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This short chapter examines the degree to which the communal experiences of political prisoners on what Irving Goffman calls a “total institution” like South Africa’s Robben Island Prison might paradoxically exemplify the kind of community that Aristotle requires for the exercise of virtue proper: a sense of communal friendship built on trust and the virtues celebrated by Nelson Mandela: “Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others”. But at the same time, it complicates that utopian vision with the fact that such communities tend to establish their sense of identity on the exclusion of others, regarded as alien, different, or threatening, a tendency present on Robben Island. The chapter consequently opposes the Aristotelean notion of communal virtue with a very different concept of ethics derived from Levinas: in which no community may be established in opposition to another, but in which the ethical imperative is to be open to otherness, beyond to bounds of the Aristotelian polis. It argues that the prisoner’s signing their names against their favourite passage from Shakespeare, in Sonny Venkatrathnam’s copy of Shakespeare’s complete works, is an exemplum of such openness to the stranger.
It is striking how many of Shakespeare’s erotic plays have war either as their setting or are born out of a recent state of violent conflict. Troilus and Cressida and Antony and Cleopatra fall most clearly into the former camp, but think also of comedies like Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where eros emerges from a newly forged peace only to constitute a new battleground of its own. This chapter probes the conjunction of war and eros that appears in almost half of Shakespeare’s plays, first through a broad survey of his corpus and then through studies of The Two Noble Kinsmen, Troilus and Cressida, and Romeo and Juliet. It argues that, far from merely contingent, theatrical conjunctions, Shakespeare provides us a deep conceptual study of the connection between eros and violence, both the potential violence of sexuality and the unsettling underlying sexuality of war.
This chapter argues that while Shakespeare has no single or overarching theory or view of love, specific patterns or tendencies are evident in both the plays and the poems. It focuses on three characteristics of such a disposition: the singularity of the beloved (‘you are you’) that admits of no substitute; the essentially projective rather than reactive vision of love (‘love sees not with the eyes but with the mind’); and the perhaps counterintuitive fact that love is not an emotion as such, but rather a disposition or form of behaviour that involves different, sometimes contradictory, emotions. This puts Shakespeare at odds with contemporary, Galenic theories of love as one of the most volatile of the passions. The Sonnets, for example, are virtually devoid of references to contemporary psychology, and the chapter focusses on these poems to explore the rich varieties of emotion they express in their complex and fraught negotiations of love and desire. Classifying and arranging the sonnets in accordance with the emotions expressed in them furthermore does not accord with the usual narrative attributed to them.
Character, so central to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century appreciation of Shakespeare, fell out of favour in the mid twentieth century. This first occurred at the hands of the ‘New Criticism’. L. C. Knights, in ‘How many children had Lady Macbeth?’, was instrumental in the classic shift of critical focus from the life and humanity of the fictional people in Shakespeare’s plays (exemplified by A. C. Bradley)1 to a view of the texts as elaborate poetic forms, to be read for their network of figurative structures and connections rather than for the psychology of their characters.
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, does it. Likewise, Peter Quince, carpenter of Athens. They write for actors. And writing for actors, they tell us something about how the playwright who’s written them writes for actors.
How does Shakespeare speak of style? Among his twenty thousand or so words, ‘style’ is not especially prominent, occurring fewer than twenty times. The range of those few uses, however, is wide enough to show the complexity of the concept, and to suggest how vital it is for his work even when it goes unnamed.
Rhetoric aimed to teach pupils how to argue persuasively and how to analyse other people’s speeches and writing in order to understand what they were saying, to reply to them effectively, and, at times, to learn from their use of language.
The power of Shakespeare's complex language - his linguistic playfulness, poetic diction and dramatic dialogue - inspires and challenges students, teachers, actors and theatre-goers across the globe. It has iconic status and enormous resonance, even as language change and the distance of time render it more opaque and difficult. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare's Language provides important contexts for understanding Shakespeare's experiments with language and offers accessible approaches to engaging with it directly and pleasurably. Incorporating both practical analysis and exemplary readings of Shakespearean passages, it covers elements of style, metre, speech action and dialogue; examines the shaping contexts of rhetorical education and social language; test-drives newly available digital methodologies and technologies; and considers Shakespeare's language in relation to performance, translation and popular culture. The Companion explains the present state of understanding while identifying opportunities for fresh discovery, leaving students equipped to ask productive questions and try out innovative methods.