The Wheel of Fire: Interpretations of Shakespearian Tragedy

By G. Wilson Knight | Go to book overview

11

SHAKESPEARE AND TOLSTOY

In this essay I attempt to show how a comparison with Tolstoy, who, with Goethe, is of all modern writers most nearly comparable with Shakespeare, reveals a striking similarity of spiritual experience. I shall draw upon The Varieties of Religious Experience (Longmans, Green & Co., 1925; originally 1902) for my facts concerning Tolstoy.

William James writes:

In Tolstoy's case the sense that life had any meaning whatever was for a time wholly withdrawn. The result was a transformation in the whole expression of reality. When we come to study the phenomenon of conversion or religious regeneration, we shall see that a not infrequent consequence of the change operated in the subject is a transfiguration of the face of nature in his eyes. A new heaven seems to shine upon a new earth. In melancholiacs there is usually a similar change, only it is in the reverse direction. The world now looks remote, strange, sinister, uncanny. Its colour is gone, its breath is cold, there is no speculation in the eyes it glares with.

(p. 151.)

A quotation from Hamlet would really be more apposite here than this from Macbeth. This passage, and others from the chapter entitled 'The

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