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Hegel and Shakespeare on Moral Imagination

Jennifer Ann Bates

Publication Year: 2010

Study of self-consciousness in Hegel and Shakespeare. In this fascinating book, Jennifer Ann Bates examines shapes of self-consciousness and their roles in the tricky interface between reality and drama. Shakespeare’s plots and characters are used to shed light on Hegelian dialectic, and Hegel’s philosophical works on art and politics are used to shed light on Shakespeare’s dramas. Bates focuses on moral imagination and on how interpretations of drama and history constrain it. For example: how much luck and necessity drive a character’s actions? Would Coriolanus be a better example than Antigone in Hegel’s account of the Kinship-State conflict? What disorients us and makes us morally stuck? The sovereign self, the moral pragmatics of wit, and the relationship between law, tragedy, and comedy are among the multifaceted considerations examined in this incisive work. Along the way, Bates traces the development of deleterious concepts such as fate, anti-Aufhebung, crime, evil, and hypocrisy, as well as helpful concepts such as wonder, judgment, forgiveness, and justice.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xx

This book concerns shapes of self-consciousness and their roles in the tricky interface between reality and drama. Shakespeare's plots and characters are used to shed light on Hegelian dialectic and Hegel's Aesthetics and Phenomenology of Spirit (among other of his works) to shed light on Shakespeare's dramas. The focus is on normative action and on how interpretations of drama and history...

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pp. xxi-xxii

A number of institutions and people have made this project possible. The book had its origin as a graduate course in 2003 on Hegel and Shakespeare in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Guelph, Canada. I am thankful to that department and to my seminar students there for a delightful tour through the beginnings of this project. I also thank the Centre for...


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pp. xxiii-xxiv

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pp. 1-20

In Moral Imagination,3 Johnson argues for a non-dualist approach to morality. He claims that work in cognitive science, linguistics, and psychology has shown that human beings operate as whole individuals, using "moral imagination."4 Johnson points us to his book, co-authored with George Lakoff, entitled Metaphors We Live By. He elaborates as follows...

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Part I. Sublations in Tragedy and Comedy

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pp. 21

Part I is made up of largely independent chapters. We explore topics in Hegel and Shakespeare such as moral luck; kinship, and State relationships; what it means to rise up or fall off the ladder of moral certitude; and the roles that fate and wonder play in characters' efforts to see what they ought to do. These various discussions create the building blocks for the more cohesive...

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1. A Hegelian Reading of Good and Bad Luck in Shakespeare an Drama

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pp. 23-35

According to Hegel, true philosophy is a "progressive unfolding of truth."2 The individual forms making up the progression are related in a "mutual necessity" that "constitutes the life of the whole."3 The Phenomenology of Spirit (originally entitled "the science of experience"), "sets forth this formative process in all its detail and necessity;" "[t]he goal is Spirit's insight into what knowing...

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2. Tearing the Fabric: Hegel's Antigone, Shakespeare's Coriolanus,and Kinship-State Conflict

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pp. 37-53

We ended the last chapter with the idea—present in comedy as well as in a properly self-conscious society—that the wall separating our dramas from our audiences is porous. The wall is something we "put on" like a disguise and something we "speak through" like a mask. Another word for this wall is "fabric." This word has both ontological and psychological...

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3. Aufhebung and Anti-Aufhebung: Geist and Ghosts in Hamlet

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pp. 55-84

In Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (in German Die Phānomenologie des Geistes), consciousness progresses dialectically by means of Aufhebung (sublation). Hegel writes that the process is one of Spirit becoming "an other to itself, i.e., becoming an object to itself, and suspending [aufzuheben] this otherness."2 He calls this movement...

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4. The Problem of Genius in King Lear: Hegel on the Feeling Soul and the Tragedy of Wonder

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pp. 85-111

In this chapter, I discuss the problems of genius in Shakespeare's King Lear in relation to Hegel's account of the feeling soul, its genius, and its development into consciousness in the Encyclopedia Philosophy of Mind. This is not Hegel's reading of the play.7 But through Hegel's work on the feeling soul, we are able to define Lear's and Cordelia's geniuses...

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Part II. Ethical Life and the History Plays: The Development of Negative Infinite Judgment and the Limits of the Sovereign Self

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pp. 113-117

In Part I, we analyzed basic elements in Shakespearean comic and tragic drama and in Hegel's philosophy. We did this within the general framework of trying to understand various characters' moral imaginations in terms of their ability or failure to move beyond contradictions. We ended with the notion of wonder at what that urge is, and...

