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Shakespeare's Moral Compass$
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Neema Parvini

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781474432870

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474432870.001.0001

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(p.201) Chapter 6 Authority
Shakespeare's Moral Compass

Neema Parvini

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter argues that Shakespeare’s response to the moral foundation of authority is not located in the speeches of his political leaders, because authority is not synonymous with power. Authority must be earned, whereas power is usually bestowed. Therefore, we must look to the relationships between characters of different social rank, especially between servants and their masters. In Shakespeare’s plays these relationships often take the form of freely chosen employment as opposed to feudal oaths of fealty. This is because paid employment became the new norm as early capitalism flourished in the 1500s, and the last remnants of the old feudal order were swept away. Focusing on the relationship between Adam and Orlando in As You Like It, the contrast between Kent and Oswald in King Lear, and the relationship between Flavius the steward and Timon in Timon of Athens, it contends that in Shakespeare’s plays virtuous authority entails reciprocal good service. Good service is found not in mere obedience, but in a sense of duty, which might on occasion directly contradict the wishes of the master. If authority is mistaken for oppressive power, and if liberty is mistaken for subversion, tyranny follows.

Keywords:   Shakespeare, Authority, Jonathan Haidt, As You Like it, Timon of Athens, King Lear, Servants, Reciprocity, Liberty, Tyranny

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