Shakespeare as Political Thinker

By John E. Alvis; Thomas G. West | Go to book overview

THE UNITY OF TRAGEDY,
COMEDY, AND HISTORY:
AN INTERPRETATION OF THE
SHAKESPEAREAN UNIVERSE

Harry V. Jaffa

At the end of the Symposium, when all the company had either departed or were sunk in drunken slumber, Socrates was still engaged in conversation with Aristophanes and Agathon. As to most of this discussion, Aristodemus (who related the story to Apollodorus) had no recollection. He had missed its beginning and was too sleepy to have remembered well what he did hear. The substance of it was, however, that Socrates was driving them to the admission that the same man could write both comedy and tragedy and that it belonged to the same art to write tragedy and comedy. It was now the dawn following the evening on which the drinking party had begun, and presently Aristophanes dropped off to sleep, and then Agathon. Socrates, after making his friends comfortable, arose, washed himself, and went off to spend the day in his usual pursuits.

We do not have any of this dialogue, in which Socrates compelled a tragic poet and a comic poet to admit that the art of each was also the art of the other. We do know, however, that such admissions would have been entirely paradoxical in the Athens of their day. Tragedies were not written by comic poets, and comedies were not written by tragic poets. Indeed, we do not know, to this day, of any great poet who has written both tragedy and comedy. That is to say, we do not know of any such poet except William Shakespeare. Shakespeare is the greatest--perhaps he is the only--poet to have practiced the art referred to by Socrates at the end of the Symposium.

It is entirely conventional to speak of Shakespeare's Platonism, since something called Renaissance Platonism is held to have characterized much literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We have no

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Shakespeare as Political Thinker
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Title Page vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Note on the Revised Edition xiii
  • The Editors and Authors xv
  • Introductory- Shakespearean Poetry and Politics 1
  • Notes 24
  • The Unity of Tragedy, Comedy, and History- An Interpretation of the Shakespearean Universe 29
  • Notes 58
  • Richard II 59
  • Notes 69
  • God Will Save the King- Shakespeare''s Richard II 71
  • Notes 89
  • Shakespeare''s Henry IV- A New Prince in a New Principality 93
  • Notes 104
  • Spectacle Supplanting Ceremony- Shakespeare''s Henry Monmouth 107
  • Notes 138
  • The Two Truths of Troilus and Cressida 143
  • Notes 160
  • Troilus and Cressida- Poetry or Philosophy? 163
  • Notes 175
  • Nature and the City- Timon of Athens 177
  • Notes 201
  • Chastity as a Political Principle- An Interpretation of Shakespeare''s Measure for Measure 203
  • Notes 240
  • Prospero''s Republic- The Politics of Shakespeare''s the Tempest 241
  • Notes 258
  • The Golden Casket- An Interpretation of the Merchant of Venice 261
  • Notes 285
  • Shakespeare''s Hamlet and Machiavelli- How Not to Kill a Despot 289
  • Notes 312
  • Macbeth and the Gospelling of Scotland 315
  • Notes 344
  • Shakespearean Wisdom? 353
  • Notes 375
  • Shakespearean Comedy and Tragedy- Implicit Political Analogies 381
  • Note 395
  • Transcendence and Equivocation- Some Political, Theological, and Philosophical Themes in Shakespeare 397
  • Notes 405
  • Index 407
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