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REVIEW
Knights, L. C. "Shakespeare and Political Wisdom:
A Note on the Personalism of Julius Caesar and Coriolanus." Sewanee Review, 61 (1953), 43-55.


Thesis: Knights believes that literature can make a difference in the real world of politics, not by directing our thinking concerning the issue of the day, but by reminding us of general truths which deeply affect how we handle any particular issue. Specifically, he believes that both Julius Caesar and Coriolanus show that abstraction in politics is dangerous:
The point is that whenever thought moves in terms of the massive abstractions of "progressive parties," of "anti-Fascism," of "the American way of life," of "people's democracies," of Socialist virtue and Tory viciousness (or vice versa), it needs to be brought back to the discipline of the actual. It is not our political shibboleths but the decency and integrity of our human responsiveness that in the not so long run decides the fate of nations.  (54-55)
In Julius Caesar, Knights says, moral chaos results when men attempt to rely on pure principle; the personal motivation simply slips in the back door and disguises itself as an ideal. This moral chaos results in a sense of monstrous barrenness, as when Brutus dips his hands in the blood of his friend Caesar and proclaims "peace, freedom, and liberty."

Bottom Line: Both persuasive and wise.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 10 October 2005