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Tragic Conditions in Shakespeare

Disinheriting the Globe

Paul A. Kottman

Publication Year: 2009

Paul A. Kottman offers a new and compelling understanding of tragedy as seen in four of Shakespeare’s mature plays—As You Like It, Hamlet, King Lear, and The Tempest. The author pushes beyond traditional ways of thinking about tragedy, framing his readings with simple questions that have been missing from scholarship of the past generation: Are we still moved by Shakespeare, and why? Kottman throws into question the inheritability of human relationships by showing how the bonds upon which we depend for meaning and worth can be dissolved. According to Kottman, the lives of Shakespeare's protagonists are conditioned by social bonds—kinship ties, civic relations, economic dependencies, political allegiances—that unravel irreparably. This breakdown means they can neither inherit nor bequeath a livable or desirable form of sociality. Orlando and Rosalind inherit nothing “but growth itself” before becoming refugees in the Forest of Arden; Hamlet is disinherited not only by Claudius’s election but by the sheer vacuity of the activities that remain open to him; Lear’s disinheritance of Cordelia bequeaths a series of events that finally leave the social sphere itself forsaken of heirs and forbearers alike. Firmly rooted in the philosophical tradition of reading Shakespeare, this bold work is the first sustained interpretation of Shakespearean tragedy since Stanley Cavell’s work on skepticism and A. C. Bradley’s century-old Shakespearean Tragedy.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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p. vii


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p. ix

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INTRODUCTION: Disinheriting the Globe

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pp. 1-22

The world, such as it is left to us, seems more unwieldy, troublesome, and broken than the world left to our forebearers. As we know, our forebearers suffered much. So, it cannot be said that our experiences are somehow more wrenching than those of our ancestors. If the social world we inherit—our institutions, possessions, ritual practices, kinship ties, and political prerogatives...

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CHAPTER 1 On As You Like It

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pp. 23-43

We find ourselves among persons in exile in a makeshift refugee camp. Trudging through Arden forest, the banished Duke Senior is exposed to nature’s “icy fang, / And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,” which “bites and blows” upon him until “[he] shrink[s] with cold” (2.1.6–9)...

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CHAPTER 2 On Hamlet

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pp. 44-77

I would like to frame this chapter with a straightforward question about Hamlet, a version of which arises every time I approach the play with students but that seems to me not to have been explicitly posed in recent scholarly discussion of Hamlet. Why do we care about Hamlet and his fate, if in fact we do?...

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CHAPTER 3 On King Lear

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pp. 78-131

No other play by Shakespeare opens with a more firmly established and inheritable world; yet, no other play finishes with a more profound sense of social, ethical, and worldly loss, as if by the drama’s end the inheritance and bequeathal of our sociality were neither desirable nor possible. If Hamlet throws the inheritability of patrimonial or matrilineal principles of social organization...

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CHAPTER 4 On The Tempest

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pp. 132-166

What cares these roarers for the name of King?” cries the boatswain over the sound of the storm at the beginning of The Tempest (1.1.16–17). Together with Lear’s address to the thunder and wind on the heath, the boatswain’s words in the face of the roaring sea can be understood to demonstrate the indifference of nature to human society and authority...


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pp. 167-194


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pp. 195-196

E-ISBN-13: 9780801895425
E-ISBN-10: 0801895421
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801893711
Print-ISBN-10: 0801893712

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 593232005
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Tragic Conditions in Shakespeare

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Subject Headings

  • Shakespeare, William, -- 1564-1616 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Shakespeare, William, -- 1564-1616 -- Tragedies.
  • English drama (Tragedy) -- History and criticism.
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