Power, history and society

All living beings belong to one or more communities. When one takes shape, it immediately becomes important for its members to strengthen their feelings of solidarity. How is this accomplished or hindered? The major forces that benefit or harm our life in community with others can be grouped under the main headings of instinct, accident and insight.

Secure instincts are found in firm characters, an Othello or a Viola. A lucky accident lets a superficial character like Orlando be held in place by a fortunate environment. Instinct and accident are both uncertain sources of growth in our common life, however, since we do not master, and know next to nothing about, their underlying causes. Understanding is therefore a much safer foundation, and Shakespeare promotes growth in fellow feeling by showing his audience actions which lead to harmony or to disintegration. Indeed, the insights gained over generations in such involved areas are communicated by all distinguished drama.

By way of introduction we shall look at a play that weaves together four important themes.