The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0476 Monday, 22 May 2006
From: John W. Kennedy <
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 <
>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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