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Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction

By Germaine Greer | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Ethics

Shakespeare's concept of personality

What is our life? A play of passion Our mirth the music of division; Our mothers' wombs the tiring houses be, Where we are dressed for this short comedy; Heaven the judicious sharp spectator is That sits and marks who doth act amiss; Our graves that hide us from the searching sun Are like drawn curtains when the play is done. Thus march we playing to our latest rest Only we die in earnest, that's no jest.

(Sir Walter Ralegh)

It was not essential to have studied Plato in order to believe and feel that what was real about human beings was not how they looked or dressed, or how they spoke and what they said, but resided in what was eternal and indestructible about them, their souls. The soul was not simply a static entity, like an invisible identity card, but a dynamic principle, the fire breathed by God into the clay. Just as the actor animated different trappings in different situations in the same play, and in different plays at different times, the soul animated the protean body through all its changes. One way a modern mind could grasp the relationship is to

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