Article Title

Undoing Shakespearean Temperance


Maurice Hunt


There are about two dozen articles or book chapters on Shakespeare’s plays that either entirely or in part—and in some cases only for several pages—focus on the Classical virtue of temperance (World Shakespeare Bibliography Online). And only ten have “temperance” or forms of this word in their title. The authors of virtually every one of these publications assume in the play(s) they analyze that temperance is a stable reality that has dramatic consequences for the characters who do or don’t practice the virtue. No one has argued that in a number of Shakespeare plays (and a sonnet) in which temperance figures the virtue exhibits instability, evaporates, has no consequences, or is irrelevant to the action. The subtlety by which this happens, notably within the dynamics of the Aristotelian methodology of the Nicomachean Ethics and its tensions, has mainly determined the selection of the works I explore. They notably include Titus Andronicus, As You like It, Measure for Measure, Antony and Cleopatra, and Sonnet 18. I should caution that my thesis requires at times my criticism of criticism itself when a commentator argues in mistaken ways for the relevance of temperance in a Shakespeare play

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