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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: November ::
Shakespeare and the Theory of Knowledge
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2118  Tuesday, 4 November 2003

[1]     From:   Bill Arnold <
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        Date:   Friday, 31 Oct 2003 06:54:39 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.2107 Shakespeare and the Theory of Knowledge

[2]     From:   R. A. Cantrell <
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        Date:   Friday, 31 Oct 2003 09:16:45 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.2107 Shakespeare and the Theory of Knowledg

[3]     From:   Daniel O'Brien <
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        Date:   Monday, 03 Nov 2003 17:13:26 +0000
        Subj:   Shakespeare and the Theory of Knowledge

From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Friday, 31 Oct 2003 06:54:39 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 14.2107 Shakespeare and the Theory of Knowledge
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2107 Shakespeare and the Theory of Knowledge

Mari Bonomi writes, "I'm posting in this thread to remove the request
from the hotbed of contentious exchanges in the Hamlet thread; I'd like
to see that thread die and this one return to 'The Theory of

Hey: just because in one sentence I state I wear a hat on occasion of a
journalist and a tabloid author does not mean that I suddenly give up my
*crown* as 60-hour graduate of the UMass-Amherst MFA program.  Unless I
am mistaken, those 60 hours of graduate courses are no more and no less
than *any* Ph.D wades through on his way to Dr. X.  Not that I call
myself a *Doctor* which I do not, but I am entitled to the monniker of
*Master* in the largest sense, and accept that!  Nor do I suddenly deny
my having been a professor of world literature classics.  Nor do I
suddenly step aside and relinquish my right to scholarship, and I do not
drop my role as a *scholar*.  Look it up in all the dictionaries on the
planet, folks.

As to Hamlet in the Theory of Knowledge thread: I did not put it there.
I do not know who did, nor do I care.  I only know that the fictional
*Bill Arnold* was invoked in the thread of Theory of Knowledge long
before I stepped into the *River* of knowledge.  I do not have to answer
lawyer-like badgering by anyone to retain my claims to fame as a
scholar.  My posts *speak* for themselves, and just because some are
shamed by others who attack the messenger rather than deal with the
message, does not sway me.  The most *fictitious* Bill Arnold which
Thomas Larque created as a straw man in the Theory of Knowledge thread
is just that: a figment of his imagination.  I do not need to do battle
with *his* straw man.

If others do not address the question of the *CONNOTATIONS* of the words
noted in *Christology*:  "Soul," and "Breath," and "Spirit," and
"Ghost," and "Will"--then it is my responsibility to remind all that
scholars always *selectively* quote, and *selectively* misquote, and
*selectively* answer, and *selectively* do not answer statements of
other scholars all the times, in open talk forums, on message boards,
and in publications, whether articles or books.  It comes with the

But let us be very clear on this point: Will S invoked *Christology* by
his diction, his choice of words, his literary allusions, and to try to
divorce him from his *spiritual* background is devious and will not play
with Shakespearean scholars in the long run, despite the weariness of
the moment in these threads.  You all want to move on: then, move on.

Bill Arnold

From:           R. A. Cantrell <
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Date:           Friday, 31 Oct 2003 09:16:45 -0600
Subject: 14.2107 Shakespeare and the Theory of Knowledge
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.2107 Shakespeare and the Theory of Knowledge

>All historical claims depend upon reading written sources to establish
>what those in past generations actually thought.

Stonehenge, Cheops, and Jerry Lewis come particularly to mind.

All the best,
R.A. Cantrell
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From:           Daniel O'Brien <
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Date:           Monday, 03 Nov 2003 17:13:26 +0000
Subject:        Shakespeare and the Theory of Knowledge

I thought it would be useful to provide a summary of the discussion so
far in this thread.  First, a reminder of what we have been looking
for.  A Gettier case in one in which a thinker would be said to have
justified true beliefs, yet we would not say of them that they have
knowledge.  It has been suggested that the following are such examples.

