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Of Philosophers and Kings

Of Philosophers and Kings: Political Philosophy in Shakespeare's Macbeth and King Lear

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 480
  • Book Info
    Of Philosophers and Kings
    Book Description:

    This innovative work argues that Shakespeare was as great a philosopher as he was a poet, and that his greatness as a poet derived even more from his power as a thinker than from his genius for linguistic expression.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7799-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Notice to the Reader
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE The Political Philosopher as Dramatic Poet: Preliminary Remarks on the Study of Shakespeare
    (pp. 3-24)

    To preface commentaries on some of the most famous dramas in English literature with advice on how to read them is apt to seem both needless and presumptuous. It is unlikely that anyone interested in lengthy and detailed interpretations of particular plays would feel the want of such instruction. Besides, there already exist countless essays, chapters, and entire volumes devoted to providing it, including several good ones. Still less should a reader of this book need persuading of either the artistic merit or the cultural significance of Shakespeare’s literary legacy. No author has been more lavishly praised by other authors...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Living in a Hard Time: Politics and Philosophy in Macbeth
    (pp. 25-111)

    Macbeth, on first acquaintance, might seem to offer little scope for philosophical inquiry, other than perhaps in the psychology of the criminal mind. It is a fast-paced action story that begins and ends in war, with brutal assassinations and other atrocities central features of its plot – hardly more, that is, than a tapestry of violent and especially bloody deeds most graphically described: the whole torso of an enemy sliced open (“unseam’d from the nave to the chops”);¹ a body left in a ditch “with twenty trenched gashes on his head,” each a killing blow (how they must have hacked...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Discovery of Nature: Politics and Philosophy in King Lear
    (pp. 112-191)

    King Learmust be among Shakespeare’s most profoundly misunderstood plays. The majority of misunderstandings about it begin with a mistaken appraisal of the monarch whose tragedy it depicts. Though usually conceded to have (or to have had) admirable and even endearing qualities, Lear impresses people mainly as some combination of a vain, rash, volatile, fickle, egocentric, imperious, obstinate, self-indulgent, unsteady, petulant, irascible – and consequently foolish – old man, whose natural and acquired flaws of character are further aggravated by the whimsy and querulousness so typical of the very aged. This impression, initially gained from his behaviour in the opening...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR “Sweet Philosophy”: Further Illustrations of Shakespeare’s Portrayal of Philosophy in Relation to Political Life
    (pp. 192-268)

    Nigh on two centuries ago, Coleridge suggested that “ourmyriad-mindedShakspeare” was “the greatest genius, that perhaps human nature has yet produced,” and went on to observe:

    No man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher. For poetry is the blossom and the fragrancy of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, emotions, language. In Shakspeare’spoems[Venus and AdonisandThe Rape of Lucrece], the creative power, and the intellectual energy wrestle as in a war embrace. Each in its excess of strength seems to threaten the extinction of the other....

  9. Notes
    (pp. 269-392)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 393-400)
  11. Index of Names
    (pp. 401-406)