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

Pericles

 

Claudius, King of Denmark

Hamlet  

 

Cymbeline, King of Britain

Cymbeline  

 

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

Macbeth  

 

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  


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