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Tragic Conditions in Shakespeare

, 208 pages
September 2009



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Tragic Conditions in Shakespeare

Disinheriting the Globe

Paul A. Kottman offers a new and compelling understanding of tragedy as seen in four of Shakespeare’s mature plays— As You Like It, Hamlet, King Lear, and The Tempest.

The author pushes beyond traditional ways of thinking about tragedy, framing his readings with simple questions that have been missing from scholarship of the past generation: Are we still moved by Shakespeare, and why? Kottman throws into question the inheritability of human relationships by showing how the bonds upon which we depend for meaning and worth can be dissolved.

According to Kottman, the lives of Shakespeare's protagonists are conditioned by social bonds—kinship ties, civic relations, economic dependencies, political allegiances—that unravel irreparably. This breakdown means they can neither inherit nor bequeath a livable or desirable form of sociality. Orlando and Rosalind inherit nothing "but growth itself" before becoming refugees in the Forest of Arden; Hamlet is disinherited not only by Claudius’s election but by the sheer vacuity of the activities that remain open to him; Lear’s disinheritance of Cordelia bequeaths a series of events that finally leave the social sphere itself forsaken of heirs and forbearers alike.

Firmly rooted in the philosophical tradition of reading Shakespeare, this bold work is the first sustained interpretation of Shakespearean tragedy since Stanley Cavell’s work on skepticism and A. C. Bradley’s century-old Shakespearean Tragedy.

Paul A. Kottman is an assistant professor of comparative literature at the New School, editor of Philosophers on Shakespeare, and author of A Politics of the Scene.

"An engaged, thorough, and responsible reading of a problem of ongoing importance. On nearly every page there’s a surprising insight, a controversial and provocative assertion, a rereading of something familiar that makes it newly rich and strange."

"Professor Kottman has written a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. It addresses very major issues, in what is for the most part quite an original way, and I found much of what I read illuminating."

"Calm, methodical, yet urgent humanist philosophy."

"Reading this book is like following an intensely intellectual yet personal lecture... Essential."

" Tragic Conditions in Shakespeare provides an intriguing series of questions and considerations that makes fascinating reading."

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