Shakespeare's Sexual Comedy: A Mirror for Lovers

By Hugh M. Richmond | Go to book overview

Stalin, the Tsars; and the new Celestial Emperor Mao revives the policies of the ancient Ch'in Dynasty). Obviously we cannot reject the past without becoming its victims; it must be absorbed to prevent its return on the pendulum swing of the future. That is why I find the civility of Shakespeare in both political and sexual affairs more relevant to modern awareness than the cruder manners of Fromm or Marcuse.

In Shakespeare's Political Plays I tried to show his relevance for people with radical attitudes: if the ill fates of Brutus and Hotspur are plausible, then we must exile the swaggering ghost of Ché Guevara to the mythical world of medieval outlaws like Robin Hood, where it truly belongs. The present essay seeks to show how naive, archaic, and ineffective are the sexual norms of both inflexible morality and the so-called "new" freedoms (which were old-fashioned when St. Augustine wearied of them, not to mention Byron and Shelley). Berkeley, like every modern university campus, is a bizarre illustration of the failure of the new sexual morality to afford even the minimal social rhythm provided by repression. It is salutary to evaluate the amatory mysticism of both a Dante and a D. H. Lawrence in the light of Shakespeare's final verdict on the sexual cults of Romeo, Othello, and the sentimental heroes of his comedies. Shakespeare shows us that, in love as in politics, innocent sincerity is not enough; "telling it like it is" usually shows us only what we wish were true. Shakespeare's comedies suggest to us that men need a higher conception of their purposes than mere wish-fullfilment provides. They suggest that we should test high sentiments against the implications of facts like the daily suicide attempts on my own campus, the five thousand new cases of gonorrhea each day in the United States, and the collapse of almost all marriages in California between partners under twenty-five years of age.

Despite my occasional use of it as evidence of how not to live, I am greatly indebted to the University of California for help in writing this book. In particular the university's representatives

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