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The Wisdom of Shakespeare
Or, login via social media:. He brought a new psychological realism and depth to drama, and created hundreds of living, believable characters, all of them different individuals showing the rich diversity of humanity. Four centuries later, we can still identify with their aspirations, their strengths and their failings, and sympathise with their moral dilemmas.
It is unlikely that Shakespeare was a humanist in the modern sense of the word — that is, someone who believes that this is the only life we have and that there are good reasons for living a moral life that do not depend on a belief in gods or life after death. They tend to believe in devils and ghosts and witches. But religion is rarely a major force or motivation in their lives; moral choices are made for human — rather than religious — reasons, and characters such as Macbeth reap the human and social consequences of bad actions in the loss of the love and respect of their fellow human beings, and other earthly punishments.
Shakespeare often portrays attitudes in his plays that are remote from the conventional Christianity of the day. Life on earth is not seen as simply a preparation for an after-life of reward or punishment, and death is often seen as very final. At the end of his life Macbeth reflects that human life is:. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.
But Shakespeare does not condemn Ophelia, or the many of his other protagonists who die by their own hands: Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Brutus. Instead, the plays often show pity for the problems that have driven them to suicide, and some approval of their courage. There is certainly little feeling in the plays that the stars or gods are responsible for human failings, or that the characters lack free will. But immortality is not seen as something metaphysical — it can be achieved by having children or by being immortalised in poetry:.
Present day humanists share this belief that you can only live on after death in the memories of those that knew you, or in the work or children you leave behind. Each age re-imagines Shakespeare to suit the pressure of its own moment. He suits now as well as ever. Yet he does not only match this age, in which religion has mumbo-jumboed its way back into muscular authority. He also offers a desperately needed alternative.
The Plays of William Shakespeare
For many he is now a non-religious icon, a secular saint. The Complete Works comprises an imagined world of stories, insights, rituals and beauties, more varied, more complex and more true to the nuttiness of our present world, than the streamlining or simplifications of any religious texts. It is governed not by the reductions of moral certainty, nor by the delusions of spiritual redemption, but by a sensibility that is confused, yet full of mischief and kindness.
A sensibility that is happy to be human rather than straining to be better than human.
We keep going back to him — now more than ever — because we know that his spirit of inclusion, his love for everything, is our last best hope. What Othello doesn't know is that Iago asked his own wife to steal the handkerchief. Seeing is believing "Shakespeare calls this a problem of ocular proof, the idea that we need to see evidence before we believe in it and that, oftentimes, when metaphysical questions of guilt or innocence are difficult for us to answer, we have a tendency to reduce them to questions that pertain to physical evidence.
So when we can? Simpson, a former football star accused of killing his ex-wife and her friend in a jealous rage.
Defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran faced what seemed like overwhelming evidence of Simpson? But the lawyer showed the jury a glove left at the crime scene and demonstrated that it appeared not to fit Simpson's hand. Cochran repeated over and over. Several jurors later said the glove persuaded them. Yoshino says the play that deals most directly with the law is "The Merchant of Venice. The use of human flesh as collateral is central to the story, and the court must decide if the contract can be enforced, even though it would result in Antonio? Insight into human conflict The play?
Yoshino says his students benefit from reading Shakespeare. That's where literature helps, he says, and no one has more insight into human conflict than William Shakespeare. You can really populate an entire commonwealth with characters from Shakespeare?
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