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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: July ::
Re: Character
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0630.  Saturday, 23 July 1994.
 
From:           Ben Schneider <SCHNEIDB@LAWRENCE.BITNET>
Date:           Friday, 22 Jul 1994 10:22:57 -0600 (CST)
Subject:        Character
 
Yes, Bill, I am saying that you and Pat Buckridge think Shakespeare drove a
chevy to the levee.  But that's only for the purpose of discussion.  Suppose we
are both responding to Henry V, and you and Pat say the king comes across as a
cold cruel Machiavellian warmonger?  I claim that he and his audience would
only see his very great virtues.  It takes peace-oriented people like us to see
the Machiavel, whereas Shakespeare's contemporaries basically approved of war.
For example, Montaigne thought war was the best possible training ground for
making men out of boys and that death on the battlefield was much preferable to
death in bed.  Castiglione thought that demonstrated courage on the battlefield
was the only ticket of admission to courtierdom.  And Plutarch, the Renaissance
best seller?  No other way to succeed in life but by overthrowing enemies in
battle, or not giving up until the last man is dead.  Maybe Shakespeare and his
friends were really, as hinted earlier in this discussion, more like Klingons
in this respect than they are like us.
 
On other important topics, such as property, health, and safety, the conduct
books also show attitudes radically differing from ours.  You say Shakespeare
isn't discussing these things? Maybe he is, but, devoting all our energies to
finding support for our own ethical predilections, we miss all the true
signals.
 
I say that as a corrective to our late capitalist ethnocentricity, we should be
studying 16th century conduct books and their sources in antiquity. (which is
what I am doing, of course: bibliography on request, but see also Ruth Kelso's
2 books on doctrine for gentleman and for lady in 16th C, particularly preface
to the latter)
 
Yours ever,
BEN SCHNEIDER
Lawrence University
Appleton, Wisconsin
 

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