Shakespeare - Moral Value

Shakespeare (Brice Stratford)
Credit: Brice Stratford
(Wikimedia Commons)

Shakespeare: Moral Value

“Shakespeare and the Renaissance Concept of Honor” is based on a thesis presented to Harvard University in 1950. Curtis Brown Watson divides his work into two parts. The first discusses the Renaissance idea of honor, the second addresses William Shakespeare’s use of this concept.

A good source that presents original analysis, this study is essential for students of history and English literature. Published by Princeton University Press in 1960, the text is important to understand the definition of honor in Shakespeare’s time and encourages the scholar to develop an independent interpretation of the playwright’s work.

Watson provides a list of seven critical approaches in “Foreword to Part II: Does Drama Have a Moral Function?” He invites us to judge which position has the greatest relevance.

7. “It is impossible to understand Shakespeare if one does not consider the moral values which gave his plays their structure and meaning. In Shakespeare there is a profound interpenetration of moral and of aesthetic values.”

Watson believes any attempt to separate Shakespeare from the time in which he lived while analyzing the playwright’s work will lead to invalid statements and a thesis based on present attitudes and contemporary class structure. Moral issues pertaining to English Renaissance society cannot be ignored.

Women were not permitted to appear on stage, much less allowed to interpret a writer’s words, or assume the duties of a man. Today, women perform and critique Shakespeare in great numbers, revitalizing our perspective. Feminism has modernized literary criticism, making it impossible to stay within the moral values of the Renaissance.