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Shakespeare    Philosophy


One of our current projects concerns how Shakespeare’s work contributes to Philosophy, and how Philosophy can contribute to Shakespeare studies. One aspect of this project was to edit The Routledge Companion to Shakespeare and Philosophy.

Routledge, 2018


628 pages




ISBN: 9781138936126

Iago’s ‘I am not what I am’ epitomises how Shakespeare’s work is rich in philosophy, from issues of deception and moral deviance to those concerning the complex nature of the self, the notions of being and identity, and the possibility or impossibility of self-knowledge and knowledge of others. Shakespeare’s plays and poems address subjects including ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and social and political philosophy. They also raise major philosophical questions about the nature of theatre, literature, tragedy, representation and fiction.

The Routledge Companion to Shakespeare and Philosophy is the first major guide and reference source to Shakespeare and philosophy. It examines the following important topics:

  • What roles can be played in an approach to Shakespeare by drawing on philosophical frameworks and the work of philosophers?

  • What can philosophical theories of meaning and communication show about the dynamics of Shakespearean interactions, and vice versa?

  • How are notions such as political and social obligation, justice, equality, love, agency, and the ethics of interpersonal relationships demonstrated in Shakespeare’s works?

  • What do the plays and poems invite us to say about the nature of knowledge, belief, doubt, deception and epistemic responsibility?

  • How can the ways in which Shakespeare’s characters behave illuminate existential issues concerning meaning, absurdity, death and nothingness?

  • What might Shakespeare’s characters and their actions show about the nature of the self, the mind, and the identity of individuals?

  • How can Shakespeare’s works inform philosophical approaches to notions such as beauty, humour, horror and tragedy?

  • How do Shakespeare’s works illuminate philosophical questions about the nature of fiction, the attitudes and expectations involved in engagement with theatre, and the role of acting and actors in creating representations?


The Routledge Companion to Shakespeare and Philosophy is essential reading for students and researchers in aesthetics, philosophy of literature and philosophy of theatre, as well as those exploring Shakespeare in disciplines such as literature and theatre and drama studies. It is also relevant reading for those in areas of philosophy such as ethics, epistemology and philosophy of language.

We have previously organised two international conferences at the University of Hertfordshire (Shakespeare: The Philosopher (September 2014) and Shakespeare: The Philosopher II (July, 2016)). The first was partly funded by the British Society of Aesthetics and the Mind Association. The conference report for the British Society of Aesthetics can be found here: Conference report for the British Society of Aesthetics

To find out more, please send an email to

See also chapter 4 of our book Time in Fiction, which focuses on the nature of the fictional future through careful attention to Macbeth.

The Routledge Companion to Shakespeare and Philosophy


Introduction, Craig Bourne and Emily Caddick Bourne Part 1: Situating Shakespeare. Chapter 1 Shakespeare, Montaigne, and Philosophical Anti-Philosophy, Philip Smallwood. Chapter 2 The (New and Old) Metaphysical Reading of Shakespeare, Géza Kállay. Chapter 3 On the Kinship of Shakespeare and Plato, Daryl Kaytor. Part 2: Philosophy of Language. Chapter 4 Lear as a Tragedy of Errors: ‘He hath ever but slenderly known himself’, Garry L. Hagberg. Chapter 5 Figures Unethical: Circumlocution and Evasion in Act I of Macbeth, Scott F. Crider. Chapter 6 Conversational Perversions, Implicature and Sham Cancelling in Othello, Craig Bourne and Emily Caddick Bourne. Chapter 7 ‘Seize it, if thou dar’st’: Three Types of Imperative Conditional in Richard II, Borut Trpin. Chapter 8 The Sonnets and Attunement, Maximillian de Gaynesford. Chapter 9 'To Thine Own Self Be True': 'Truthiness', Shakespeare, Eco and the Open Work, Michael Troy Shell. Chapter 10 Wittgenstein’s Enigmatic Remarks on Shakespeare, Wolfgang Huemer. Part 3: The Ethical and The Political. Chapter 11, Shakespeare, Intention, and the Ethical Force of the Involuntary, Christopher Crosbie. Chapter 12 ‘Thou weep’st to make them drink’: Hospitality and Mourning in Timon of Athens, Sophie Emma Battell. Chapter 13 Shakespeare, Moral Judgements and Moral Realism, Matthew H. Kramer. Chapter 14 Blindness and Double Vision in Richard III: Zamir on Shakespeare on Moral Philosophy, Rafe McGregor. Chapter 15 Horatio's Stoic Philosophy, Jan H. Blits. Chapter 16 Sovereignty, Social Contract and the State of Nature in King Lear, Stella Achilleos. Chapter 17 Justice - Some Reflections on Measure for Measure, Tzachi Zamir. Chapter 18 Kiss me K…: Engendering Judgment in Kant's 1st Critique and Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, Jennifer Ann Bates. Part 4: Epistemology and Scepticism. Chapter 19 The Duty of Enquiry, or Why Othello Was a Fool, Veli Mitova. Chapter 20 The Evil Deceiver and the Evil Truth Teller: Descartes, Iago, and Scepticism, Dianne Rothleder. Chapter 21 Climates of Trust in Macbeth, Julia Reinhard Lupton. Chapter 22 The Sceptic’s Surrender: Believing Partly, Anita Gilman Sherman. Part 5: The Existential. Chapter 23 ‘Nothing will come out of nothing’: existential dimension of interpersonal relationships in King Lear, Katarzyna Burzyńska. Chapter 24 ‘And nothing brings me all things’: Shakespeare’s Philosophy of Nothing, Jessica Chiba. Chapter 25 Shakespeare and The Absurd, Raymond Angelo Belliotti. Chapter 26 Nietzsche’s Hamlet Puzzle: Life Affirmation in The Birth of Tragedy, Katie Brennan. Chapter 27 Time and the Other in Cymbeline, James A. Knapp. Part 6: Self, Mind and Identity. Chapter 28 Shakespeare and Selfhood, Kevin Curran. Chapter 29 Shakespeare and the Mind, Miranda Anderson. Chapter 30 Macbeth and the Self, Colin McGinn. Chapter 31 ‘Hit it, hit it, hit it’: Rigid Designation in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Andrew Cutrofello. Chapter 32 Love, identity and the way of ideas in Twelfth Night, Robin Le Poidevin. Part 7: Art and the Aesthetic. Chapter 33 A Taste for Slaughter: Stephen Gosson, Titus Andronicus, and the Appeal of Evil, Joel Elliot Slotkin. Chapter 34 Grotesque Laughter as a Coping Mechanism in Titus Andronicus, Adele-France Jourdan. Chapter 35 Seduced by Romanticism: Re-imagining Shakespearean Catharsis, Patrick Gray. Chapter 36 Beauty and Time in the Sonnets, Peter Lamarque. Part 8: Performance and Engagement. Chapter 37 Role-Playing on Stage, D.H. Mellor. Chapter 38 Building Character: Shakespearean Characters and Their Instantiations in the Worlds of Performances, E.M. Dadlez. Chapter 39 Shakespeare’s Theatrical Openings, James R. Hamilton. Chapter 40 Shakespeare’s Embodied Stoicism, Donovan Sherman. Chapter 41 The History Plays: Fiction or Non-fiction? Derek Matravers.

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