Section 1. Sovereign Alienation and the Development of Wit (Chapters 5 and 6)

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pp. 119

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5. Richard II's Mirror and the Alienation of the Universal Will (of the "I"; that Is a "We")

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pp. 121-136

The first passage occurs in Hegel's discussion of "Metaphor." Hegel writes that "even Shakespeare is not entirely free from" using bad metaphors. What Hegel is complaining about in particular are uses of natural objects that "degenerate into preciousness, into far-fetched or playful conceits, if what is absolutely lifeless appears notwithstanding as personified...

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6. Falstaff and the Politics of Wit Negative Infinite Judgment in a Culture of Alienation

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pp. 137-156

The character of Jack Falstaff, in Henry IV Part I, appears in his wittiness to be the free artist of more than just himself. For example, his playful soliloquy about honor provides a deep reflection about how the world works. Indeed Falstaff's wit seems to embody what Hegel, in discussing wit, calls a "negative infinite judgement." This needs explaining, but we can...

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Section 2. Sovereign Deceit and the Rejection of Wit (Chapters 7, 8, and 9)

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pp. 157-182

This chapter and the next two chapters make up a single argument about the evil of Shakespeare's apparently virtuous character, Henry V.1 In Chapter 7, we look at Henry V's rejection of wit, his apparent honor, and his pretense of virtue. We use Hegel's theory of virtue to undermine this pretense and to redirect our interpretation of Henry V...

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8. Hegel's Theory of Crime and Evil: (Re)tracing the Rights of the Sovereign Self

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pp. 183-199

This is the second chapter in our argument about Henry V's character. Last chapter we looked at his ostensible virtue. This chapter we look at Hegel's theory of evil. Next chapter, we look at various kinds of princely evil in order to nail down just what sort of evil Henry V's character exhibits. Then, in Chapter 10, we will be able to resolve our question...

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9. Richard III, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Henry V: Conscience, Hypocrisy, Self-Deceit and the Tragedy of Ethical Life

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pp. 201-221

This chapter follows upon the last two chapters and brings their arguments to a conclusion. We have been developing an argument about the nature of Henry V's evil. So far, we have looked at his stance of virtue, investigated Hegel's account of crime and evil, and used that to retrace the developments of the sovereign self from Richard II through...

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Section 3. Sovereign Wit and the End of Alienation (Chapter 10)

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pp. 223-224

In the previous chapters of Part II, we saw first how a sovereign self became alienated when it did not recognize the social shape of its power; we then saw how self-consciousness about the multiple negative determinations of cultural perspectives and entities gave rise to wit as both symptom of and partial cure for alienation; we analyzed...

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10. Negation of the Negative Infinite Judgment vs. Sublation of It: Punishment vs. Pardon in The Philosophy of Right and Henry VIII

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pp. 225-245

Our discussion of the role of the negative in The Philosophy of Right showed that negation as a moment of sublation is essential to the development of society. Lukács holds that for Hegel, evil is the moment that continuously pushes the status quo to overcome itself: There can be no end to it.2 Lukács claims therefore, that for the young Hegel, the...

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Part III. Universal Wit: The Romance Plays and Absolute Knowing

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pp. 247-248

We have arrived at the idea of an absolute standpoint. The theater of Universal Wit has swallowed all forms of sovereignty. The phenomenological play is the thing wherein we have caught the consciences of the kings. But what is this Globe, this comprehensive arena of action and...

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11. Universal Wit—The Absolute Theater of Identity

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pp. 249-270

Let us pretend for a moment that we are sticking to the historical, political attitude of Objective Spirit and of Shakespeare's History plays, and that we are encountering Shakespeare's Romance genre with that attitude in mind. Let us look at Shakespeare's Romance play Pericles. From our assumed standpoint, Pericles appears to have few phenomenological...

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12. Absolute Infections and their Cure

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pp. 271-291

Universal Wit is what I have called the absolute standpoint in Hegel and Shakespeare. It is that which works best for the benefit of one and all. Its counterpart is what I call "Universal Sovereign Will." In the Winter's Tale, the jealous King Leontes is such a will. He terrorizes his kingdom. In the Phenomenology of Spirit, the Universal Sovereign...


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pp. 293-358


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pp. 359-367


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pp. 369-378

E-ISBN-13: 9781438432434
E-ISBN-10: 1438432437
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438432410
Print-ISBN-10: 1438432410

Page Count: 402
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, -- 1770-1831 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Shakespeare, William, -- 1564-1616 -- Criticism and interpretation
  • Ethics in literature.
  • Fate and fatalism in literature.
  • Self in literature.
  • English literature -- Philosophy.
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