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Title: The question of teaching virtue : a platonic reading of six Shakespeare plays
Author: Chen, Lei
ISNI:       0000 0004 2715 8772
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2012
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The purpose of this dissertation is two-fold. First of all it aims at finding a unified philosophical basis for The Tempest. Commentators have widely acknowledged the diversity of the moral and political discourses present in this play: there is the idea of divine providence; there is the Stoic discourse about restraining one’s anger and desire for revenge; there is the Machiavellian teaching which lays strong emphasis on power and illusion as the only means to make men obedient; there is a deep concern with the question of whether virtue is teachable or not and how it should be taught; and there is also a preoccupation with the golden world and the ideal commonwealth. But is there a unity to be found amid this diversity? My answer to this question is that there indeed is an integrated philosophical framework in which all these discourses can find their proper places and reinforce one another in a way that contributes, together with the strictly observed unity of action, place and time, to the overall coherence of the play. This underlying basis, I will try to demonstrate, has a close affinity with Plato’s moral and political thought which centers around the question of teaching virtue; meanwhile, it could also be shown that, either historically or conceptually, the discourses identifiable in the play are all closely related to Plato’s philosophy. The examination of this basis will allow us to better appreciate the depth and nuances of The Tempest, but it will also shed some new light—hence the second task of this research—on the meaning of five other Shakespearean plays starting from Hamlet, As You Like It, Measure for Measure, to Timon of Athens and Coriolanus. In my dissertation, all these works (and Timon of Athens in especial, which, I believe, is a play where all the philosophical themes I will explore in this dissertation converge) will be treated at some length, with emphasis laid respectively on the use of power, the taming of anger, and Shakespeare’s idea about the golden world. Though a considerable part of my dissertation will be devoted to the tracing of this intellectual basis with reference to the template of ideas provided by Plato’s philosophy, I do not mean to suggest that it is through reading Plato directly that Shakespeare consciously develops a philosophy. My point is rather that all the discourses he makes use of in these plays could lead him of their own accord to the Platonic template. In this sense, what Shakespeare did is no more than just to allow the philosophical potentials of his motifs to work out themselves and meanwhile faithfully register their intricate interaction. In accordance with this assumption, my study will be half speculative rather than stringently historical in nature. I will proceed, though, strictly on an empirical line, that is, to presume nothing about the existence of philosophical patterns, and base my conclusion as much as possible on close readings of the text.
Supervisor: Tilmouth, Christopher Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Shakespeare ; Plato ; The Tempest ; Timon of Athens ; Machiavelli ; Montaigne