#Shakespeare400, A Fresh Look at Shakespeare's "Big Men"

For #Shakespeare400, a Fresh Look at Shakespeare’s “Big Men”

The University of Toronto Press has recently published Dr. Richard van Oort’s new study of Shakespearean tragic heroes, Shakespeare’s Big Men: Tragedy and the Problem of Resentment.

We asked Dr. van Oort to tell us more about his book.

What is Shakespeare Big Men about?

The book is about Shakespeare’s tragic heroes—the so-called “big men” of the book’s title. I look at five of them: Brutus, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and Coriolanus.

What connects these five characters?

They all die. But that’s not very interesting—in Shakespeare the tragic hero always dies. What makes these characters interesting is what they do before they die. Shakespeare shows us, very carefully and in exquisite psychological and dramatic detail, how these characters fall victim to an extremely common problem in human society: resentment.

Why is resentment a problem?

Resentment is a very destructive emotion, which is why it has such a bad reputation and also why no one admits to being resentful. Instead we tend to disguise resentment by giving it other names: justice, fairness, honour, etc. Shakespeare understood this better than any psychologist or philosopher. In Julius Caesar, for example, Brutus defends his assassination of Caesar by saying he did it for the ideals of the republic. But Shakespeare shows us that what upsets Brutus is the fact that Caesar is getting so much attention. Brutus’s high-minded political rhetoric is driven by plain old envy and resentment.

What motivated you to write this book?

I was teaching so much Shakespeare the book basically wrote itself. Everything I say in the book, I’ve said in my undergraduate Shakespeare classes. Of course, the book says these things a little differently but the ideas are the same.

To whom is the book addressed?

Well, obviously the book has to pass muster with other Shakespeare specialists, but I hope I’ve written it in such a way that it’ll appeal to anybody with an interest in Shakespeare. I believe very strongly that literature professors have no special access to knowledge. With an author like Shakespeare, of course, you are reminded of this fact frequently. Shakespeare is the smartest author I’ve ever read. It’s hard to find another writer who understood human nature so profoundly.

You can find out more about this book at the University of Toronto’s site: < http://www.utppublishing.com/Shakespeare-s-Big-Men-Tragedy-and-the-Problem-of-Resentment.html>