How some of Shakespeare’s words have evolved to mean something very different

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Shakespeare’s Kings

No writer created as many kings as Shakespeare did.  Some were based on real historical kings and others were fictional or drawn from mythology. One was even from the fairy world.

Politics, and the way human beings are governed by those who exercise power in society is something that was of profound interest to Shakespeare. Apart from the universal themes of death and love, the themes of war and politics are elevated to the universal by Shakespeare because of his keen interest in those topics. For Shakespeare, politics affects us like the air we breathe.

In his history plays Shakespeare explores such things as a man’s qualifications and qualities that make him fit to be king; what are the things that make a man a bad king; what makes a good king; what external factors hinder a man from being a good king; what damage a bad king can do to society; what benefits will come to society from being ruled by a good king.

There are many ‘bad’ kings in Shakespeare’s plays and some that are neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’, having the qualities of both. However Shakespeare does produce the model of a ‘good’ king in his Henry V, and takes pains to show, through two plays leading up to Henry V. Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2 depict the education and development of a young prince in preparation for his ascension to the throne.

Apart from the history plays – all based on historical kings transformed into characters that fit the themes he wishes to explore – there are many more kings and rulers with other titles like, Emperor, Prince, Duke, Governor, and even General. There have always been rulers and Shakespeare’s plays take in a vast sweep of history, from the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, through Mediaeval Europe, to his own, modern Renaissance Europe. In the plays set during the Renaissance, and also in Mythological Greece, the political structure of city states is reflected in the high number of characters who are princes and dukes of those states.

The below list of Shakespeare’s kings includes only those who have the title of king.


Alonso, King of Naples

The Tempest 


Antiochus, King of Antioch; Simonides, King of Pentapolis



Claudius, King of Denmark



Cymbeline, King of Britain



Duncan, King of Scotland; Macbeth, afterwards King of Scotland; Malcolm, afterwards King of Scotland



Ferdinando, King of Navarro

Love’s Labours Lost  


King Edward IV; Edward, Prince of Wales, afterwards King Edward V; Richard, Duke of Gloucester, afterwards King Richard III

Richard the Third


King of France

All’s Well That Ends Well  


King John; Philip, King of France

The Life and Death of King John


King Henry IV

Henry the Fourth Part 1


King Henry IV; Henry, Prince of Wales, afterwards King Henry V

Henry the Fourth Part 2  


King Henry V; Charles VI, King of France

Henry the Fifth  


King Henry VI; Charles, Dauphin, afterwards King of France

Henry the Sixth Part 1  


King Henry VI

Henry the Sixth Part 2  


King Henry VI; Edward, Earl of March, afterwards King Edward IV

Henry the Sixth Part 3  


King Henry VIII

Henry the Eighth  


King Richard II; Henry Bolingbroke, afterwards King Henry IV

Richard the Second  


Lear, King of Britain; King of France

King Lear 


Leontes, King of Sicilia; Polixenes, King of Bohemia

The Winter’s Tale 


Marcus Antonius, Aemilius Lepidus, Octavius Caesar – Triumvirs after the assassination of Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar  


Marcus Antonius, Aemilius Lepidus, Octavius Caesar – Triumvirs of Rome

 Antony and Cleopatra


Oberon, King of the Fairies

A Midsummer Night’s Dream  


Priam, King of Troy

Troilus and Cressida  


Saturninus, afterwards declared Emperor of Rome

Titus Andronicus  

Is there really a hidden meaning behind Shakespeare’s poems?

Author’s bio: Eveline Heston is a freelance writer who loves literature with all her heart. She dedicated a lot of her time to researching myths about William Shakespeare, which, among modern American literature, is her biggest passion.

The anterior mention of Shakespeare’s sonnets refers to 1598, when a Cambridge master, Francis Meres, published a critical work named “Wits’ Treasury”. While giving Shakespeare’s work a very high appreciation, Meres mentions alongside plays and poems “his sweet sonnets spread in the closest friends’ circles”.

The following year, the publisher William Jaggard released a small poetic collection “The Passionate Pilgrim”, belonging to him. However, only five or three excerpts from the twenty poems can be taken up as indisputably Shakespeare’s. Anyway, there is an abuse of the author’s name and at the same time a clear testimony that his name was well known to lovers of poetry and could provide any book with success.

Analyzing the text of the sonnets, it was evident that most of them were devoted to an unnamed young man. Later, talking of him in the literature about Shakespearean sonnets, he was labeled “a Friend.” The smaller part of Shakespearean sonnets was devoted to a woman, also unknown. Her mysterious figure has a name of “Swarthy (Dark) Lady”.


A hidden code of the mysterious W. Н.

