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Shakespeare and Philosophy: A Symposium

March 21st, 2013 – Shakespeare and Philosophy: A Symposium

Sarah Beckwith (English, Duke University)
“Shakespeare’s Private Linguist: Coriolanus, Wittgenstein, Cavell, Tragedy”

Tragedy is often the underbelly of philosophy’s rational subject. It touches upon the wayward, error-ridden, chronically blind ways we go about our business. In Shakespearean tragedy we are drawn to think about the extraordinary fragility of our relation to the world and to others. Coriolanus, Shakespeare’s last tragedy, is a brilliant linguistic and political exploration of what it means to speak.

Inspired by Stanley Cavell’s understanding of Wittgenstein’s “private language” fantasy, I will show that our acts of speaking expose us, and that the very substance of Coriolanus’s tragedy is that he finds this exposure unbearable. I will also explore Shakespeare’s pathways from King Lear to Pericles, and from tragedy to romance.

David Schalkwyk (Director of Research, Folger Library)
“Shakespeare and skepticism: Disbelief, uncertainty, suspicion, reservation or doubt in Othello and Cymbeline”

In this talk I revisit two apparently unrelated critical events: 1) Stanley Cavell’s reading of Shakespeare’s plays as the expression of skepticism about other minds and the external world, and 2) Ludwig Wittgenstein’s professed dislike of Shakespeare.

I pose three questions: 1) Why did Wittgenstein not recognize in Shakespeare the skepticism Cavell (his avowed disciple) sees almost everywhere in the work? 2) Why does Cavell insist on using a metaphysical or philosophical concept, skepticism, to explain plays in which the speech acts are those of the ordinary language-games of disbelief, uncertainty, suspicion, reservation or doubt? 3) Why does Cavell focus on Othello and The Winter’s Tale as exemplars of the skeptical disposition, while ignoring plays that replicate the plot of male suspicion of female integrity, like Much Ado About Nothing and Cymbeline?

shakespeare and philosophy P1020218 P1020248

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