Shakespeare and Skeptical Faith
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: Baylor University Press
PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Rembrandt’s portrait of Aristotle with a bust of Homer is an artist’s interpretation of a philosopher thinking about a poet, and the painting is therefore a fitting icon for a book that endeavors to interpret how a playwright thought about various philosophical problems in his plays and poems—including the problem of his own art. Rembrandt imagines Aristotle not as a fourth-century Greek but in a fantastic
1: SKEPTICISM AND SUSPICION IN SIXTEENTH-CENTURY ENGLAND
The reception of skepticism in the sixteenth century can be made to support a narrative about a deluge of disbelief: “the sources of a commonly shared sense of the sacred were rapidly running dry and floods of unbelief rising torrentially.”1 The publication of two first-time translations of ancient skeptical texts from Greek to Latin helps to define this story: Lucian’s Dialogues in the first decade ...
2: COMIC FAITH
The editors of the First Folio of 1623 divided Shakespeare’s plays into three genres: comedy, history, and tragedy. We do not know whether the playwright authorized this division, and we have no evidence beyond this text that he thought in terms of it himself. John Heminge and Henry Condell, who compiled the First Folio, undoubtedly recognized the authority of classical tradition as precedent for tragedy and comedy, as Ben Jonson did in his commendatory poem, “To the memory ...
3: TRAGIC GRACE
In comparison to comedy, the genre that Shakespeare most favored, his efforts at tragedy were fitful. Though he wrote comedies steadily from the beginning to the end of his career, ultimately inscribing almost as many as histories and tragedies combined, after an early effort at tragedy, Titus Andronicus (1589–1592), he did not return to this genre for at least two years. His second effort was Romeo and Juliet (1594–1596), after which he again set tragedy aside for at least three years before writing Hamlet (1599–1601).1 The difference between ...
4: HISTORY AND GUILT
The most original of the three genres in the First Folio is history, because it has no classical precedent. It derives instead from the narrative of salvation history that in various ways informed the three principal kinds of indigenous English drama by the sixteenth century: the biblical history plays, saints’ plays, and morality plays. Shakespearean history thus parallels comedy and tragedy in an exploration of the human situation in the context of Christian ...
In the first section of this book, I have argued that Shakespeare’s sense of genre was shaped most importantly by the master narrative that he and his audience knew best, the narrative of salvation history, in which they located themselves most easily and habitually. His debt to this narrative in comedy, history, and tragedy does not make a spiritual allegory out of it, as Dante, Spenser, and Bunyan all did in various ...
For Shakespeare’s contemporaries, on both sides of the Catholic/ Protestant divide, questions about ethics were inseparable from religion—not because of a simplified divine-command theory, but because God was perfect goodness. “Godliness,” Hooker asserts, is “the cheifest top and welpsringe of all true virtues, even as God is of all good thinges.” 1 Addressing the ethical question in Shakespeare’s plays is therefore, in this sense, impossible to address without addressing ...
7: ESTHETICS, EPISTEMOLOGY, ONTOLOGY
For several identifiable reasons, criticism has been boldest in claiming to be able to say something certain about Shakespeare’s esthetic thinking. These reasons include the Romantic evaluation of Shakespeare as an inspired genius, the esthetic movement of the late nineteenth and early ...
8: SHAKESPEARE AND THE FRENCH EPISTEMOLOGISTS
In view of the link I have suggested in chapter 7 between Shakespeare’s esthetics and epistemology, it seems appropriate to consider more specifically his way of thinking about how we know in relation to the epistemological revolution that had its first stirring in the late sixteenth century. The history of modern philosophy is usually ....
Page Count: 355
Publication Year: 2007
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