Davies and Shakespeare

Published 22 Dec 2016

Robertson Davies and William Shakespeare: A Comparison of Style


Robertson Davies’s style has much in common with William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. It is also mystical, theatrical and sometimes ironical. Naturally, it is difficult to compare great William Shakespeare with Robertson Davies, but it seems, both of them create works of great talent. Although William Shakespeare and Robertson Davies belong to different epochs, they have much in common in some options of style like ideas, themes, information, issues and language. The present paper compares the elements of style of William Shakespeare and Robertson Davies by the example of their “Fifth Business” and “Macbeth”.

William Shakespeare and Robertson Davies: Comparison of Style

When you read the novels written by other writers, you have the feeling that the main characters are portrayed unnaturally, because they act, move, speak and show their feelings artificially and unnaturally. In contrast to them, “Fifth Business” (the first part of “Deptford Trilogy”) and “Macbeth” are the chronicles of life, full of emotions and feelings. Both works are full of irony, satire, vivid images and theatrical words that make the reader to live the life of the heroes. The writers create their main characters with such a talent, that they seem to be alive with all their passions and troubles.

“Fifth Business” and “Macbeth” were hardly creates as a parody of mankind. On contrary, these works explore the conflicts and try to find solutions for the most important human problems. Both of them speak about the life. “Fifth Business” tells about friendship and enmity of two people, about their lives and mysteries. The main character of the story is Dunstan Ramsey, the former teacher at Colborne, who wants to understand the meaning of life. “Fifth Business” is a story of self-sacrifice. “Macbeth”, probably, cannot be called a story of self-sacrifice, but rather a story of crisis and fatal effects of power (Boyce 217).

William Shakespeare and Robertson Davies present their own picture of the world and the role of people. They reexamine the history and create a new myth. Shakespeare masterly uses metaphors to express the conflicts of two principles: humanity and mean tricks based on egoism and profit. Shakespeare expresses the tragedy of the situation. According to Shakespeare, the destiny of every person is determined by the way he behaves. He masterly shows how the best people, talented and intelligent, die under the influence of the evil. In “Macbeth” he shows how evil can easily have a strong hold on the mind and ruins the lives.

Shakespeare’s style is known for its large scale. Similar to Robertson Davies he expresses a wide range of interests and thoughts. In these works we can find a wide range of prototypes, epochs, nations, social and even political conflicts. The wealth of fantasy, mystics, impetuous actions, richness of characters, strength of passions and emotions are typical for “Fifth Business” and “Macbeth”. The writers express the blossom of personality, and the wealth of life with its rich colors and different forms, where there is a room for sincerity, courage and cowardice, love and hatred. At the same time, all these opposite feelings are brought into the unity and the works are very balanced.

William Shakespeare continues the traditions of English drama. Similar to Robertson Davies he masterly combines tragic and comic, rapid tempo of actions, and vivid effects.

Robertson Davies also uses metaphors, where the actions, objects and characters embody the abstract ideas such as envy, love, hatred, greed, charity, or self-sacrifice. As well as Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, “Fifth Business” can be explores as a story with two different meaning, where a direct literary meaning can be replaced by a symbolical one. These works try to explain the reader the basic concepts of the virtues and vices, justice and temperance, courage, wisdom and morals. The authors do not only help the reader to understand his own interpretation of the basic human feelings, but also provide the examples of what these feelings mean to them and how the main characters of the stories go about achieving it.

As well as in any other literary works, the main characters of “Macbeth” and “Fifth Business” represent certain characters and social circles. The authors are interested in interpretations of the character’s adventures, and are focused on dramatic events that take place in the “Macbeth” and “Fifth Business”. The authors use irony and satire to reproduce the most subtle nuances of feelings. They explore the themes of relationships between the characters together with philosophical reflections, fantasies and mystics, sometimes social conditionality of the characters, tragedy, love, different kinds of irony and other techniques create a stylistic unity and a compound genre.

In contrast to William Shakespeare, Robertson Davies doesn’t focus on historical events. Instead, he is interested more in the lives and stories of his characters. One of the most interesting literary techniques Robertson Davies uses in his “Fifth Business” to awake the reader’s interest in his work, is the use of details (Grant 21). He tries to express the feelings about confrontations and conflicts between the main character and the other world. Throughout his novel, Davies adverts to these conflicts again and over again. It seems, the authors wants to express the idea that the only excuse for the novel is that the novel makes an effort to express live in all its varieties. William Shakespeare, evidently, makes the same, trying to discover the psychology and characters of men and women.

Both William Shakespeare and Robertson Davies tell trivial stories that are very easy to understand. The authors are familiar to the things and events they are writing about. Their narrations are lively, emotional and very easy to read. Although “Fifth Business” and “Macbeth” are dedicated to the important themes, they do not overuse difficult and formal language. William Shakespeare’s and Robertson Davies’ stories are full of sharp-cut emotional sentences.

Both of them explore the themes of crises in views of being and beliefs in different societies. The authors try to give the reader an objective picture of reality. They do not express their own opinion and do not impose it. On contrary, they simply leave space for further reflections. Although the works can be blamed for over-dramatization of the authors’ attitude to purity, moral values, religion and other important things, their works are really great.

“Fifth Business” and “Macbeth” are really touching, impressive and interesting. They tell the story of real life. Probably, it is strange because the vast majority of writers prefer writing stories with happy end that belong to so-called easy-to-read literature. At the same time, the writers make an effort to focus attention o moral values and importance of life along with the roles played by their characters. Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” use of language is quite similar to other Shakespeare’s plays. It sweeps the reader off his feet with the emotions.

William Shakespeare and Robertson Davies do not write vapid works. Everything they write is full of drama, emotions and feelings. The authors are very sincere in their attitude toward the world. Both of them confirm their reputation of the authors who masterly use word expressions to show the feelings, making their works tender, refined and elegant. One can claim that the excessive use of different literary technique may overweight the literary work, but it is not correct. “Fifth Business” and “Macbeth” cannot disappoint the reader by absence of the meaning and banality. Macbeth’s easiness in description makes the reader thunderstruck. William Shakespeare shows the human nature unveiled, uncovered and open.

Similar to “Fifth Business”, “Macbeth” is a combination of philosophical and artistic searches. The literary styles of the works have much in common. As well as in “Macbeth”, “Fifth Business” is written in a logical, simple and transparent style. Both authors use different literary techniques to captivate the attention of the reader. Sometimes the authors want to impress the reader and use rhythmical techniques and alliteration (especially used by William Shakespeare to intensify the gloomy and dark notes of his play). Both authors brilliantly use plays on words, permutation of words, lexical artifices, metaphors, word “roll calls” and awkward combinations of verbs and words to make their works more interesting to read.


Despite some differences in literary style, both William Shakespeare and Robertson Davies write in easy, satirical and vivid language. They pay attention to creation of a specific atmosphere and break with the traditional plot. Both of them use a lot of literary techniques and figurative elements to offer the reader to look inside the heart of the characters. Despite the fact that the authors belong to different epochs, both of them have much in common in some options of literary style like ideas, themes, information, issues and language.

Works Cited

  • Boyce, Charles. Shakespeare A to Z. New York: Roundtable Press, Inc., 1990.
  • Grant, Judith Skelton. Robertson Davies: Man of Myth. Toronto: Viking, 1994.
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