Reading Room Archives

No Such Thing as a Free Salad Chez Shakespeare

Though William Shakespeare may have wished it otherwise, there was no such thing as a free lunch or, in Jack Cade’s terms, a “sallet” in the bard’s garden. Conversations of self-interest and social distribution pervade Henry VI, part II (2H6). Jack Cade, leader of the historically-rooted Cade's Rebellion, offers the play’s fullest rumination on “who gets what” and why. Though Cade may take his quest for a socialist utopia too far, Shakespeare presents Cade and his followers rather sympathetically. 

John Playfair: The Scottish Enlightenment’s Sherlock Holmes of Geological Science

Amid all the revolutions of the globe, the economy of Nature has been uniform . . . and her laws are the only things that have resisted the general movement. The rivers and the rocks, the seas and the continents, have been changed in all their parts; but the laws which direct those changes, and the rules to which they are subject, have remained invariably the same.John Playfair

Perverse Machinations, Providential Results: Autolycus in Shakespeaere’s The Winter’s Tale

Shakespeare’s romance The Winter’s Tale depicts the consequences of unfounded mistrust and accusation, the healing results of charity and forgiveness, and the overarching notion that the world is governed by a benevolent Providence that transcends human machinations. 

Ilia Chavchavadze – the Father of Georgian Liberalism on Private Property

While in Europe the famous English philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote his eminent On Liberty (1859) and perfected the teachings of utilitarian liberalism, in the East, namely in Georgia, which at that time was a part of the Tsarist Russian Empire, the great Georgian political and public figure Ilia Chavchavadze laid the foundations for Georgian liberalism. At the same time, Chavchavadze was a writer, poet, publicist, and a leader of national liberation movement. European affairs and values occupied a large place in his publicistics. In Georgia, in this periphery of the Russian Empire, he was the first to mention the concept of private property. 

Love and Change: Antony and Cleopatra

Shakespeare’s telling of the tale of Antony and Cleopatra is at once a story of erotic love and political transformation. Shakespeare understands erotic love as a disruptive force that compels and, just as often, reacts to change.  In Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare couples the passionate relationship of the lovers with the revolutionary change in Rome to tell the story of transformation in the Western world, from a pagan society in which politics and the heroic model of military achievement dominate the very public way of life, to one vast Roman empire in which Christianity is incipient and self-governing political life is crumbling under the weight of a centralizing administrative order. 

OLL's May Birthday: Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803-April 27, 1882)

May’s OLL Birthday essay is dedicated to the American essayist and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Through his life of lecturing and writing, Emerson was a tireless supporter of the dignity and freedom of every individual.

The Duke’s Deceit in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

In Act 4, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Duke Vincentio of Vienna, disguised as a friar, succeeds in his aim to convince Mariana, the jilted fiancée of his self-righteous and hypocritical deputy Angelo, to trick Angelo into having sexual intercourse with her in a darkened room even as he thinks he is with the beautiful Franciscan novice Isabella.

Essays of Elia: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

Finals week is upon us, and students everywhere are reviewing notes, writing papers, sitting exams, and hoping to remember enough of what they've read to succeed. Pierre Goodrich's copy of Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia opens a window into Goodrich's own student days and to the early years of the founder of Liberty Fund.

Kingship, Legitimacy, and War in Henry V

Henry V (1599), Shakespeare’s last Elizabethan history play, is framed by two regime changes. It opens at the accession of Henry V, a man reformed who has left behind his wild ways and degenerate companions such as Falstaff. It closes with the Chorus foreshadowing the shambolic reign of his son, Henry VI, when France will be lost and England herself will be ravaged by civil war. Far from a patriotic chronicle of Henry V’s glorious conquests, the play depicts an astute new ruler shoring up his shaky legitimacy by pursuing a foreign war. 

The First Walpurgis Night

Concert music from before the twentieth century that sympathetically treats pagan religions suffering from Christian persecution is rare. Felix Mendelssohn’s cantata based on Goethe’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht (the first Walpurgis Night) may be the only important example. As a Christianized Jew who often faced prejudice, Mendelssohn must have found a special appeal in the subject matter.

The Leaders We Need, or the Leaders We Deserve?: Notions of the “Demos” in Coriolanus

When I am teaching about the problem of legitimate political authority, I always start with the First Book of Samuel, from the Hebrew Bible. The story is a debate over the nature of law, obligation, and leadership.  Israel was at the time “ruled” by the Law, provided by Moses and interpreted by judges.  But “the people” had decided they wanted a king. 