The most experienced researchers from PapersOwl literally believe that the Friend is the main character of the most of the sonnets. In many occasions, he is identified with Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. (The initials of the name Henry Wriothesley, when rearranged, form the necessary combination of W. H.). By the way, Southampton was a great fan of the public theater, where Shakespeare was a scriptwriter.

Another candidate is William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, the nephew of the famous aristocrat Philip Sidney, who later became Lord Chancellor at the court of James I. Pembroke was also related to the sonnets writer: the so-called The Great folio – the posthumous edition in 1623 of thirty-six Shakespearean plays – contained dedication to him and his brother Philip, where it was said that they showed “benevolence to the Author.”

There is also a third, less well-known version, according to which the word “begetter” should be understood not as an “inspirer”, but as “the one who owes their appearance”. The sonnets’ appearance, of course. The difference is pretty small, but it may not be about the addressee of the sonnets, but about the man who handed the manuscript to Thorpe. According to Shakespeare experts, they were William Harvey, the third husband of Southampton’s mother, who was not much older than her son. Harvey’s candidacy allows one to explain the fact that many sonnets are not dedicated to a Friend (who, therefore, could not, strictly speaking, be the “sole inspirer”), but the Swarthy Lady. But how then to explain the mention of “the eternity promised by our immortal poet”? And this is the answer: in 1609, Harvey has already married again and his wife was expecting a child; speech, therefore, is about eternity embodied in children (a cross-cutting theme of the seventeen sonnets in the beginning). Supporters of this version figure out that when addressing to Southampton or Pembroke, Thorpe could not use the word “Mrr”; in relation to Harvey, who had the title of Sir, it was possible. The proponents of more common versions argue that the inappropriate “Mr.” was used by Thorpe for the sake of mystification.

The most dramatic pages of the poet’s relationship with his Friend, as they are represented in sonnets, are associated with the appearance of a certain poet-rival.


A hidden code of offense

A Shakespearean naming “Swarthy (Dark) Lady” is due to the fact that his beloved woman, as already mentioned, had dark hair and swarthy skin. This circumstance is important because, as Shakespeare himself explains, only blondes recognized the modern ideal of beauty, and black was treated ugly and, moreover, it was an attribute of evil (which allowed Shakespeare to call his beloved “colored evil” and “dark as hell”). However, she appears in his sonnets not as a felon of hell, but as an earthly woman, to whom the poet gives ruthless characteristics without a shadow of delicacy and, even admitting love, retains a familiar tone. A sonnet 130 is particularly interesting in this respect. It is based on the same idea as the sonnet 21 devoted to the Friend, on the denial of lush metaphors (metaphors, quite complex, Shakespeare’s sonnets abound, but almost always they are bright and original, while banal decorating the poet rejects). If the sonnet 21 does not undermine the romantic “image of the Friend, then in Sonnet 130 is given an emphatically mundane image of the Swarthy Lady, although it elevates her.


A hidden code of the poet-rival

Oscar Wilde believed that such kind of a contender for Shakespeare was Christopher Marlowe, and the drama took place because of the transfer of Hughes to another troupe, with which Marlo collaborated.

The word “begetter” comes from the word “beget” (conceive, be a father) and also can have a meaning of “author.” Such a concept has given grounds for a witty version that under the initials of W. H. the author is referring to himself, “William Himself”. Truthfully, this does not include the words about “our immortal poet” from the same dedication, and in general, from the text, it is clear that we are talking about different people.


The Shakespeare authorship question

The main mystery is still connected to the personality of the author himself – William Shakespeare. The son of a well-to-do artisan from Stratford, who has early got a family, then moved to London, where he became a playwright, actor, and shareholder of the theatrical company – that’s practically all that is known about Shakespeare, the rest is mostly legends and speculation.

The lack of detailed information about the Shakespeare’s life – his education, the circle of communication and literary pursuits – as well as the inconsistency of the few documents that biographers have available gave rise to the so-called “Shakespearean question”. For more than a century and a half, there has been a debate about whether Shakespeare was really the author of plays known to the whole world or, feasibly under his name, was hiding an educated aristocrat of the Elizabethan age.

There are a lot of applicants for the role of Shakespeare. But, nevertheless, it should be emphasized that in sonnets, as mentioned above, the diminutive name of the author (Will, which also means “will, desire”) is played several times; Therefore, if it is not a conscious hoax, only two people can claim the role of the author of the sonnets: Shakespeare himself or William Stanley, Earl of Derby (his initials, WS, by the way, completely coincide with Shakespeare’s initials, namely, Shakespeare’s plays).

How Did Shakespeare Get Started As A Playwright?

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