allowing for his uncle’s redemption in the next world. This adds a novel, fascinating metaphysical dimension to this revenge hero.
Innogen, from Cymbeline, constitutes a less well-known but nonetheless fascinating female figure. Her participation in the adventurous tragicomic structure of the play enables her, too, to subvert many of the tropes associated with amorous heroines, both in contemporary drama and in other Shakespeare works. Her faithfulness to Posthumus, and her canniness in seeing through Iachimo’s attempted seduction demonstrate characteristic power in themselves. Amidst several characters with hostile intentions for her – the wicked Queen, Cloten, Iachimo, her lover Posthumus (the hero who, conversely, falls completely for Iachimo’s deception), and even herself (manifested in the suicidal will she declares on losing Posthumus’ love) – she manages to persevere and survive until the story’s unravelling and happy resolution.