Example 1. "In Othello, Desdemona accidentally drops her handkerchief, a
gift from Othello, and cannot find it since Emilia (her maid) has stolen
it and given it to Iago. Meanwhile Iago has told Othello that Desdemona
is having an affair with Cassio and later states that he has seen Cassio
wiping his beard with Desdemona's handkerchief (these are both lies).
Othello confronts Desdmemona and asks to see the handkerchief; she
cannot produce it but claims it is not lost, that she simply does not
have it on her person at that moment.  So, Othello believes that
Desdemona no longer possesses the handkerchief; his belief is correct;
his belief is justified by the testimony of his trusted friend Iago; but
this justification is itself false."

Is this a Gettier Case?
Firstly, we should be clear that the piece of knowledge with which we
are concerned is simply that the handkerchief is lost, and not that
Desdemona is unfaithful (since this is false).  Given Iago's testimony,
Othello's belief does seem to be justified, and so the key question is
whether we would want to say that this is something that Othello knows.
For this to be a Gettier case it would have to be our intuition that
this is not so.  However, it is not clear whether this is what we would
say.  Othello does acquire his belief on the basis of Iago's lie, but
Iago himself does know that the handkerchief has been misplaced and he
lies in order that Othello also comes to have this information.  Othello
doesn't come to have his belief by accident.  Here, then, we have a case
where the vehicle of knowledge transmission is a lie, but nevertheless,
the content that is transmitted 3/4 that the handkerchief is lost 3/4
can still, if accepted, amount to knowledge.

We do not, then, appear to have a Gettier case here.

Note that throughout we are assuming a fallibilist conception of
knowledge, that is, in order to have knowledge one does not have to
possess infallible or certain evidence for what one knows.  One simply
requires a true belief which one is justified in accepting.  This is the
notion of knowledge that is accepted by most contemporary

Example 2. "Another example soon follows. Iago leaves the handkerchief
in Cassio's room and he finds it and takes a liking to it. So Othello
believes that Cassio has Desdemona's handkerchief; he is correct; he
thinks Cassio has it because he has heard that Desdemona has given it to
him; but his reason for that belief is based on Iago's lie."

Is this a Gettier case?
Again, Iago's hand in both the planting of the handkerchief, and in the
testimony he gives to Othello, suggest that we should see this as a case
of justified true belief and one of knowledge.  Iago's intends his lie
to provide Othello with the correct information concerning the
whereabouts of the handkerchief.  So, again, this is not a Gettier case.

"The first one I thought of was Hamlet's play-within-the-play in Hamlet.
As you probably know, Hamlet needs to determine reliably whether his
uncle Claudius really murdered Hamlet's father. In fact, Claudius is
guilty, but Hamlet needs to be sure. He stages a play in which one scene
resembles in some of its details, the supposed murder of old Hamlet, and
watches for Claudius' reaction. During the viewing of the play, Claudius
becomes upset and storms out, but Hamlet's rude, accusatory
interjections while the play is going on, and the fact that the play
does not perfectly match the supposed events, leave open the possibility
that Claudius may have been upset by Hamlet's behaviour at the play
rather than his guilt over what he saw. In any case, Hamlet assumes on
the basis of that reaction that Claudius really did kill the old king.
So Hamlet believes Claudius is guilty; Claudius is guilty; but Hamlet's
reason for that belief is suspect.  This is not perfect since it is
possible that Claudius is reacting out of guilt and that Hamlet is right
and is justified."

Is this a Gettier case?
Claudius's reaction does appear to give Hamlet justification for his
belief.  The question, then, is whether Hamlet should be seen as having
knowledge of Claudius's role in his father's death.  With respect to
this question, it seems to matter whether or not Claudius is acting out
of guilt.  Let us look at both possibilities.

(i) If Claudius is acting out of guilt.  If this is the case, then
Hamlet's belief is not lucky and, since it is based on strong
behavioural evidence, we would say that this amounted to knowledge.

(ii) If Claudius is not acting out of guilt.  If this is so, this would
seem to be closer to a Gettier case.  It is, then, lucky that the play
elicited such a reaction and we would not want to say that Hamlet knew
of Claudius's guilt based on such a lucky incident. We have accepted,
though, that Hamlet has a justified true belief and so this appears to
be a Gettier case.

