ENG 890S-03: Shakespeare, Tragedy, Ethics

Sarah Beckwith

“Love”, says Iris Murdoch,” is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality.

Murdoch’s wonderful claim conjoins art and morals through her parsing of love.

This class is at once an exploration of the ethical implications of a vision of language explored in Wittgenstein, Stanley Cavell, Raimond Gaita, Peter Winch, Iris Murdoch, and Cora Diamond; and an exploration of Shakespeare’s plays, chiefly tragedies distinguished by the awesome fate of our our acts of speech.

What Shakespeare shares with all these thinkers is a profound attack on the moralization of morality. Tragic freedom in Shakespeare obviates moralism, though it makes our every word, our every stand and judgment of unavoidable ethical consequence. What brings these thinkers together with Shakespeare is the idea that there is no separate domain of ethics, that much contemporary moral philosophy is profoundly reductionist in its restriction of ethics to the domain of rules, and obligations. What “vision of language” makes the ethical implications of language newly available? How is Shakespeare’s extraordinary linguistic range, precision and poetry able to word the world for us in new ways? How does Shakespeare explore the binding power of words, and the ways in which we must mean what we say, our responsibility in meaning our words.

We will read a number of Shakespeare’s plays alongside some of these thinkers. Beginning with Wittgenstein’s exploration of pain and private language, we will examine the third section of The Claim of Reason, in its entirety, we’ll work with Peter Winch’s parsing of “The Good Samaritan”, and examine Cora Diamond’s exploration of concepts, their loss, and “the difficulty of reality” among other topics.

Students interested in Shakespeare, ethics, theatre and performance, tragedy, as well as questions of voice and acknowledgement in criticism, will find this class of interest.


MUSIC 790S-1-01: Opera: From Entertainment to Philosophy
Jacqueline Waeber

This graduate seminar introduces students to methodologies of research in musicology, by focusing on the repertoire of opera, and a selected corpus of works, in literature, arts, and philosophy, that have been informed by opera.

Opera originated in Florence at the turn of the seventeenth century, as a form of aristocratic, “high brow” entertainment, informed by cultural and philosophical tenets aiming to revive the genre of the Greek tragedy; by the end of the nineteenth century, it had become the most popular form of entertainment, hybridizing and disseminating itsels through diverses related genres, from operetta to melodrama, and eventually offering a fertile ground to the nascent incidental music attached to early cinema.

Be it viewed as a form of theatrum mundi or through the lenses of the Wagnerian “Gesamtkunstwerk,” opera has proven to be a most inspiring genre for questioning specific concepts in the philosophy of art. It also became a privileged artistic receptacle into which artists and thinkers could project ad experiment their aesthetic views on music, voice, representation, language, and ethics.

Our seminar will be organized around a selection of texts covering over two centuries of operatic debates (notably Rousseau, Diderot, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Adorno, Stanley Cavell, Mladen Dolar, Liliana Cavarero…) and a selected number of seminal operatic works (among which Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Alban Berg’s Wozzeck).

By focusing on the intersections between opera and philosophy, our seminar will allow for an in-depth exploration of the operatic repertoire in connection with philosophical discussions on the concepts of representation, language, meaning, and ethics.