Shakespeare sta…

Shakespeare starts by assuming that to make yourself powerless is to invite an attack. This does not mean that EVERYONE will turn against you (Kent and the Fool stand by Lear from first to last), but in all probability SOMEONE will. If you throw away your weapons, some less scrupulous person will pick them up. If you turn the other cheek, you will get a harder blow on it than you got on the first one. This does not always happen, but it is to be expected, and you ought not to complain if it does happen. The second blow is, so to speak, part of the act of turning the other cheek. First of all, therefore, there is the vulgar, common-sense moral drawn by the Fool: “Don’t relinquish power; don’t give away your lands.” But there is also another moral. Shakespeare never utters it in so many words, and it does not very much matter whether he was fully aware of it. It is contained in the story, which, after all, he made up, or altered to suit his purposes. It is: “Give away your lands if you want to, but don’t expect to gain happiness by doing so. Probably you won’t gain happiness. If you live for others, you must live FOR OTHERS, and not as a roundabout way of getting an advantage for yourself.”

This is an excerpt from George Orwell’s (Eric Blair’s) Essay : Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool, which is a (rather late) response to Tolstoy’s criticism of Shakespeare’s work. This is a truly scathing response since Orwell dissects Tolstoy’s personal life to uncover the underlying causes that pushed him to criticize Shakespeare. Although the “Sainte-Beuve” method of critique (i.e. to analyze a writer’s thoughts based on their Biography rather than their Work) is a bit dubious, the insight that Orwell provides is thought-provoking and reminiscent of his notorious novels.


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