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Ed. by Lütterfelds, Wilhelm / Majetschak, Stefan / Raatzsch, Richard / Vossenkuhl, Wilhelm

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Wittgenstein’s Shakespeare

Marjorie Perloff
Published Online: 2014-03-26 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/wgst.2014.5.1.259


Wittgenstein’s oddly negative assessment of Shakespeare has caused consternation among literary critics. From F. R. Leavis to the present, English critics have often assumed that Wittgenstein was simply a bad judge of poetry and that he knew little about the literature of his adopted country. Or again,Wittgenstein stands accused, by critics like George Steiner, of demanding clear ethical values from literature - values Shakespeare, who never quite took sides with particular characters, did not proclaim. This essay argues that such criticisms fail to understand Wittgenstein’s own context as an Austrian writer, brought up on the German classics of the 18th and 19th centuries. It s true that this “classical” literature, coming two centuries later than Shakespeare, was much more subjective, more personal than Elizabethan literature, and that Wittgenstein was accustomed to a psychology not characteristic of Shakespeare. It is the demand for realism, for characters with whom the reader can identify that makes Shakespeare unsatisfactory to Wittgenstein. Nevertheless, Wittgenstein’s fugitive remarks about Shakespeare show great acumen and insight; he understood the Tragedies - for example, King Lear, much better than one might conclude from some of his strictures. Despite the gulf between the two writers, Shakespeare’s “dreamwork,” as Wittgenstein calls it, became a model for the philosopher’s own writing

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Published Online: 2014-03-26

Published in Print: 2014-03-01

Citation Information: Wittgenstein-Studien, Volume 5, Issue 1, Pages 259–272, ISSN (Online) 1868-7458, ISSN (Print) 1868-7431, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/wgst.2014.5.1.259.

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