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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: May ::
The Big Question
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0476  Monday, 22 May 2006

From: 		John W. Kennedy <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 17 May 2006 13:35:12 -0400
Subject: 17.0453 The Big Question
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0453 The Big Question

Sam Small <
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>It may well be the biggest Shakespeare question of all time -
>certainly as far as Shakespeare himself was concerned.  If, indeed,
>he was at root a moralist before a poet before a playwright then
>what difference has he made?  Has "Macbeth" decreased the
>murder rate?  Are politicians less ambitious since "Julius Caesar"
>and "Richard III"?  Has jealously been better controlled since
>"Othello"?  Has the world become a better place since Shakespeare's
>plays?  If so, is it due to the steady erosion of social injustice by
>countless reformers and representational governments?  Or not?

One would have thought that Chekhov answered this for all time.

How is it that in a society in which genuinely moral issues are ignored, 
even laughed out of court, we can find no greater way to praise a man than 
to call him a moralist, provided only that he not, in fact, be one? (No 
doubt Shakespeare, if put to it, would, being a well instructed Christian, 
concede that morality, sub specie aeternitatis, is far more important that 
aesthetics. Nevertheless, it is aesthetics, and not morality, that is the 
proper concern of the artist, as it is the business of any man to pay due 
attention to whatever it is that he is doing, and not to something else.)

Our friend from Scotland knows that murder is wrong. Iago himself warns 
Othello against the green-eyed monster (and gets precisely the result he 
expects). And St. Paul cries in despair, "For that which I do I allow not: 
for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I," and in so 
saying, he speaks for all of us. And yet, it seems, nothing will do to 
alleviate the situation but to go looking for yet another tome of 
thou-shalt-nots, and if one is not to hand, why then to pick any book with 
a Great Name on the spine, and proclaim it the latest Gospel.

Shakespeare was a great poet and a great playwright, both of which are far 
better things to be than a cheapjack preacher of platitudes.

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