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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.224) Chapter 7 Loyalty
Shakespeare's Moral Compass

Neema Parvini

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter approaches the topic of loyalty in Shakespeare’s plays primarily through the lens of Antonio’s devotion to Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice and Celia’s to Rosalind in As You Like It. It argues that although these pairs of friends are differently gendered, they are structurally very similar, and marked by their total imbalance. Both Antonio and Celia demonstrate exceptional selflessness in their loyalty, despite the fact that neither Bassanio nor Rosalind come close to ever repaying their kindness. The chapter suggests that our difficulty in processing these disproportionate relationships is because they upset the moral foundation of fairness, but loyalty is not transactional. It seems, rather, that Shakespeare’s notion of friendship rested partly on the Christian (Thomist) virtue of charity. It also argues that when Shakespeare deals with loyalty, he focuses on individual relationships, as opposed to groups. In the language of modern psychological and sociological studies, this renders his friendships, and by extension his concept of loyalty, “feminine” even though the friendships he depicts are between both men and women.

Keywords:   Shakespeare, Loyalty, Jonathan Haidt, As You Like it, Merchant of Venice, Friendship, Thomas Aquinas, Charity, Virtue Ethics, Thomism

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