Critics to date tend to identify Shakespeare’s perspective on war with
either pacifism or militarism, stances seen as embodied by Erasmus and
Machiavelli. This dichotomy leads to a stalemate, since the plays articulate
both of these extremes. A third option, however, is the more pragmatic,
circumstantial approach to the ethics of war formulated through just war
theory. Over the course of the plays, characters gradually develop complex
ethical arguments both for and against the justice and injustice of wars.
They consider traditional prerequisites for a just war such as just cause,
right intention and legitimate authority, but give specific emphasis to
the principle of proportionality. A violation of this principle, as becomes
obvious, renders the war in question unjust.