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Iago the Meritocrat: Conflicting Interpretations of Individualism in the Early Modern Period
Unformatted Document Text:  demonstrate his superior merit and the validity of his claims by manipulating them into destroying themselves. 6 Iago also can be better imagined, in that way, in reference to his creator and the worldview that he was inclined to defend. Aside from having been in the employ of both Queen Elizabeth her successor, King James I, Shakespeare exhibited other signs of attachment to the official political hierarchy of England. Furthermore, his history plays exhibit a strong theme of the nature of order and chaos that reflects an equally strong medieval influence. That world order has been described in terms of the concept of a divinely ordered “chain of being” in which all participants have a preordained place and role within a highly structured, stratified, and immutable universe. One’s place within that universe is determined prior to creation and confirmed at the moment of actual creation—for living beings at the moment of birth. 7 Within the cycle of history plays placed within the context of the Wars of the Roses, Shakespeare reflected this theme in terms of the consequences of usurping that order. King Richard II presents the tragic flaws that contribute to the fall of that king, especially after he commits the egregious violation of confiscating the rightful inheritance of the exiled Harry Bolingbroke who, as the new Duke of Lancaster, returns to claim that denied inheritance. However, Bolingbroke also takes advantage of the fundamental mistakes of King Richard and, ultimately, compels him to abdicate the throne in Bolingbroke’s favor, resulting in his becoming King Henry IV. The cosmological problem with that result is that, despite the righteousness of Bolingbroke’s original claim, his seizing of the throne did not occur in a manner that affirmed the natural order. He had been born the heir of a duke; not the heir of a king. By claiming 4

Authors: McHugh, James.
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demonstrate his superior merit and the validity of his claims by manipulating them into
destroying themselves.
Iago also can be better imagined, in that way, in reference to his creator and the
worldview that he was inclined to defend. Aside from having been in the employ of both
Queen Elizabeth her successor, King James I, Shakespeare exhibited other signs of
attachment to the official political hierarchy of England. Furthermore, his history plays
exhibit a strong theme of the nature of order and chaos that reflects an equally strong
medieval influence. That world order has been described in terms of the concept of a
divinely ordered “chain of being” in which all participants have a preordained place and
role within a highly structured, stratified, and immutable universe. One’s place within
that universe is determined prior to creation and confirmed at the moment of actual
creation—for living beings at the moment of birth.
Within the cycle of history plays placed within the context of the Wars of the
Roses, Shakespeare reflected this theme in terms of the consequences of usurping that
order. King Richard II presents the tragic flaws that contribute to the fall of that king,
especially after he commits the egregious violation of confiscating the rightful
inheritance of the exiled Harry Bolingbroke who, as the new Duke of Lancaster, returns
to claim that denied inheritance. However, Bolingbroke also takes advantage of the
fundamental mistakes of King Richard and, ultimately, compels him to abdicate the
throne in Bolingbroke’s favor, resulting in his becoming King Henry IV. The
cosmological problem with that result is that, despite the righteousness of Bolingbroke’s
original claim, his seizing of the throne did not occur in a manner that affirmed the
natural order. He had been born the heir of a duke; not the heir of a king. By claiming
4


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