Shakespeare as Political Thinker

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

TRANSCENDENCE AND
EQUIVOCATION:
SOME POLITICAL, THEOLOGICAL, AND
PHILOSOPHICAL THEMES IN SHAKESPEARE

Laurence Berns

Robert Heilman has called our attention to the remarkable self- justifications that accompany the self-assertions made by many of Shakespeare's characters. 1 Shakespeare provides his flawed characters not merely with excuses, but with powerful cases that must be taken seriously. Self-justification, Heilman says, reflects a certain "moral or quasi-moral subtlety in the personality." Edmund, Richard III, and Iago, who work out rationales for what they do, engage us in ways that Goneril and Regan cannot. Every clever villain is aware of the importance of morality and how it works for most other people. It is the morality governing his victims that he relies on for his own exploitations. But this is not yet self-justification. Intelligence seeks reasons and causes. The very intelligence that permits the intelligent villain to understand his victims and their situations well enough to exploit them, leads him to try to make sense out of his own doings. In the impressive self-justifications of tragic heroes like Othello, Lear, and Macbeth, what is especially remarkable is the combination of powers of self-seeing with a resistance to self-seeing that Heilman calls case-making. The final phase of tragic experience is the recognition by the tragic hero of what he has done, the submission of self to judgment. What makes the tragic character interesting and gripping is the struggle in his soul between considerable powers for self-seeing and a resistance to self-seeing that is rooted in motives, aspirations, and pride that in some important respects are noble. 2 The drama is heightened by the fact that what is contending with self-knowledge for the domination of the tragic hero's soul is a serious contender. Self- justification, Heilman suggests, is the tragic hero's instinctual first

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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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