With respect to Hamlet there is also the role of the ghost to consider.
The ghost also tells Hamlet that Claudius is the murderer.  And:

"Hamlet says 'I'll take the ghost's word for a thousand pound'. This is
glossed in the Arden as meaning that the ghost's word is [taken to be]
entirely reliable."

Hamlet, then, would seem to take himself to have justification for his
belief, and, it is true.  Would we, though, say that the ghost provides
Hamlet with knowledge?  If we take ghosts to be reliable then Yes.  And,
remember, we -- the audience -- have seen the ghost:

"Since Horatio and we the audience have seen the ghost's reaction to
being questioned by Horatio -  fascinatingly 'It spreads his arms', in
the sign of a cross perhaps, which would indicate to everyone in the
audience that it is not an evil spirit - we can only believe that Hamlet
has deduced correctly"

And so, if Hamlet does have knowledge here, then we do not have a
Gettier case with respect to the ghost's testimony.  (There is more
about ghosts in the King Lear section below.)

Much Ado About Nothing
"in Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice and Benedick are tricked into
thinking each is in love with the other and consequently, each falls in
love with the other. So Benedick thinks that Beatrice is in love with
him because he has heard stories of her pining for him. His belief is
correct (or turns out to be) but not because of what he has heard, but
because she has just fallen for him because of the similar deception
practiced on her."

Is this a Gettier case?
This is an interesting one.  Benedick has a true belief, and one that he
is justified in accepting given the stories he has heard.  And, one
would not say that the lovers were lucky in their beliefs since the
situation was engineered precisely for this result.  Nevertheless, there
remains a question concerning whether we should say that he knows that
Beatrice is in love with him.  Given that his reasons do not describe
the actual source of her love, then perhaps we would not want to say
this, and then this would be a Gettier case.

The following, however, may be relevant:

"Beatrice and Benedick are fascinated by each other before the play even
begins (if it's possible to say that of two entirely fictional
characters!).  They display a passionate 'hatred' which their friends
through a minor deceit manage to convert to equally passionate love.
Neither of them is so gullible that they would fall in love with the
other just because they had been told that the other was in love with
them if there wasn't already a strange attraction going on there
somewhere. Neither would we find that a remotely interesting story to
watch. The play is fun because two people who seem made for each other
finally recognise this fact. The way in which the play is set up from
the beginning is designed to make the audience believe that the two of
them really are in love with each other if only they could admit it."

Perhaps, then, Benedick does have (perhaps unconscious) knowledge that
Beatrice loves him.

Richard III
Example 1. "The evil Richard of Gloucester persuades his brother, the
King, to arrest their brother George Clarence by producing a fake
prophecy which tells the King that "G of Edward's heirs the murderer
shall be".  Convinced that this must be his brother George Clarence,
Edward arrests him, which gives Richard the opportunity to arrange to
have Clarence killed. Despite being a fake prophecy created by Richard
to incriminate the innocent George Clarence, the prophecy turns out to
be ironically entirely accurate.  The "G" who murders Edward's heirs is
Richard of *G*loucester, often referred to simply as "Gloucester" in
Shakespeare's plays.  So Edward is right to believe that a "G" will [be
involved in the] murder his children, but for entirely the wrong reasons
- the prophecy he is given is fake, and intended to incriminate the
innocent George Clarence."

Is this a Gettier case?
It would seem that "Edward doesn't believe that any old G will murder
his children. He temporarily (at least) *thinks* Clarence might."  And
this belief is also supported by the fact that "it's not just the dusty
old fake prophecy it's also the explicit lies that Richard tells us he's
going to tell him.  Clarence also has children of his own who stand to
inherit".   So his belief concerns Clarence and is therefore false.
Gettier examples, however, concern true beliefs.

If, however, he fleetingly thinks that "a G will be the murderer" 3/4
any G 3/4 then this would be a true belief, and one that could ground a
Gettier-type example.  (That is, if prophesies can be taken to provide
justification for our beliefs.  See below for a discussion of this

Example 2. "Perhaps the manner in which everyone distrusts Richard III
because of his physique might be a better example.  As it turns out,
they're right, and they have evidence, at least in their own minds, but
their reasons for distrusting him aren't really justified by the fact
that he turns out to be untrustworthy in the end."

