ABSTRACT

When you read or go see a Shakespeare play, do you feel you learn anything about people or how to live? Do you feel edified or instructed in any way? Do you feel that you acquire wisdom about life, or are confirmed in the wisdom you already have? We saw in the Introduction that many men and women over the centuries answer “yes” to these questions—though they provide very different accounts of the nature of this instruction and wisdom. And it is in part because they feel the plays in some sense embody wisdom and provide some kind of moral edification that the plays are of such value and importance to them. This is not to say that you should respond in this way to the plays, that there is some kind of moral imperative to find instruction, edification, or wisdom, in them, or that you should throw your hat in with what I’m calling “we” in this book. But even if you don’t, you still might want to understand what it is about the plays that accounts for this widespread response and the long-standing positive evaluation of Shakespeare that is grounded in it. And you might be interested in not just understanding its causes, but also discovering ways of experiencing it for yourself. If so, read on.