Shakespeare’s plays explore a staggering range of political topics, from the nature of tyranny, to the practical effects of Christianity on politics and the family, to the meaning and practice of statesmanship. From great statesmen like Burke and Lincoln to the American frontiersman sitting by his rustic fire, those wrestling with the problems of the human soul and its confrontation with a puzzling world of political peril and promise have long considered these plays a source of political wisdom. The chapters in this volume support and illuminate this connection between Shakespearean drama and politics by examining a matter of central concern in both domains: the human soul. By depicting a bewildering variety of characters as they seek happiness and self-knowledge in the context of differing political regimes, family ties, religious duties, friendships, feuds, and poetic inspirations, Shakespeare illuminates the complex interdynamics between self-rule and political governance, educating readers by compelling us to share in the struggles of and relate to the tensions felt by each character in a way that no political treatise or lecture can. The authors of this volume, drawing upon expertise in fields such as political philosophy, American government, and law, explore the Bard’s dramatization of perennial questions about human nature, moral virtue, and statesmanship, demonstrating that reading his plays as works of philosophical literature enhances our understanding of political life and provides a source of advice and inspiration for the citizens and statesmen of today and tomorrow.
Khalil Habib is associate professor of politics at Hillsdale College.
L. Joseph Hebert Jr. is director of pre-law studies and professor of political science at St. Ambrose University.
1 Othello: Jealousy Becomes Tragic
2 Macbeth: The Spiritual Drama of the Tyrannical Soul
3 Wings as Swift as Love: Hamlet and the Virtues (and Vices) of a King
L. Joseph Hebert
4 Both False and True: Love, Death, and Poetry in Love’s Labor’s Lost
Denise Schaeffer and Mary P. Nichols
5 Jurisprudence in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice
Thomas Vincent Svogun
6 Christian Ethics and Political Moderation in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure
7 The Bastard in King John; or, On the Need for a Unified English Nation
Khalil M. Habib
8 To Make High Majesty Look Like Itself: Shakespeare’s Richard II and the Nature of the Good Regime
9 “This Blessed Plot”: Divine Justice and Law from Richard II’s Trial by Combat to Henry V’s Battle of Agincourt
"The two earlier books, Shakespeare's Politics and Shakespeare as a Political Thinker have prepared us for the richness, both theoretic and practical, of reading the ways politics and politicians appear in Shakespeare. This book is a very welcome addition to this project. It is quite possible that we learn more about politics in reading Shakespeare than in reading accounts of most current events."
The authors of this outstanding collection of chapters on a wide variety of Shakespeare's plays demonstrate, step by step, how carefully he composed them, how uniquely they combine the genius of poetry with the genius of philosophical understanding and hence how wise and beautiful they are.
These perceptive reflections show how Shakespeare’s plays can challenge us “to sharpen our minds and perfect our consciences” by revealing the subtle complexities represented by Shakespeare’s engaging dramatization of human nature in all its perplexing dimensions. By giving well-chosen examples from the tragedies, comedies, and histories, these many perspectives open us to the full scope of Shakespeare’s dramatic project, addressing “the most vital and enduring questions of human life and politics.”
William Shakespeare was not only the poet of the English speaking people but also their political teacher, as Homer was the political teacher of the Greeks and Virgil the political teacher of the Romans. All of his plays are political, in the sense that they are treatments of the human condition under different constitutions. The human beings he describes seek completion within a political community. The essays in this excellent collection explore how Shakespeare’s plays dramatize such perennial questions as the meaning and practice of statesmanship; the best polity vs. real polities; the link between individual character and the political regime; and the relationship among poetry, politics, religion, and philosophy.
"Liberal democracies such as ours will always need talented, broadminded men and women whose refined tastes and energetic souls can help us navigate political crises with our freedom and dignity intact. But, as Alexis de Tocqueville reminds us, liberal democracies tend to produce citizens with weak judgment and middling character. Fortunately for us, Shakespeare and the Soul of Statesmanship shows how the plays and poetry of William Shakespeare supply an antidote to this problem. With exceptional attentiveness to Shakespeare’s political insights, the contributors to this excellent volume illustrate how his tragedies, comedies, and histories can develop both the prudent statesmanship we need and the judgment to distinguish 'true greatness' from 'brilliant mediocrity.'