The King, the Coronation, and Us: Two nations Separated By a Common Tradition

Unless you have been living under an upturned mountain by now you likely know that this past Saturday Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor (good luck getting all that on to his driver’s license!) was crowned King Charles III of the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth. More likely though, you were probably one of the estimated 85 million people in the United States who caught at least some parts of the coronation on TV or YouTube. (Approximately 20 million people in the UK tuned in live to watch their new monarch ascend the throne.) 

Time to Trim the Fat: Prince Hal on self-love

Written at the end of the sixteenth century, Henry IV, Part I depicts an increasingly commercial, market-driven London, based on transactions, accounting, and imported goods. Harry is not just at ease in this grubby, commercial London, but he thrives in it. As Hal swaggers around the taverns and whorehouses with the “lads in Eastcheap,” he absorbs the language and ideology of commercial London.

The Enlightenment as Methodology (Part One)

I wish that it were a “cliché” that the European movement called the “Enlightenment” (1650–1815) created the modern world. If that were universally acknowledged, then it would be a commonplace that the human faculty of reason must be credited with all that we call “modern progress.” 

Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece

Disturbed and compelled by the power of storytelling that it exemplifies, The Rape of Lucrece gives its heroine not only physical beauty and chastity but formidable rhetorical skills.

The Odyssey: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

One of Pierre Goodrich's long time hobbies was making reading lists of recommended reading for a well-rounded, well-educated person. He made (at least) one while planning Liberty Fund. He made one for undergraduates at Wabash College. He made one for the Goodrich Seminar Room and had it carved into stone on the walls. I believe that Homer appears on every one of these lists.

Macbeth in Early Social Media

In London between 1700 and 1750 one in six theatrical performances was a Shakespearean play. In fact, the most popular comic dramatists of the time, Arthur Murphy, declared, “With us islanders, Shakespeare is a kind of established religion.” But not everyone adored him with this kind of fervor. One of his early critics, Charlotte Lennox, set out to understand how he created his plots. She was already a well-known published author, and her well-connected literary networks made it possible for her to study an impressive range of texts that Shakespeare consulted. 

Visions of Unlimited Progress: Denis Diderot and the Encyclopedia of the French Philosophes

All kinds of Enlightenment events occurred before 1715 and after 1789, but those dates tend to prevail because they are French. The most credible explanation for this is the monumental French Encyclopedia and the circle of intellectuals, the French philosophes, who formed and were active around it. It became their common purpose and their inspiration: to further knowledge for all people and, by this “enlightenment,” to deal a deathblow to what they viewed as reactionary forces of church and state. I will deal, here, with the man who against all odds exploded the original scope of the project (initially a translation of another dictionary); carried it forward (1745–1772) against obstacles of poverty, censorship, and imprisonment; and himself wrote thousands of entries as collaborators withdrew from the project out of fear.

Hamlet: “The best counsellors are the dead.”

“The best counsellors are the dead.” So the long-serving Elizabethan and Stuart courtier, Sir Francis Bacon, concluded in his essay “On Counsel” in 1612. Bacon was not the first to use this maxim, often appearing in the Latin as “optimi consiliarii mortui”. At its deepest level, it was meant to suggest that the best source of counsel was the study of history. 

The Science of Dining: From the Liberty Fund Rare Book Room

“The dinner table is the center for the teaching and practicing not just of table manners but of conversation, consideration, tolerance, family feeling, and just about all the other accomplishments of polite society.”~ Judith Martin (aka "Miss Manners")

“Put money in thy purse”: Shakespeare and Investment

Much like Prince Hal in Henry IV, Part I, Shakespeare understood that with reward, comes risk and with individual risk and reward, come certain inequities. Shakespeare’s status as a rational, cautious investor distinguished him from his peers ideologically, artistically, and financially. 

John Locke Foments Revolution in the Name of “The Rights of Man”

In his years as physician to and political collaborator with Shaftesbury, leader of the English Whigs, John Locke had many roles, among them as a fellow of the New Royal Society, conducting medical research, and as Shaftesbury's appointee to manage the North American colony of the Carolinas. In the latter role, Locke helped to draft The Fundamental Constitutions for the Government of the Carolinas (1669), guaranteeing freedom of religion (except for atheists).

Shakespeare, the Renaissance, and a Classical Mirror for Princes

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!