Are Shakespeare’s plays plot driven or character driven?
I would say character driven. Shakespeare’s plays have an element of free will. The characters always have a choice, and they are aware of this choice. Prospero hands over the political rule to his brother because he wants more time with his books, and he does that because he thinks his brother is trustworthy to not try to obtain kingship for himself. Hamlet spends half the play agonizing over whether to kill his uncle or not. Romeo decides to kill himself to be with the one he loves, and Juliet kills herself for the same reason. Macbeth kills everybody to win. Because of the choices and actions of the characters, the plot falls into place.
But what makes Shakespeare special in comparison to other character driven plays? I think that it is because these characters are not just written as characters, but people.
Shakespeare can really write people. No one will pay to watch a play with characters they hate, or characters they don’t relate with, and Shakespeare’s character are generally anything but that. In my opinion, this is also what allows Shakespeare’s works to be easily translated to the modern audience, because just like war, people never change. Shakespeare writes about human experiences and expresses them through human dialogues and inner monolgues. Betrayal is still a thing in modern society, whether for love, money, or a kingdom, and the bitterness and anger that most would feel can be heard in Prospero’s story. Depression, whether over having to kill your uncle or failing your finals resonates with most of Hamlet’s soliloquy’s.
The plot is character driven, and the reason the plot resonates with the audience is because these are actions taken by humans. And because these are actions taken by humans, there will always be similar incidents throughout history that you can project the play on, insuring the immortality of Shakespeare’s plays. After all, all the world’s a stage.