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Monday, 31 March 2008
Roman Remains
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by Theodore Dalrymple 

It is often said that we know nothing of Shakespeare’s personal views. This is largely because he had such a genius for expressing almost every possible human type from within, as it were, as if he had experienced everybody’s thoughts and emotions for himself and as his own; and, just as we supposedly cannot know the true personality of an endlessly versatile actor because he is always playing a part, so (it is supposed) we cannot know what a man thought who was able to see every question from every possible angle, and who never once appeared in his own guise or spoke in his own voice. Moreover, his plays show moral problems; they do not preach their solutions. Shakespeare never thumps a tub, or buttonholes you like a drunk at a cocktail party.
 
I think, however, that the unknowability of Shakespeare’s views can be exaggerated. We can safely deduce, for example, that he was not puritanical in his views, but neither was he an amoralist. In politics, likewise, he was neither a utopian nor a complete cynic.  more...
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Posted on 03/31/2008 4:45 PM by NER
Comments
11 Dec 2008
Send an emailh.v.jayaram
shakespeare was a genius who could express what almst all men feel/think but could not do so because of many reasons.After all Shakespeare was also a man but a highly gifted one and who said there is nothing either good or bad but thinkig makes it so. but what the mob thinks is supposed to be reflected by their votes and this is nebulous.human nature consisting of animal instincts of self preservation, cruelty , jealousy , greed has not changed much inspite of education culture as refllected in lierature, painting and other arts.that peole like shakespeare, gandhi, shaw , russel not withstanding their uncanny faculty of putting their finger on right issues have little influence on men in general ; perhaps this may be as nature intends and the normal bell curve of statistics clearly shows that while men like christ, gandhi, shakespeare are one in billion so also are judas, godse and such other criminals one in billion and in beween are the masses of men who are neither good or bad . when man has not changed much as a biological animal so also the political charater of the masses and their elected leaders.there is really no salvation for people at the ends of a spectrum and the middle way of the BUDDHA is the best -nothin in excess and every thing in moedration.

17 Nov 2008
hooligan

Tony Blair had a sense of humour, if not irony. John Major by contrast was humourless. How does this square with your loathing of Mr Blair?



15 Nov 2008
Send an emailP.L.

Dalrymple glosses over Coriolanus's greatest fault. The man is depicted not only as haughty, but as a traitor to his country. For a modern analogy imagine if Eisenhower had lost the election of 1952 and, in a fit of outraged dignity, gone to lead the North Korean and Chinese armies against the U.S.



15 Nov 2008
Send an emailShalom Freedman

The great political leaders have characteristics other than those indicated in this article. If we think of Churchill we think of courage, eloquence, a real sense of history, patriotism, a fierce sense of Good and Evil, a vision of the world and its future, an ability to inspire, an inability to make daring decisions which go against the will of the majority. I would also add in Churchill's case a mastery of language second to none, and a tough humor. All in all qualities far surpassing those illustrated in 'Coriolanus' or even in the other great Tragedies or Histories.

 



15 Nov 2008
Send an emailStephen Kennamer

Dr Dalrymple is always a mixed bag, a sober realist and close reader whose conservative hobbyhorses, both moral and political, get in his own way.  I don't know what Shakespeare would have thought about socialism and neither does he, because that kind of redistributionism was not on anyone's mental horizon in Elizabethan England.  Shakespeare and his audience could not imagine an economy where the rich did not own the corn.  The only question is how generous they are going to be with it.  The play makes it difficult to judge the right and wrong of that issue.

It is a truism that Shakespeare feared a mobocracy; but it is likely that he understood that rural people who have been dispossessed and forced into urban centers, there to be afflicted by chronic unemployment, do not deserve to starve in the midst of plenty.  It is enough to point out that the tribunes are classic demagogues, populists only in search of power for themselves, without taking a wholly unwarranted swipe at government's honest efforts to mitigate the malignant effects of unfettered capitalism.

The politics of the play are mostly incidental to the drama of character, but if we are going to take them more seriously, perhaps, than Shakespeare intended, then I would say that Coriolanus's problem resembles Dr Dalrymple's: it isn't just that he is obnoxious; he shows signs of failing to understand that the office he seeks requires him to act for the good of all, not just in the interest of those who already have enough and to spare.  It isn't a strong recommendation under any system of government or economy for a ruler to believe that almost all persons not himself are scum.



22 Apr 2008
Send an emailalfred
Yet another essay of splendid insight by Dr. D. Dr. D. makes Coriolanus--god how I hate the word, because usually odious persons employ it--relevant to our time and place. But he does, in the best sense. I thought, or presumed, that I had, more or less, grasped the play's meanings. Definitely less then, but more, much more, now. His essay is not windy academic baffelgab or tiresome dilation of minutiae or a tedious argument of insidious intent in service of some (usually) leftist-liberal troglodytic

15 Apr 2008
Send an emailAdrian Morgan
Once again a thought-provoking piece by Theodore Dalrymple, a trained psychiatrist. It is interesting to see his acknowledgment of Shakespeare's innate understanding of psychology. Shakespeare's "Roman" plays are all said to be based on Plutarch's "Lives". In Plutarch's account, half of the corn had been offered as a gift to Rome from Gelo in Syracuse, and the other half had been harvested in Italy. The question in Plutarch's account was whether Gelo's gift of corn would be distributed fairly among the people of Rome, for whom it was intended. http://classics.mit.edu/Plutarch/coriolan.html Whether the First Citizen in Shakespeare's play really is arguing the case for "the redistributionists" along Communist lines is debatable. But in the way that Shakespeare brought contemporary relevance from an ancient text to inspire and educate his Elizabethan audience, Mr Dalrymple has brought an Elizabethan text to life for a 21st century audience. He has succeeded in making the tale of Coriolanus politically relevant for our times, being didactic but never pedantic. First-class writing.

1 Apr 2008
Send an emailTina Trent
Americans are starved for administration. I will vote for a genius at administration, no matter her flaws (including a political mind and humorlessness), to "shake the superflux" down, and then I will worry about the rest of it. Of course, it's a matter of severely limited choice.