Kiernan Ryan – Shakespeare’s Thoughtless Wisdom


A one-day seminar hosted by the Department of English Royal Holloway, University of London

Event Date: Friday 28 May 2010

The aim of the seminar is to provide a forum in which to debate the validity and value of treating Shakespeare as a philosopher or his plays as forms of philosophical thought, and of bringing philosophical perspectives, past or present, to bear on his plays and poetry.

Professor Kiernan Ryan (Royal Holloway) – Shakespeare’s Thoughtless Wisdom

My paper will offer some introductory reflections on the key questions we were invited to consider. It will begin by looking at plays where Shakespeare‟s characters seem to be thinking philosophically, and where the work as a whole appears to imply a philosophical stance. It will conclude by considering the ways in which Shakespeare’s plays resist comprehension in philosophical terms, forging their more elusive visions ― what Chesterton called their ‘thoughtless wisdom’ ― in the crucible of form and phrasing.

Kiernan Ryan is Professor of English Language and Literature at Royal Holloway and a Fellow of Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge. He is the author of Shakespeare’s Comedies (2009), Shakespeare (3rd ed, 2002) and Ian McEwan (1994), and he wrote the Introduction to the new Penguin edition of King Lear (2005). He is also the editor of King Lear: Contemporary Critical Essays (1993), New Historicism and Cultural Materialism: A Reader (1996), Shakespeare: The Last Plays (1999) and Shakespeare: Texts and Contexts (2000).


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