Did I just use the word “pwns” in a post title? ::Looks up.:: Yeah, I did. Wow. I’m becoming more internet savvy every day here.

In Plato’s Republic, the Greek philosopher writes that, in his ideal republic, poets would not be allowed. He provides a number of reasons for this, but among them is the belief that poetry is not truth. Plato believed that there was an ultimate reality, a “form” for everything, and the best goal was to get closer to this form by doing away with representation. Poetry, he argued, was a step removed from reality, because poets sought to create representations of reality and present them as truth.

In Hamlet, Shakespeare deals with this theme. Whether he was responding directly to Plato or simply addressing the same subject, I cannot say. But Hamlet, when planning to show Claudius a play, says, “I’ll have these players / Play something like the murder of my father” (II.ii.533-4). Shakespeare didn’t make many mistakes, so the phrase “something like” is telling. Hamlet is acknowledging that the play won’t actually be the murder of his father. It will be a representation of that reality. But what purpose does this play-within-a-play serve? Its goal is to reveal a truth. And it does so. Shakespeare is, I think, commenting on the validity and effectiveness of theatre and poetry. A good poem or play can teach us a truth, even if it is fictional itself.

I’m sure most, if not all, Shakespeare lovers will agree. We learn about ourselves and our world by reading and seeing Shakespeare. Can I get an Amen?

Advertisements