Shakespeare’s Literary Grasp of Life

Shakespeare could see deeply into the human heart because he had seen deeply into his own.  Matthew Arnold might have had him in  mind when he noted, “The poet, in whose heart heaven hath a quicker impulse imparted, subdues that energy to scan, not his own heart but that of man.”  Shakespeare avoided the pitfall that Jesus warned of when he described people, “having eyes to see but seeing not, having ears to hear but hearing not.”

Shakespeare saw life as a story, a narrative that is always already underway when we arrive on the scene, taking our role on what he called the “stage of life.”  Seeing life as a story, he then was given the literary license to interpret the story and with the astute vision described earlier was able to plumb the depths of the human heart.  He did see the ugliness of life for he had seen the ugliness in his own heart and life, leading one of his characters to conclude that life was a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”  This particular line uttered by Macbeth is very bleak and appears to be nihilistic but not if you consider the body of Shakespeare’s work.  Sure, the “nothingness” is present in life but that is only the dimension of life involved in finding its meaning and purpose.  Shakespeare knew that if you do not see the “idiocy” (or lunacy) of life…including your own…you end up taking yourself and the whole of the human enterprise too seriously.

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