Double Vision: Moral Philosophy and Shakespearean Drama

Double Vision: Moral Philosophy and Shakespearean Drama

Double Vision: Moral Philosophy and Shakespearean Drama

Double Vision: Moral Philosophy and Shakespearean Drama

Synopsis


Hamlet tells Horatio that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in his philosophy. In Double Vision, philosopher and literary critic Tzachi Zamir argues that there are more things in Hamlet than are dreamt of--or at least conceded--by most philosophers. Making an original and persuasive case for the philosophical value of literature, Zamir suggests that certain important philosophical insights can be gained only through literature. But such insights cannot be reached if literature is deployed merely as an aesthetic sugaring of a conceptual pill. Philosophical knowledge is not opposed to, but is consonant with, the literariness of literature. By focusing on the experience of reading literature as literature and not philosophy, Zamir sets a theoretical framework for a philosophically oriented literary criticism that will appeal both to philosophers and literary critics.

Double Vision is concerned with the philosophical understanding induced by the aesthetic experience of literature. Literary works can function as credible philosophical arguments--not ones in which claims are conclusively demonstrated, but in which claims are made plausible. Such claims, Zamir argues, are embedded within an experiential structure that is itself a crucial dimension of knowing. Developing an account of literature's relation to knowledge, morality, and rhetoric, and advancing philosophical-literary readings of Richard III, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, and King Lear, Zamir shows how his approach can open up familiar texts in surprising and rewarding ways.

Excerpt

Hatred, it seems, cannot be bought. They try, several times, doubling and tripling the money owed. But he persists in refusing. No amount of money will buy Shylock. in this he stands alone. Within all other relationships around him, emotions are inseparable from financial gain: Portia and Jessica are rich—not merely fair—a fact that never escapes their lovers or their own perceptions of these lovers. Male friendship too—the idealized commitments between Bassanio and Antonio—is contaminated by financial dependency. Hatred alone achieves purity in the moral cosmos of The Merchant of Venice, the only emotion that will remain distinct from prudence, the one emotion that they will insist on not understanding (Bassanio: “Do all men kill the things they do not love?” Shylock: “Hates any man the thing he would not kill?”). Knowingly going to trial with a “losing suit”—and suppose that the law authorizes him to kill Antonio, what then?—turns this trial into a presentation of something that Venice is unwilling to hear (Duke: “Upon my power, I may dismiss this court!”). Shylock, the dramatized oxymoron of a money-shunning Jew, will soon disappear, to everyone's relief, including our own. But not before he registers a complaint that he refuses to express directly (“I will not answer that!”; “I am not bound to please thee with my answers!”).

What is Shylock's complaint? Law is conceived in The Merchant of Venice as more than means for adjudicating between conflicting claims or enforcing norms. Like theologized money (“my Christian ducats”), law is a vehicle for communication between a Jewish outside and a Christian nexus. Shylock's deployment of law thus parallels similar attempts by marginalized characters to trespass into formally impenetrable power structures (a disguised woman attempting to infiltrate the masculine world of law; another woman trying to use money so as to buy her way out of Judaism). the confrontation between Shylock and Portia within the context of the law thereby presents two symbolic outsiders who turn the law into a means of contact: Shylock directly and Portia through disguising herself as a man, thus gaining momentary power and agency, and breaking out of the passive role of an exquisite trophy in which she is cast at the beginning of the action. the outcome, read politically, is unsurprising: the play allows for a successful penetration into power only indirectly, momentarily, under camouflage, whereas when it is explicit and unveiled (“The Jew”) it will be annihilated financially and spiritually.

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