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Shakespeare's Philosophy: Discovering the…

Shakespeare's Philosophy: Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays (edition 2006)

by Colin McGinn

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1475121,524 (3.67)1
Title:Shakespeare's Philosophy: Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays
Authors:Colin McGinn
Info:1st ed. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. / Hardcover, 240 pp.
Collections:Your library
Tags:Shakespeare, Philosophy, Philosophy in Literature

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Shakespeare's Philosophy: Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays by Colin McGinn



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This is okay ( mostly wrong , but okay ) , and Shakespeare remains just as inexplicable as ever. ( )
  Baku-X | Jan 10, 2017 |
This is okay ( mostly wrong , but okay ) , and Shakespeare remains just as inexplicable as ever. ( )
  BakuDreamer | Sep 7, 2013 |
Shakespeare's Philosophy – Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays by Colin McGinn. 2006. Read in November, 2009.

This is the kind of specialized book I like. Colin McGinn has been a philosophy teacher at such universities as Oxford, Rutgers, Miami and University College of London. He has also written lots of books. He is, to use his own words, “a professional philosopher with an interest in Shakespeare, not a professional Shakespeare scholar with a passing interest in philosophy” (p. viii).
He starts out by introducing general themes and placing Shakespeare within the philosophical framework of the Renaissance, a time for which “[q]uestioning is the spirit...and [there is] a sense of shifting foundations” (p.3). He adds, “The questions were being asked...but no clear answers seemed forthcoming” (p. 5). He mentions the influence the French philosopher Montaigne's “personal, lively and pungent“ essays (p. 6) had on Shakespeare, whose importance in the developing the role of the self as “interactive and theatrical” has been noted by many scholars, especially Harold Bloom. McGinn also shows how Shakespeare deals with the question of causality, why things happen the way they do, and he asserts that Shakespeare “sees causation as unruly, unpredictable, unintelligible, blind, weird, and even paradoxical...To this extent his worldview is atheistic.. The bleakness of his tragic vision is principally a matter of rejecting the notion of an immanent rational order...That is why his plays are so disturbing and challenging to comforting myths about how the world operates. Shakespeare shocks us out of our casual complacency” (p. 15). Again he connects Shakespeare to Montaigne in the conclusion of his introduction in which he writes that in both “there is a kind of appalling, but exhilarating candor. And some of the ruthlessness is philosophical: the determination to expose reality for what it is, to undermine dogma and complacency” (p.16). This bodes well for the book!
In which he then proceeds to analyze several of the major plays: A Midsummer Night's Dream (which I used in my text earlier on this blog), Hamlet, Macbeth and several others. Each of these analyses is so exciting that I can hardly wait to get to these plays so I can use this book.
He also has interesting things to say about Shakespeare and gender - “for Shakespeare, there is something irreducibly theatrical about gender identity” (p. 155); about Shakespeare and psychology - “he is making a point about human psychology – that it is infinitely various” (p. 173); about Shakespeare and ethics - “He is pained by humanity, also amused by it, but he wishes it well” (p.180) – perhaps my favorite line in the whole book.
In his final chapter McGinn deals with Shakespeare's genius, no small question, that! He gently takes issue with Harold Bloom's claim that Shakespeare invented the human by pointing out that human nature was already there but that Shakespeare discovered its importance to literature, he clarified it by investigating and articulating and exhibiting and dissecting all the aspects of the human. McGinn concedes graciously that Bloom is right that in doing all of this Shakespeare helped form humans as we are now. McGinn says, “humanity may have imitated Shakespeare's imitations of humanity. Thus, in this sense, Shakespeare created human nature as it now exists, at least in some measure. So pervasive has his influence on the culture been...that we cannot help but be shaped by his works...He told us how the world looks from the perspective of itself. And the world never looked the same again” ( pp.203-204).
McGinn makes a big deal of Shakespeare. Therefore I'm happy to make a big deal of McGinn. Read this book!

first posted on rubyjandshakespearecalling@blogspot.com ( )
1 vote rubyjand | Nov 5, 2012 |
Readers who have both a familiarity with Shakespeare's major plays and an interest in philosophy will probably enjoy this short book.
Following an introduction in which the author discusses general themes there are essays on six plays: The Tempest, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, the last of which I am soon to see performed at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Perhaps the book should be subtitled "Discovering the meaning behind some of the plays". The essays on specific plays are complemented by four essays on general topics such as gender, ethics, and psychology. McGinn has a lucid style that makes this book easy to comprehend.
While the focus is primarily on the philosophical aspects of the plays the book also provides a useful commentary to provide background for anyone reading the plays. It is enhanced by useful notes and an index that allows referential reading. I have added it to my small library of Shakespearean commentary that stands beside the complete plays. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Mar 5, 2012 |
Not particularly rewarding, unfortunately. McGinn, a widely published philosopher of mind, has decided to consider Shakespeare entirely from the perspective of philosophy. Not surprisingly, he finds himself taking his plow into a field that desperately needs to lie fallow for a good long while. Millicent Bell is only the latest to work this soil in her Shakespeare's Tragic Skepticism, and McGinn is good enough to acknowledge her influence on his readings. Each of the plays McGinn considers is taken to illustrate one of philosophy's classical problems -- e.g. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (the nature of reality), "Hamlet" (the illusion of personal identify), "Othello" (the problem of other minds), etc. Sadly, aside from a paucity of original insight, McGinn's analyses wind up contradicting themselves -- cf. his essays on "MacBeth" and "Hamlet" are founded on two opposite views of the integrity of the human personality. Shakespeare is, of course, a fascintating writer. But there is just nothing new or noteworthy that can be said about him any more. ( )
1 vote jburlinson | Sep 28, 2008 |
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In 'Characters of Shakespeare's Plays,' published in 1817, William Hazlitt remarks (discussing Iago in 'Othello') that Shakespeare "was as good a philosopher as he was a poet."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060856157, Hardcover)

Shakespeare's plays are usually studied by literary scholars and historians and the books about him from those perspectives are legion. It is most unusual for a trained philosopher to give us his insight, as Colin McGinn does here, into six of Shakespeare's greatest plays—A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and The Tempest.

In his brilliant commentary, McGinn explores Shakespeare's philosophy of life and illustrates how he was influenced, for example, by the essays of Montaigne that were translated into English while Shakespeare was writing. In addition to chapters on the great plays, there are also essays on Shakespeare and gender and his plays from the aspects of psychology, ethics, and tragedy.

As McGinn says about Shakespeare, "There is not a sentimental bone in his body. He has the curiosity of a scientist, the judgement of a philosopher, and the soul of a poet." McGinn relates the ideas in the plays to the later philosophers such as David Hume and the modern commentaries of critics such as Harold Bloom. The book is an exhilarating reading experience, especially at a time when a new audience has opened up for the greatest writer in English.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:16 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A professor of philosophy offers insight into how six of Shakespeare's major works reflect the bard's personal beliefs and were influenced by the essays of Montaigne, and evaluates Shakespeare's thematic uses of psychology, ethics, and tragedy.

(summary from another edition)

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