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Shakespeare's Philosophy


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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.


McGinn (philosophy, Rutgers Univ.; The Making of a Philosopher) uses Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and The Tempest as the basis for his study, critically evaluating them from a philosopher's perspective. He postulates that Shakespeare used philosophic themes to construct the framework of his plays. These themes include skepticism, questions regarding the possibility of human knowledge, the nature of self and personal identity, the understanding of causation, the existence and nature of evil, and the formative power of language. Where necessary, he provides the background needed to understand his discussion; for example, he begins his discussion of the Aristotelian "tragic flaw" by defining and illustrating the concept. Though Shakespeare left no record of his personal philosophy, many books are available on the topic. McGinn's strength is his ability to present complicated philosophical ideas in simple, easily understandable terms. While he contributes no novel insights regarding these plays, he does provide an accessible approach to a deeper understanding of them. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Shana C. Fair, Ohio Univ. Lib., Zanesville Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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