Is this a Gettier case?
The key question here is whether people's distrust of Richard is
justified.  It seems not, because one's physique does not readily
translate into character.  And, if it did then this would still not be a
Gettier case since people would have justified true beliefs concerning
Richard's untrustworthiness, and also, plausibly, knowledge.

King Lear
"Edmund mocks his father's belief in astrology.  As far as Edmund is
concerned astrology is simply an excuse for human beings to dishonestly
blame their own faults and viciousness on the stars.  He applies this
thinking to himself. "My father compounded with my mother under the
dragon's tail and my nativity was under Ursa Major so that it follows I
am rough and lecherous.  Fut!  I should have been that I am had the
maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardising".

"So those given to astrology are right to believe that Edmund is "rough
and lecherous", but think that they know this because of the stars under
which he was conceived and born, when actually Edmund would have been
"rough and lecherous" even if the most virginal and kindly stars in the
sky had been above him at these times.  They reach the right conclusion
for the wrong reasons, basing their correct beliefs as to Edmund's evil
nature on the falsehoods of an inaccurate pseudo-science."

Is this a Gettier case?
This raises an important question, and one that we have come across
before.  Should we take what are now thought to be pseudoscientific or
bogus 3/4 astrology, prophesies, and ghosts 3/4 as providing Medieval
people with justification for their beliefs?  Firstly, whether one is
justified must depend on more than that one thinks one is.  The key
issue is whether or not it was generally accepted at the time that such
phenomena were real and possibly revelatory.  Were these seen as
reliable methods by way of which one could arrive at justified true
beliefs.  If so, then those who take Edmund to be evil through reading
the stars would have justified true beliefs, but since it turns out that
astrology is unfounded, then these beliefs are accidently true and do
not, therefore, amount to knowledge.  We do, then, have a Gettier case.
If, however, such phenomena cannot be seen to provide justification
(even in Medieval times) then Gettier cases cannot be set up.

A Winter's Tale
"One possible Gettier case in Shakespeare is Antigonus's realisation in
"Winter's Tale" that he will never see his wife again. He has a dream in
which the ghost of Hermione seems to appear to him, speaks a prophecy -
saying that Antigonus will never see his wife again - and gives the baby
a name.  Antigonus is doubtful about the truth of dreams, but says that
if dead spirits can walk, he believes that he has been visited by a
ghost rather than just a dream, and that what he has been told is the
truth.  At this time the audience believe Hermione to be dead, but at
the end of the play it turns out that she has not died, but has simply
been in hiding.  Despite this, the dream (not a ghost, because Hermione
was not dead) is accurate in some aspects.  Antigonus never does see his
wife again, being killed by a bear shortly after he tells of his dream,
and Hermione is genuinely thought to be dead.  He is also inspired to
leave the baby in the right place for it to be saved, and to create the
potential for it to meet the son of Polixenes and produce the comic
happy ending, another correct insight apparently produced by the false
belief of a ghostly visitation."

Is this a Gettier case?
Antigonus does have a true belief that he will never see his wife
again.  We must, then, consider whether this is justified.  Again, this
depends on whether we think the testimony of ghosts / dreams can provide
justification.  In this case, though, it is not clear whether we would
have a Gettier example even if such phenomena could be taken as
providing justification.  If dreams can provide justification for our
beliefs, then the intuition here may be that Antigonus knows that he
will never see his wife again (Gettier cases, of course, require the
opposing intuition).

The following may support this suggestion:

"The true explanation may be that the dream of a ghost (rather than the
presence of an actual ghost) has been sent to Antigonus by Apollo (whose
omniscient knowledge is suggested by the Oracle, and whose involvement
in the dream is suspected by Antigonus, although he misunderstands
Apollo's motives and intention - thinking that the baby is truly a
bastard and that Apollo wishes it to be left on its father's soil)."

Here such a dream would provide one with knowledge since one is in
effect hearing the testimony of an omniscient observer.

Thanks again for everyone's input.

Dan O'Brien
University of Birmingham, UK

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