The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.2017 Thursday, 16 October 2003
Date: Wednesday, 15 Oct 2003 23:30:59 +0100
Subject: 14.2010 Shakespeare and the Theory of Knowledge
Comment: Re: SHK 14.2010 Shakespeare and the Theory of Knowledge
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.
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). If
the dream was just a dream, however, as Antigonus claims to believe most
dreams are - in which case its accurate prophecies would be nothing more
than coincidence - then this is presumably a Gettier case. He is wrong
to believe that he has been visited by the ghost of Hermione, but right
to believe his dream's suggestions.
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