Free «Shakespeare» Essay Sample


Social mobility has been an interesting aspect that has been present in most of the traditional plays. The social mobility is quite evident in the class systems classifications than in other matters such as slavery. Social mobility was mainly used in the hierarchical structure observed in the society during the medieval times. Some of the plays of Shakespeare were able to bring out the social mobility concept quite well creating an understanding of the aspect and the time settings. Looking at two of Shakespeare's works and the concept of social mobility in them, it is quite obvious that the social status being passed from one generation to the next played a big role.  The Tempest, which was one of the works of Shakespeare that received a lot of attention after the theatres had reopened after being closed for a while, explores the social mobility translated by the characters in the play (Greenbaltt, 1988, p.14). The same concept is translated in The Twelfth Night play done by Shakespeare as well. Therefore, this paper aims to look at how The Tempest and The Twelfth Night can be regarded as narratives of social mobility.

The Tempest is a play which indulges the audience in a series of drama and tragic events. The themes that are strongly felt revolve around the concept of magic and theatre.  However, the social mobility between the different classes of people is also evident in the way the characters conduct themselves. The hierarchical structure is highly observed as it determines an individual's social standings in the midst of the society (Greenbaltt, 1988, p. 17). The characters in the play tend to believe that the social position of an individual is determined based on his background.  Therefore, the family background provides a fixed opinion when it comes to the social positioning. The family background is used to determine the social rating of an individual.

Hierarchical Social Ratings

Starting with the position upheld by the king, it indicates that the king was given the authority and viewed as a god by the people. The rest of the hierarchy that falls beneath him will be rated according to their status under the king. The social status maintained by the king was supposed to be transpired to his children so that the heritage can maintain in the family's boundaries.  This is what would determine the way the society viewed an individual.  Looking at Prospero in The Tempest, he is forced to live with his daughter in a stranded island for 12 years (Shakespeare, 1982). In the island they are encountered with many spirits but they meet Caliban who is the only individual that is not a spirit in the island. However, Caliban has an ugly appearance as a deformed monster.  He falls in love with the Duke Prospero's daughter Miranda. However, this does not go far as Caliban is subjected to slavery by Prospero after he attempts to rape his daughter Miranda.

Ferdinand and Social Mobility

However, there is a change of event once Ferdinand and Miranda cross paths.  The father Prospero is seen to be quite happy with the nature of their relationship and works hard at trying to make sure that they fall in love. The fact that Prospero agrees to the union between his daughter Ferdinand shows that eh approves of the social ratings of Ferdinand.  This assures him that his daughter will continue with the same social appraisal that he has maintained in the years he spent in the island. The fact that Ferdinand comes from a Royal family indicates that his social appearance is highly regarded and the same will follow for Prospero's daughter once she gets married to him.

Romance and traditional settings

The theme of romance that is depicted in the narrative is in reflection of the traditional way of exhibiting romance. It brings out the fictitious state of romance in the traditional settings other than the ordinary romances that most audiences are used to (Shakespeare, 1982, p.11). The traditional strategies were mainly focused on the supernatural world and love based on wandering. The same is exhibited by the two individuals Miranda and Ferdinand in The Tempest.  Where the settings of the livelihood of Miranda are based on supernatural world where they doomed to stay with her father (Greenbaltt, 1988, p. 18). These are not quite the settings that one would expect in the ordinary life.  The aspect of wandering and discovery is brought out by King Alonso's son Ferdinand where he gets lost after the ship wreck triggered by Prospero's magic. In his misery as he tries to find his way back to his family, he meets the Miranda and he falls in love immediately.  The fact that he finds love based on the traditional settings that have been used form generation to generation creates suspense that suggests social mobility in the play. Shakespeare opts to use the traditional settings so as to engage the audience on a different theme that is hidden under the major theme of romance.

Social Control

The aspect of social control is also quite evident throughout the play where it is manifested in some of the main themes of the play. Magic and power control is the main theme but the main reason behind the power is struggle is the opportunity to have social control. The wealth and power of an individual defined the social occupation of an individual. The fight between two brothers is brought about by the concept of jealousy that is triggered by a power struggle. Attaining power and wealth would place one at a higher standard than the rest of the people.  It is quite obvious that this realization threatened the position that Alonso occupied thus, making the decision of getting rid of his brother Prospero (Shakespeare, 1982, p. 12). The social position occupied by Prospero before he is sent away with his daughter is that of a higher level in the hierarchy (Greenbaltt, 1988, p. 22).  However, he is reduced to a life of struggling before, he maintains his position again. When he is sent off to live in the deserted island, he barely survives the blow that was meant to kill him and after he regains himself, he is able to assume control of the island.  His social position is raised to a higher level than that he had expected as he gains a lot of control and power in the island.

