The Eye Sees Not Itself: Shakespeare and Aristotle on Friendship

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The Eye Sees Not Itself: Shakespeare and Aristotle on Friendship

4th Floor Linkway
John Medley

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In a conversation in Troilus and Cressida between Ulysses and Achilles, Shakespeare presents a remarkably sophisticated account of the relationship between the self and the other, adumbrating the concept of intersubjective “recognition” (Anerkennung) more commonly associated with Hegel, as well as other, later Continental philosophers such as Sartre, Ricoeur, and Levinas.

The idea that the other, especially, the friend or lover, is a mirror or “glass,” enabling and mediating self-definition, reappears inJulius Caesar, as well as Antony and Cleopatra; even as early as King John. Shakespeare anticipates Hegel here not only because he himself influences Hegel’s thought, but also because both he and Hegel are drawing on a common source, Aristotle’s account of the role of friendship in his moral philosophy.

More specifically, the image of the friend as mirror can be traced to a treatise attributed to Aristotle, the Magna Moralia, now considered of doubtful authenticity, as mediated through influential commentaries on Aristotle’s ethics by Shakespeare’s English contemporary, John Case: the Speculum Moralium Quaestionum (1585) and the Reflexus Speculi Moralis (1596). Case further complicates Aristotle's original metaphor by emphasizing the eye of the other as providing the most revealing reflection of the self, drawing upon related conceits in Plato’s First Alcibiades and Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations.

Patrick Gray is Lecturer in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature in the Department of English Studies at Durham University. He is the co-editor with John D. Cox of Shakespeare and Renaissance Ethics (Cambridge UP, 2014) and guest editor of a forthcoming special issue of Critical Survey on Shakespeare and war. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Shakespeare Survey, Shakespeare Jahrbuch, Critical Survey, Comparative Drama, and Cahiers Shakespeare en devenir. He is currently working on a monograph on shame and guilt in Shakespeare, as well as co-editing a collection of essays on Shakespeare and Montaigne. In April and May 2016, Patrick Gray is Early Career International Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, 1100-1800.

Presented as part of Shakespeare 400 Melbourne

PresentersMr Patrick Gray

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