Shakespeare's Philosophy: Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays

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9780060856151: Shakespeare's Philosophy: Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays

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.

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About the Author:

Colin McGinn was educated at Oxford University. The author of sixteen previous books, including The Making of a Philosopher, he has written for the London Review of Books, The New Republic, the New York Times Book Review, and other publications. He has taught philosophy at University College of London, Oxford, and Rutgers University, and is a distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of Miami.

From Publishers Weekly:

Shakespeare's famous phrase "All the world's a stage/ And all the men and women merely players" reflects a common sense of the self shared by many philosophers. So begins McGinn's project of tracing Shakespeare's philosophy through six of his great plays, while arguing that the great English bard can be fairly regarded as a philosopher. Without seeming at all dusty, the book examines Shakespeare in relation to Hume, Wittgenstein and such major philosophical questions as nothingness, language, causation and the nature of knowledge. McGinn makes a credible case that the essays of Montaigne as well as skepticism and naturalism had a clear influence on Shakespeare's writings, bringing unexpected freshness to topics that are well-worn in high school curriculums. Most interesting is McGinn's earnest delight in rediscovering Shakespeare's characters, such as the tragic Cordelia and the indecisive Hamlet. McGinn's gift, aside from his clear and beautiful prose, is in recognizing Shakespeare's genius in creating true and recognizable people, who ring as true to modern audiences as they did to his contemporaries. "He told us how the world looks from the perspective of itself. And the world never looked the same again." This conclusion implies that just as Shakespeare the playwright still moves his audiences, so, too, can Shakespeare the philosopher. (Dec.)
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