Skip to comments.Why Shakespeare Is For All Time
Posted on 01/14/2003 8:28:22 PM PST by Hobsonphile
A decade ago, the psychiatrist Peter Kramer published a book called Listening to Prozac, which claimed that our understanding of neurochemistry was so advanced that we would soon be able to design- and no doubt to vary- our personalities according to our tastes. Henceforth there would be no more angst. He based his prediction upon the case histories of people given the supposed wonder drug who not merely recovered from depression but emerged with new, improved personalities.
Yet the prescription of the drug (and others like it) to millions of people has not noticeably reduced the sum total of human misery or the perplexity of life. A golden age of felicity has not arrived: and the promise of a pill for every ill remains, as it always will, unfulfilled. Anyone who had read his Shakespeare would not have been surprised by this disappointment. When Macbeth asks a physician:
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased, Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow, Raze out the written troubles of the brain, And with some sweet oblivious antidote Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff Which weighs upon the heart?
The physician replies laconically: "Therein the patient / Must minister to himself."
Every day, several patients ask me Macbeths question with regard to themselves- in less elevated language, to be sure- and they expect a positive answer: but four centuries before neurochemistry was even thought of, and before any of the touted advances in neurosciences that allegedly gave us a new and better understanding of ourselves, Shakespeare knew something that we are increasingly loath to acknowledge. There is no technical fix for the problems of humanity.
Those problems, he knew, are ineradicably rooted in our nature; and he atomized that nature with a characteristic genius never since equaled: which is why every time we moderns consult his works, we come away with a deeper insight into the heart of our own mystery.
(Excerpt) Read more at city-journal.org ...
And also a reason why City Journal is one of my favorite publications.
I have, however, once heard a sound I shall never forget - a young classmate intoning "O for a Muse o' fahr, what would ascend da brahtest heaven o' invention..." I swear it wasn't me.
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leashd in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?