Theme of Social Hierarchy in William Shakespeare's Henry V, Twelfth Night and Macbeth
Henry V, Twelfth Night, and Macbeth cover the whole field of Shakespearean genres, but it is amazing how Shakespeare displays a theme and carries it through in any kind of play he wants to. Historic, comic, and tragic plays are about as different as you can get, yet when we take a closer look we see many similarities among them, especially in the area of social hierarchy. In all three of these plays, Shakespeare uses a similar theme, which he conveys and proves through his characters. Twelfth Night's Malvolio, and Macbeth's Macbeth, Henry V's Henry all hold social status, and they spread the social scale, one a servant, one a nobleman, and one a king. In the play we see their desires to better their social standing and climb the social hierarchy that puts them all on similar ground, ground which in some cases is somewhat dangerous, breaking social laws.
In Twelfth Night, Malvolio is a servant. Granted, he is a higher-level servant; he is responsible for Olivia's finances. When we begin the play, it seems, even through Malvolio's melancholy personality, that he is content with his social standing. He enjoys the little social power he possesses but is not seeking a higher social standing. However, after he finds the letter, he "becomes" a new individual. His cross-gartering himself with yellow stockings, his incessant smiling, and his eager compliance with the anonymous show us the lengths Malvolio is willing to go to now to increase his social standing. His quickness to direct the letter to himself also shows us that the attitude he appeared to show at the beginning, his melancholy satisfaction with his social standing, may have been because he didn't think there was any opportunity to advance. But after finding the letter he says, "Nothing that can be can come between [him] and the full prospect of [his] hopes" (Twelfth Night, III.iv.84).
Malvolio is a servant, desiring and seeking to climb the social ladder by marrying his master, a wealthy woman in society. Malvolio is stepping far beyond his bounds as a servant, and he doesn't see that he is out of line. To marry up a class level was unheard of, but Malvolio doesn't even seem to think about this. He is set on winning Olivia's love from the moment he thinks about the things he can get from it. He isn't really punished for his committal of a social taboo, but he is demeaned and taken back down to a servant's level through the joke that Toby, Maria, and Feste play on him. Shakespeare doesn't say that marrying up is wrong, because the marriage of Maria and Toby is given a positive light. Shakespeare does make it very clear that it is not proper for a servant, or anyone for that matter, to attempt to climb the social lattice, especially through marriage.
In Macbeth, Macbeth is a Thane, a much higher social status than a slave. This is a position of nobility, and Macbeth is content with it. ...