The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0525.  Saturday, 3 May 1997.

From:           Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Saturday, May 3, 1997
Subject:        New on the SHAKSPER Fileserver: *Shakespeare's Morality*

As of today, SHAKSPEReans may retrieve Ben Ross Schneider's work in
progress *Shakespeare's Morality* from the SHAKSPER fileserver.  This
work is in five chapters:

Chapter One: "Shakespeare was a Stoic" (MORAL.SHAKES-1);
Chapter Two: "Shylock Is Us" (MORAL.SHAKES-2);
Chapter Three: "*King Lear* and the Culture of Justice"
Chapter Four: "Henry IV, 1 & 2:  The Education of a Prince"
Chapter Five: "Hal Imitates The Sun" (MORAL.SHAKES-5)

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[Below I have attached the opening and closing paragraphs of Chapter
One, the introduction.]

Chapter 1 of Shakespeare's Morality: Shakespeare was a Stoic

      Long ago when this century had run only half its course and
I was writing my doctoral thesis on "Wordsworth's Cambridge
Education," I met a book that, now that I think about it, changed
my life.  It didn't strike me the way the light struck Paul on
the road to Damascus; it had a much more gradual effect, more as
if it sowed a seed that grew into a tree on whose branches I hung
not exactly my philosophy of life, though there is some of that
on it, but, bit by bit, my appreciation of the English Literature
which I have adored and studied and taught.  The book I met was
one of Wordsworth's schoolbooks, the De Officiis of Marcus
Tullius Cicero, a book written in the form of a letter to his
son, once known in English as Tully's Offices, but now, since an
"office" is the place where you pursue your career, better known
as Of Duty.  This book leads directly to Wordsworth's well-known
"Ode to Duty," that "stern daughter of the voice of God," and, in
that same ode, to the very most important Wordsworthian idea of
all, that the same force that keeps human beings on the right
track "preserves the stars from wrong."  It was Cicero (and I now
know, his fellow Stoics) who taught Wordsworth that virtue is
Natural and more importantly the reverse, that Nature is
virtuous, and thus gave rise to the emotional component of modern

      The year I found Tully's Offices was also my year as a
Research Student at St John's College, Cambridge, during which I
underwent a considerable culture shock.  Imagine my surprise on
reading the Offices to find in it a striking blueprint of the
undergraduate behavior I witnessed daily around me in the
extremely sociable style of life at that supposedly academic
institution.  Cicero had the same horror of pedantry and bragging
that the undergraduates did, and his section on decorum perfectly
predicted the famous English reserve that they exemplified.  The
taboos on bragging and pedantry explained one of the most curious
things about them:  why they never discussed their studies or
allowed themselves to be caught doing them.  Cicero very much
disapproved of absorption in booklearning at the expense of the
social life.  Rowing, rugger, local events, and mutual friends
were almost all they talked about.  It turns out that the
correspondences I found between Cicero's Of Duty and the folkways
of Cambridge undergraduates were no accident.  De Officiis had
been for many centuries the English gentleman's handbook.

      In the preface to his 17th-century English translation of
Tully's Offices, Sir Roger L'Estrange called it "the commonest
school book that we have," and went on to observe, "as it is the
best of books, so it is applied to the best of purposes, that is
to say, to training up of youth in the study and exercise of
virtue."  Voltaire said of it, "No one will ever write anything
more wise."  The philosopher Hume preferred its moral teaching to
that of any Christian manual of behavior.  When exactly did this
book enter the English school curriculum?  A better question
might be, when was it not there?  It was the first classical text
ever printed, at the Monastery of Subiaco in Italy in 1465.
Erasmus prefaced and annotated an edition of it in 1501.  The
British Museum Catalogue lists eleven printed editions of it
before 1600--eight interlinear translations, one English without
Latin, and two in Latin.  Eighteen more editions were published
before 1700.  Sir Thomas Elyot, in his popular Governour (1531),
which nowadays we would shelve with books on leadership, lists
three essential texts for bringing up young gentlemen:  Plato's
works, Aristotle's Ethics, and De Officiis.  "Those three books,"
he says, "be almost sufficient to make a perfect and excellent
governour."   King James I's own version of De Officiis,
Basilikon Doron (1603), in which he tells his son Prince Henry
his duties as man and ruler, refers him to Cicero fifty-five
times, sixteen of them to De Officiis.  In The Complete Gentleman
(1622), Henry Peacham implies that De Officiis is a standard
beginning Latin text (29).  T. W. Baldwin, after exhaustive
researches into Shakespeare's learning, could be certain that he
read only one classic, and that, of course, was De Officiis.


      When you consider that the interpretation of plays consists
mainly of judging the behavior of characters, you would suppose
that literary scholars would want to immerse themselves in the
behavioral medium in which in which the playwright, his
audiences, and perforce, his characters, lived, moved and had
their being.  You would assume, for example, that an unwaivable
pre-requisite for study of Shakespeare would be a thorough
knowledge of De Officiis.  Believe it or not, in twelve years of
reading Shakespeare criticism in preparation for writing this
book, I have not found a single reference to De Officiis, even
though books and articles on Shakespeare are coming out at a rate
of 5500 titles a year.  This phenomenon is all the more difficult
to understand when you consider the wholesale rejection in the
last fifteen years of interpretation of literature by textual
analysis in favor of interpretation by means of the historical
and cultural matrix.

[Skip to last paragraph of the chapter.]

     In the book that follows I shall try to establish that
reading Shakespeare as an extension of Stoicism produces a better
fit to what's on the page than reading him as an extension of USA

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