Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Keywords

truth, Shakespeare, King Lear, Brothers Karamazov, Ego, Discourse, Relationship, Society

Department

English

Major

English

Abstract

As Shakespeare’s King Lear concludes, “the weight of this sad time we must obey; speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.” Although speaking emotionally seems to be the impetus for uncivil discourse, it is the dangerous “ought to say” that truly prevents constructive dialogue. Society’s oughts — to have wealth, knowledge, security — dominate characters by isolating them from each other and from the true value of human relationship. In King Lear and The Brother’s Karamazov, those who see through the pretense of “ought” and are courageous enough to voice the truth are considered fools. Characters such as the Fool, Father Zosima, and Alyosha are liberated from societal expectations and thus have the ability voice criticism to those like Lear, Fyodor, Dmitri and Ivan who are confined by their egoism and social isolation. When Lear demands Cordelia articulate her love for him, he is doing so in order that he might “unberthened crawl towards death” while still “retain[ing] the name, and all th’ addition to a king” and thus preserve his wealth and security. When Cordelia does not give the answer she “ought” to, however, Lear severs his authentic relationship with her because he values secular comforts more than genuine love. It is the Fool who is exempt from conventional discourse and can thus challenge Lear’s public egoism by expressing the truth — that Lear has become old before he has become wise and has made himself “nothing” by giving away his relationship with his daughter. The holy fools in The Brothers Karamazov are similarly “not to be bound by the general rule” and can thus speak the truth freely. Father Zosima knows that although it made him a holy fool, acting sincerely in his relationships with other saved him from the path of “suicidal impotence” that most men follow as they “accumulate wealth in solitude.” The holy fools realize that “a man’s true security lies not in his own solitary effort, but in the general wholeness of humanity;” they thus pursue a life of authenticity and relationship. Unbound by the general rules of “ought to,” fools have the freedom to speak the truth and say what they feel in order to reveal the true value of relationships. By rejecting the protection of egoism and accepting the responsibility to be an agent of truth, the fools of Shakespeare and Dostoevsky foster civil discourse and provide a map for the reconstruction of civil society through the recovery of authentic human relationships.

Faculty Mentor

Jane Rodeheffer

Funding Source or Research Program

Academic Year Undergraduate Research Initiative, Summer Undergraduate Research Program

Presentation Session

Session A

Location

Plaza Classroom 188

Start Date

29-3-2019 3:45 PM

End Date

29-3-2019 4:00 PM

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Mar 29th, 3:45 PM Mar 29th, 4:00 PM

Wisdom's Folly: Analyzing Fools as Agents of Truth in Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky

Plaza Classroom 188

As Shakespeare’s King Lear concludes, “the weight of this sad time we must obey; speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.” Although speaking emotionally seems to be the impetus for uncivil discourse, it is the dangerous “ought to say” that truly prevents constructive dialogue. Society’s oughts — to have wealth, knowledge, security — dominate characters by isolating them from each other and from the true value of human relationship. In King Lear and The Brother’s Karamazov, those who see through the pretense of “ought” and are courageous enough to voice the truth are considered fools. Characters such as the Fool, Father Zosima, and Alyosha are liberated from societal expectations and thus have the ability voice criticism to those like Lear, Fyodor, Dmitri and Ivan who are confined by their egoism and social isolation. When Lear demands Cordelia articulate her love for him, he is doing so in order that he might “unberthened crawl towards death” while still “retain[ing] the name, and all th’ addition to a king” and thus preserve his wealth and security. When Cordelia does not give the answer she “ought” to, however, Lear severs his authentic relationship with her because he values secular comforts more than genuine love. It is the Fool who is exempt from conventional discourse and can thus challenge Lear’s public egoism by expressing the truth — that Lear has become old before he has become wise and has made himself “nothing” by giving away his relationship with his daughter. The holy fools in The Brothers Karamazov are similarly “not to be bound by the general rule” and can thus speak the truth freely. Father Zosima knows that although it made him a holy fool, acting sincerely in his relationships with other saved him from the path of “suicidal impotence” that most men follow as they “accumulate wealth in solitude.” The holy fools realize that “a man’s true security lies not in his own solitary effort, but in the general wholeness of humanity;” they thus pursue a life of authenticity and relationship. Unbound by the general rules of “ought to,” fools have the freedom to speak the truth and say what they feel in order to reveal the true value of relationships. By rejecting the protection of egoism and accepting the responsibility to be an agent of truth, the fools of Shakespeare and Dostoevsky foster civil discourse and provide a map for the reconstruction of civil society through the recovery of authentic human relationships.