The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0560 Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Date: Tuesday, 13 Jun 2006 09:04:39 -0500
Subject: 17.0555 The Big Question
Comment: RE: SHK 17.0555 The Big Question
To Joe Egert: Those who justify (to whatever degree) "B" in the example
are not straw men, and I refer him to the posting from Frank Whigham for
To Frank Whigham: I did not have you in mind when I wrote the post, so
I'm sorry if it sounded like a personal affront.
To the issue at hand:
The example of "B" is, perhaps, definitive, even if it has been worked
over many times. B has a legal bargain to lend a certain sum of money to
A, for which A puts up his life as security. Leaving aside the insanity
of there being allowed such a bargain, A defaults and B demands the
payment of A's life. Money is made available from another source to pay
off the defaulted loan. B refuses and continues to demand that A be
legally killed in accordance with the initial bargain. FW is correct in
noting that the phrase "judicial murder" generates certain problems in
meaning, but I use it with full consciousness of that fact. Although I
can be called to account as to what "murder" can mean when modified by
"judicial," so can FW as to why he can say that what B does is not murder.
I would not ordinarily care about such matters-seeking a vote, as he
suggests, as to who's right-until I start reading responses that appear
to justify B in what he does, and to suggest that Shakespeare also
At this point I make a moralistic demand: do you seriously mean what you
seem to mean, that spitting and name-calling justify murder? Do you
seriously think that Shakespeare felt they justified it?
These are, of course, two separate issues. The first requires some
explanation of the general moral context that excuses a horrendous crime
when it is hate-based. I find this a dubious idea indeed, but I have
probably misunderstood. In any case, it doesn't relate to Shakespeare
until it is applied to him as part of an interpretation.
This, then, is the second issue. To what extent can this idea be found
in Shakespeare's works so that we can have some assurance that the IB
actually held such an idea? It is a challenging possibility and would
require my changing my responses to many of the plays if I concluded
that it was correct. But there are lots of possibilities out there, and
as time allows I consider them.
FW is right in suggesting that I don't care as much as he does about the
origin and operation of hatred. De gustibus and all that. I do care
about clarifying as much as possible the moral nature of a given act
when an expected response is questioned or even attacked. It is not that
my moral ideals are right (of course, I believe they are or I wouldn't
hold them), but that I cannot discuss the issue with any hope of gaining
a deeper understanding of the play if I don't understand the moral
context of the person I'm discussing it with.
This post is rather long, and for that I apologize. But I hope it is not
irrelevant. Plays consist of actions and actions always have a moral
nature. Because there is widespread agreement about the moral content
the vast majority of these actions, they are not "morality-free." In any
discussion of WS we have to know what our own moral context is and how
we are applying it.
PS. For example, why does my morality allow me to condemn Shylock and
justify Hamlet? Is it because I like the latter and detest the former
(and is thus logically invalid)? Or is it because there is a crucial
difference in what they try to do?
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