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~ Bastards, Frauds & Tellers of the Truth  ~

 

 

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BASTARDS, FRAUDS AND TELLERS OF THE TRUTH
Illustrated Profiles of Shakespearean Characters
by
Hannah Tompkins

Introduction

Any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental.
The title designations are not intended as over-all or general descriptions of the characters they are applied to. It is not so simple. The personalities that Shakespeare invented are believable only because they resemble real people, and real people are not 'categorically' all good or all bad; judgments of which are often based on one's own personal morality, and that which society imposes.

Someone once asked me if I hated Cardinal Pandulph (portrayed as a powerfully wicked and conniving Pope's legate in King John,). After some thought, I answered "No, why should I hate him? He never did anything to me, personally. On the other hand, if I ever met a person like him in real life, I wouldn't go out of my way to cultivate a friendship."

And therein lies the secret of encounters with Shakespeare's dramatic world. It is like a rehearsal for real life.. and Lord knows, we need all the experience we can get, for who of us has not paid a price for misjudgment?

It is easy to make mistakes because people are not always what they seem and the mechanisms that make them work are very complex. But "to be forewarned is to be forearmed". Learning to recognize certain traits, especially the subtle ones, is a worthwhile pursuit. This knowledge comes in handy for self-defense.

Have you ever been confused by an emotional impact that was out of proportion to the seemingly trivial occurrence? At such times we plug into an intellectual rationality that tells us to dismiss it or minimize it.

Actually, the thing itself may be insignificant, but it often serves as a clue or indication of a tendency that is hidden by surface camouflage, a tendency capable of committing a greater harm.

I have followed my emotional instincts in the remarks regarding some Shakespearean heroines, but the criticisms are not meant as blanket condemnations of them. On the contrary, their human frailties make them more appealing and credible. I hope these insights will puncture some of the unconditional adoration heaped on them by some critics, for who can relate to such 'perfection'? But it should in no way detract from theatrical fantasy.
(The purpose of good theater should be, not to imitate reality, but give new insights to truths.)

The so-called good and bad in human nature remains pretty constant, but the degrees of tolerance will vary as each particular society sets up its own arbitrary measurements.

Regarding bastards: the fact of illegitimacy cannot be refuted, but how this fact is dealt with makes the comparisons interesting for those of Shakespeare's characters bearing this stigma. He often sets them up to promote one of his favorite-themes: "Legality vs. Morality".

As for frauds: To me, a fraud is one who has cleverly disguised some negative aspect and comes off as a 'good guy', and under this pretense commits some under-handed mischief.

The Truth-Tellers are a peculiar bunch. Not all of them are pure and sterling. Some, in fact, might be downright obnoxious, face to face. Yet, it is a quality that demands respect. (I have liked people I did not respect and conversely respected some I did not like.)
It is not enough to recognize the truth; it must be articulated. That takes courage, especially when the consequences are questionable, or threatening. The characters I have aligned in this group fill this qualification.

The views expressed are my personal opinions. You are entitled to yours. You are free to defend them, to challenge, refute or what you will. If this encounter has kicked up a friendly controversy... so much the better.

--Hannah Tompkins


Copyright © 1982 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.

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