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Greatsouled or Graceful: Classical and Christian Ethics in the Plays of Shakespeare

ENGL 326.301
instructor(s):
MW 2-3:30

"The great-souled person. . . seems to be the one who thinks himself worthy of great things." Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

"Whosoever shall be great among you shall be your servant." Mark 10:43.

In this course we will study Shakespeare's notion of human greatness. He inherited from the classical tradition a split between the intelligent few and the thoughtless many, where greatness comes from the few. In this tradition, the great-souled man is justified in thinking well of himself and in knowing that he is better than other people. From the Christian tradition, however, Shakespeare inherited a view that reverses the classical split. In this tradition, greatness comes from a capacity that many can achieve, a capacity for selflessness and humility--a willingness to be a servant-- that seems to be most characteristic of simple people. Texts: Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Gospel According to John, Much Ado About Nothing, All's Well That Ends Well, Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, Hamlet, King Lear, and The Tempest. Three short papers, one long final paper.