Towards the end of the play, Miranda ends up with Ferdinand, who is the son of the King Alonso.  This helps them make a big shift in their social status as well. This can also be used to explain the fact why Prospero did not want his daughter to have any relations with Caliban.  This would not have increased their social status positively but rather would have undermined it (Shakespeare, 1982). The position that Caliban occupied in the island was not high at a social level despite the fact that he had lived in the island long enough and understood it well.

The aspect of social mobility is also evident in the life of Caliban.  Having been the only individual who was not a spirit in the island for quite a long time, Caliban occupied quite a high position in the island socially. However, the arrival of Prospero and his daughter created a new social standard that Caliban found hard to compete with. The fact that Prospero possessed the magic and he could be able to control certain factors ranked him on top of the hierarchy in the deserted island (Greenbaltt, 1988, p. 20).  This forces Caliban to accept a new social status one take a social status that was below what he had gotten acquainted to. After his attempted rape on Miranda his social status shifted to a much lower state since hew as subjected to slavery despite the relationship he had shared with Prospero and his daughter before.

Royalty and Wealth

The role played by Ferdinand is that of royalty and his social position in the society is quite high. This is in regards to the fact that his father is a king.  Therefore, his background is stable and immediately he gains social recognition due to the fact that he possesses wealth and power based on how his father is viewed in the society. However, this changes after the shipwreck caused by his Prospero, he is separated from his father and assumed a new role in the deserted island (Shakespeare, 1982). He discovers soon enough that he does not demand the same respect that he did before as his background is not known to the inhabitants of the island. Therefore, he is forced to submit himself to the ruling of Prospero. After he falls in love with the daughter of Prosper, Miranda and Prospero takes advantage of the situation by turning Ferdinand into a servant.

The fact that the social status of Ferdinand was recognized according to the hierarchical structure was not recognized in the island and he was forced to abide by the authority of the residing ruler.  His position in the society was very small in the island and he accepted it as he was new there.  Working as a servant was no problem for Ferdinand as he wanted to prove his love for Miranda as well. However, he is seen to climb the social ladder again once he decides to go back to his land where he is recognized as royal.

The Twelfth Night

The Twelfth Night is the play done by Shakespeare and it is done under the settings of a romantic comedy. The play attracts audience based on the two themes of romance and comedy. However, looking at the play closely there are different social settings to be observed by the audience.  They enhance the aspect of social mobility in the play despite the fact that it is not part of the main themes. The increasing confusion continues to grow as the play unfolds as there is the case of the mistaken agenda as well as the tension in the drama (Grube, 2007, p. 7).  In all of these there is the social conduct that is highly observed by the society and which divides the characters according to the positions they occupy in the society (Greenbaltt, 1988, p. 21). The actions of the characters are determined by the respect that they have for the social standards that have been set for them. However, social mobility is quite evident in the play through the major themes presented by the characters.

Social Gender Mobility

In the play the aspect of gender is greatly reflected as it plays a major role in the romance that the characters depict. The confusion in the play is triggered by the gender roles played by some of the characters.  When the female character Viola disguises herself as a man, she initiates the aspect of confusion and social gender mobility in the play (Ellen, 1998, p. 15). How she conducts herself as a woman shifts when she assumes the role of a man.  This shows the differences that existed in the social settings of different genders during the ancient times. The disguise that Viola assumes in her favor forces other people to make mistakes when it comes to romance.  The Duke Orsino is in love with Olivia while Viola is in love with the Duke.  The Duke opts to use Viola whom he refers to as Cesario since he has been tricked to believe that she is a man and he considers her his confidant. Viola is in love with the duke and has many opportunities to make this clear to him but she cannot be able to fulfill her desires (Elllen, 1998).  The fact that she assumes the role of a man forbids making any romantic advances to another man. Therefore, she adheres to what the society dictates when it comes to sexuality.

On the other hand Olivia finds herself falling in love with Viola because she thinks that she is a man as well. Viola who now assumes the role of Cessario her male character cannot be able to explain to Olivia that she is a woman therefore, resists the advances made by Olivia (Ellen, 1998, p. 15).  This shows that Viola understood the standards set by the society when it came to romance and sexuality thus, did not want to violate some of the rules. The change in social mobility in the gender factor that is exhibited by Viola shows that she had to make several adjustments when confronted with different situations.

