As They Liked It: An Essay on Shakespeare and Morality

As They Liked It: An Essay on Shakespeare and Morality

As They Liked It: An Essay on Shakespeare and Morality

As They Liked It: An Essay on Shakespeare and Morality

Excerpt

Shakespeare is just the poet whom Plato would banish from the ideal republic and Aristotle would attempt to reprieve. No personal animus underlies this contention. If the proscription were sustained and our poet should trudge off to the hinterland, his native wood-notes and fine frenzies forever hushed, one suspects that the sighs of Plato would be deeper than those of the Stagirite. It was all a matter of high philosophical policy. Morality is the stock in trade of a Shakespeare and a Plato alike, but they conduct rival stalls. One can imagine the philosopher looking tolerantly enough at the throngs trading across the way if the poet's wares did not so much resemble his own. The folk must have playthings, and art in itself need not be dangerous. But this particular kind of artist, this poet or fictionist, deals not in enticing arrangements of colors and planes and musical sounds but in morality--the qualities and actions of men! It is a bad business, because he deals not as a moralist but as an artist. He is philosophically irresponsible, and he fashions his wares for the world as it is and not as it ought to be.

The Platonic indictment is clearcut and reasonable-- more so than the Aristotelian defense. The latter is hard to interpret, but one of its items suggests that poetry has some kind of therapeutic and admonitory function, some kind of utility, aside from its power to please. Aristotle is not himself responsible for the views of all who have . . .

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