Shakespeare's Big Men: Tragedy and the Problem of Resentment
Published: May 2016© 2016
Imprint: University of Toronto Press
Page Count: 272 Pages
Dimensions: 6.00 x 9.00
272 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 x 0.80 in
Shakespeare’s Big Men examines five Shakespearean tragedies – Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and Coriolanus – through the lens of generative anthropology and the insights of its founder, Eric Gans. Generative anthropology’s theory of the origins of human society explains the social function of tragedy: to defer our resentment against the “big men” who dominate society by letting us first identify with the tragic protagonist and his resentment, then allowing us to repudiate the protagonist’s resentful rage and achieve theatrical catharsis.
Drawing on this hypothesis, Richard van Oort offers inspired readings of Shakespeare’s plays and their representations of desire, resentment, guilt, and evil. His analysis revives the universal spirit in Shakespearean criticism, illustrating how the plays can serve as a way to understand the ethical dilemma of resentment and discover within ourselves the nature of the human experience.
Chapter 1 - Why Shakespeare and Generative Anthropology?
Chapter 2 - The Originary Hypothesis: Hierarchy, Resentment, and Tragedy
Chapter 3 - Brutus’s Neoclassical Irony
Chapter 4 - Hamlet’s Filthy Imagination
Chapter 5 - Iago Our Co-Conspirator
Chapter 6 - Macbeth Unseamed
Chapter 7 - Coriolanus’s Impotence
Chapter 8 - Coda: René Girard’s Shakespeare
"Shakespeare’s Big Men is an earnest, ambitious, and illuminating book... Van Oort’s close readings, which occupy the better part of the book, are well paced, thorough, and careful... In the end, the greatest strength of the book is that van Oort manages to present a Shakespeare who is both an acute observer of human society and, as an artist, a contributor to it - someone whose tragic theater can defer violence. Admirers of Bradley and Girard will find a great deal to like in this book. Adherents to what Harold Bloom calls ‘French Shakespeare’ or the ‘school of resentment’ might do well to reckon with it."Blair Hoxby, Modern Philology (2018)
"Shakespeare’s Big Men by Richard van Oort is one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking books to appear on Shakespeare in the past few years. Drawing on the anthropologies of Eric Gans and René Girard, van Oort argues that Shakespeare’s tragedies provide a way of dealing with the problem of resentment... Through compelling readings of Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and Coriolanus, van Oort proposes that Shakespearean tragedy goes further [than Greek tragedy] in its anthropological insights, thematizing tragedy’s role in the discharge of resentment."Paul Kottman, Shakespeare Jahrbuch (2018)
‘Shakespeare’s Big Men is an earnest, ambitious and illuminating book.’Blair Hoxby, Modern Philology vol 115:04:2017
"Van Oort’s strategy of comparing the structural significance and experiences of characters from play to play energizes and strengthens his claims. The book is especially intriguing for its compelling exploration of tragic meta-theatricality as a sign of the frightening and stimulating openness of the early modern centre."Glenn Clark, University of Manitoba, University of Toronto Quarterly, vol 87 3, Summer 2018
“Shakespeare’s Big Men is an outstanding and original work of scholarship. The application of Generative Anthropology to an interpretation of five of the major plays is revelatory. The use of these ideas about the fundamental drivers of human nature, combined with an acute sensitivity to poetic, dramatic, and psychological detail, and an engaging writing style, make for a riveting commentary. Van Oort does what a serious critic hopes to do: he helps us to see and in doing so makes these great but familiar plays new again.”Raymond Tallis, author of 'Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis, and the Misrepresentation of Humanity' (2011) and Professor Emeritus of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester
“In Shakespeare's Big Men, Richard van Oort pioneers the application of Eric Gans's originary hypothesis to Shakespeare, offering clear, bold, and provocative readings of five tragic heroes dealing with the resentment that attends any mortal's attempt to seize or retain centrality.”Lars Engle, James G. Watson Professor of English, University of Tulsa