Geographical Differences

The geographical differences presented in the play provide an opportunity of exercising the aspect of social mobility by the characters. The social standards that are set in one land are not the same observed in a different geographical context. The play gives us previews of other lands and how the social status is determined by them through the behavior of the characters. Given that the settings are of the Elizabethan times the citizens conduct themselves according to the time frame set (Shakespeare, 2004). This is evident when Malvolio receives a letter from Maria.  This creates an excitement in his life and he views himself climbing the social ladder. He is dreams of his future where he occupies a position of power in his life (Greenbaltt, 1988, p. 23).  This is a social transition given the reasoning that Malvolio is a head steward for Olivia and he believes that he can have a change in his position in the society.

Throughout the play it is quite clear that Malvolio has certain ambitions that he aims for. All these revolve around rising in the social ladder and being able to gain recognition in the society through wealth and power.  He proves to be quite competent in his workplace but when the letter from Maria arrives, Malvolio thinks it is from Olivia as he has been tricked to believe so (Grube, 2007, p. 10).  Immediately he is convinced that the letter is definitely form Olivia his social behavior changes immediately and he assumes characteristics that would regard him royal as well.  Despite the fact that the rest of the people believe that Malvolio is not a noble person, a trait in him that cannot be changed, he tries his best to fit in the category (Greenbaltt, 1988, p. 23). Therefore, the social mobility in Malvolio is in his character despite the fact that he is quite different from what he depicts.

His desire of attaining power and wealth is so great that he would be bale to change his characteristics so that he can attain the position. This was rather different than what is expected form the society as a noble woman would not be expected to get married to a man who was of a lower status than hers.  Therefore, his aspirations appeared to be rather vague especially since Malvolio appeared to believe in the fantasy.

Different Social Hierarchies

The social hierarchies that are mainly observed were rather different in the play as Maria also had an opportunity to change her social status and she uses it.  Therefore, she improves her position in the society by getting married to Sir Toby (Shakespeare, 2004). Despite the fact that she had different ambitions when accepting the proposal, it still served the same purpose of improving her social position.

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However, in the effort to dupe Malvolio, Maria and Sir Toby managed to change the social status of Malvolio to a lower level than what he expected.  Due to the letter that he had received form Maria, Malvolio made certain adjustments in his behavior and dressing. According to the letter, Malvolio was instructed to be rude to the other servants, smile constantly in the presence of Olivia and to make sure that he wore yellow stockings. He followed these instructions as this meant his social status had been changed however, the results were not what he anticipated (Greenbaltt, 1988, p. 24).  Olivia concluded that Malvolio was insane and that he should seek treatment.  This does not go well with Malvolio as he insists that he is sane and the rest of the people are insane. His actions make him be regarded as mad according to what the society considered to be normal therefore, the social position of Malvolio changed from being head servant to being rendered a mad person and locked up.

Clothing Aspect

The society in the play appears to judge an individual according to the mode of clothing exhibited by the characters.  Therefore, how an individual dressed defined their position in the society and the characters tried to assume different positions by using different types of clothing. Malvolio feels he has an obligation to dress up in yellow stockings in order to attract Olivia. He believes that the dressing would have an effect in his rating in the society by becoming a noble man and in turn feel like he deserves to marry the Countess Olivia.  Feste also dresses up as a priest when he goes to visit Malvolio in the den where he is locked up. The fact that Feste dresses up despite the room being dark and Malvolio not being able to notice emphasizes on the importance of the clothing (Grube, 2007, p. 13). The same actions are observed by Viola in her disguise as a man.

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Therefore, this shows that the clothing defined one's status in the society and the simple action of changing the normal clothing changed the social aspects that one had observed before. The society also views the individual differently according to the dressing as it defined the type of person the individual is.


In general, the two plays can be categorized as narratives of social mobility. The characteristics that one exhibits in the society are used to judge him and this can also be changed according to different factors.  The social position of an individual in the society can be determined by different factors such as; wealth, power, gender and other related factors. The simple changes made in these areas makes different individuals assume different social statuses. This is evident in The Tempest play where the different characters keep changing their social positions due to the changes that take place in their lives. The people are able to adapt to different social lifestyles and embrace them as their own this triggers the factor of social mobility (Grube, 2007, p. 12). However, in The Twelfth Night the aspect of social gender mobility is more pronounced than that depending on wealth and power. Therefore, the social mobility aspect can be derived form the plays based on the different themes being defined by the characters in the play.


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