I read an essay by George Santayana, The Absence of Religion in Shakespeare.  It expressed some things I'd felt about the lack of a religious mentality in Shakespeare. 

Shakespeare was nominally Christian, but I doubt he really was. 

He seems to have been almost entirely an artist, writing as an artist rather than as a religious person, or even as a person at all. 

Coleridge called him "myriad-minded", which is another way of expressing this.  As Santayana points out, there's little evidence of Christian beliefs framing his art or driving it. 

Views: 419

Replies to This Discussion

A couple of my favorites of his:

In religion, what damned error but some sober brow will bless it, and approve it with a text, hiding the grossness with fair ornament?

Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 3

It is an heretic that makes the fire, not she which burns in it.

Do you like anything in particular by Santayana? 

It is an heretic that makes the fire, not she which burns in it.

From "A Winter's Tale".

I like Santayana's making the following possible:

Those who know history are condemned to say that those who don't know it are condemned to repeat it.

Bertold, Shakespeare had read Seneca.

He was part wise (he knew religion was false) and part ruler (he used religion).

Shakespeare was a dramatist who had to conform to the cultural expectations of his audience, and that included religion. 

But Santayana articulates why Shakespeare doesn't give the impression of being truly religious in his art. 

Shakespeare lived in a time where being overtly atheist could get a person executed. 

Shakespeare lived in a time where being overtly atheist could get a person executed.

If that be true, Luara, then it seems

In religion, what damned error but some sober brow will bless it, and approve it with a text, hiding the grossness with fair ornament?

Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 3

could have got him executed.

I've read that being overtly atheist at that time would have meant denying the divine right of the King of England, so it could have been considered treason and gotten him executed. 

The attitudes to God and religion expressed in his plays vary widely.  Christians could also pick out quotes that sound Christian.  I've never heard that Shakespeare was in danger for what is in his plays. 

I like this, from Santayana's Interpretations of Poetry and Religion (linked to above): 

Religion and poetry are identical in essence, and differ merely in the way in which they are attached to practical affairs.  Poetry is called religion when it intervenes in life, and religion, when it merely supervenes upon life, is seen to be nothing but poetry. 

It would naturally follow from this conception that religious doctrines would do well to withdraw their pretension to be dealing with matters of fact.  That pretension is not only the source of the conflicts of religion with science and of the vain and bitter controversies of sects; it is also the cause of the impurity and incoherence of religion in the soul, when it seeks its sanctions in the sphere of reality, and forgets that its proper concern is to express the ideal.  ... the excellence of religion is due to an idealization of experience which, while making religion noble if treated as poetry, makes it necessarily false if treated as science. 

I've had that idea too.

I can't say I'm familiar with Santayana's work, but you’ve made me think I should do some reading.


That's an astounding quote. I'm not sure how/why he connects poetry and religion this way, but it's fascinating right off the bat, because I think poetry (in some strange way) deserves something like the level of respect that religion gets. (Well, not so much talking about the Rod McKuens or Shel Silversteins of the world, although they can be fun too, as the Shakespeares, Wordsworths, Shelleys, Byrons, Holderlins, Rumis, etc.)

If I were going to pick nits, I would probably dispute that there's actually any "excellence of religion,” but if I’m wrong and there is, he’s definitely correct that it’s “due to an idealization of experience,” i.e. a figment. But I have to admit, even if I might not subscribe to all his axioms, his conclusion, while making religion noble if treated as poetry, makes it necessarily false if treated as science, is so eloquent and irresistible that it’s hard to turn down just on the basis of logic. </Bertold's biases>


Thanks for the source on the heretic quote.

he’s definitely correct that it’s “due to an idealization of experience,” i.e. a figment.

"Figment" seems pejorative - part of Santayana's point is that religion doesn't have to be a negative thing.  When it makes reality claims, when it acts like science, it's out of its proper place and can be justifiably criticized. 

That's what I think too - I wrote a letter to Hitchens saying something similar, a couple years ago :) 

Religious and mystical experience is part of being human.  But,  I feel it's an error and a pollution of something wonderful, when people build a dogma around those experiences.  Easy to make that mistake - it's a seductive mistake.

And a horrible travesty of course, when they proceed to use that dogma to justify genocide and other cruelty.   Idealism has such a huge potential for evil. 

ps  What would religion be like if it did explicitly avoid that seductive mistake of building theories about reality?

Suppose that while talking in a religious way, people were always careful to say things like "this is a metaphor, I'm not claiming there's a supernatural Being out there"??? 

This would seem the ethical thing to do - to avoid persuading others into that mistake. 

But in reality, even liberal religious people often avoid making the metaphorical nature of their statements explicit.  So even liberal religion is deceptive.

figment > something invented, made up, or fabricated, by which I simply meant of human origin, not divine.

>Religious and mystical experience is part of being human.

Unlike some atheists, I don't disagree with this. I don't care if someone wants to worship Dumbo's ears as long as they reject the big three monotheisms, because they're what's doing active harm in the 21st century world.

>Suppose that while talking in a religious way, people were always careful to say things like "this is a metaphor, I'm not claiming there's a supernatural Being out there"??? 


Most proponents of religion would be left with nothing to talk about under these conditions.

RSS

About

line

Update Your Membership :

Membership

line

line

Nexus on Social Media:

line

© 2018   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: The Nexus Group.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service