This book is about a mad king and a mad duke. With original and iconoclastic readings, Richard van Oort pioneers the reading of Shakespeare as an ethical thinker of the "originary scene," the scene in which humans became conscious of themselves as symbol-using moral and narrative beings. Taking King Lear and Measure for Measure as case studies, van Oort shows how the minimal concept of an anthropological scene of origin—the "originary hypothesis"—provides the basis for a new understanding of every aspect of the plays, from the psychology of the characters to the ethical and dialogical conflicts upon which the drama is based. The result is a gripping commentary on the plays. Why does Lear abdicate and go mad? Why does Edgar torture his father with non-recognition? Why does Lucio accuse the Duke in Measure for Measure of madness and lechery, and why does Isabella remain silent at the end? In approaching these and other questions from the perspective of the originary hypothesis, van Oort helps us to see the ethical predicament of the plays, and, in the process, makes Shakespeare new again.
About the author
Richard van Oort is Professor of English at the University of Victoria in Canada. He is author of Shakespeare's Big Men (2016).
"This is criticism of the highest order, whose long, careful readings of King Lear and Measure for Measure are in dialogue with the finest readers of Shakespeare for the past century."
—Blair Hoxby, Stanford University
"A rigorous yet highly readable attempt to understand Shakespeare and neoclassical drama in general in new terms, Shakespeare's Mad Men demonstrates in admirable detail the analytical power of generative anthropology wielded by a powerful intelligence."
—Eric Gans, University of California, Los Angeles
"Attentive to both the ruses of bad faith and the truths disclosed by Shakespeare's language, van Oort addresses our human predicament as symbol-making creatures whose search for love is troubled by the ceaseless drive for mastery."
—Julia Reinhard Lupton, University of California, Irvine
"van Oort's reading is nothing less than a stunning provocation."
—Amir Khan, Shakespeare Quarterly
"[R]eaders... will find value and pleasure in van Oort's compelling readings, and his clear style makes complex concepts pleasingly accessible."
—Molly G. Yarp, Times Literary Supplement
"Eminently readable, Shakespeare's Man Men attempts to engage and explain the larger questions the plays raise, particularly why characters behave the way they do and make the choices they do. The readings are original and offer exciting ways to engage with the plays. Highly recommended."
—K. J. Wetmore Jr., CHOICE