Shakespeare and the Common Understanding

Norman Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Common Understanding (New York: Free Press, 1967)

From a review in Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, 1972:

This excellent book combines sound scholarship with a contemporary sensibility so unpretentiously that its originality may not at first be apparent. Professor Rabkin has profited from the scholarship of his predecessors but uses their criticism to provide striking new combinations and perspectives. He shows us a Shakespeare who is certainly ‘our contemporary’ but who speaks to us from the frame of his own time and place.

The avenue by which Professor Rabkin approaches the plays is J. Robert Oppenheimer’s Science and the Common Understanding, from which the concept of “complementarity” is borrowed, the necessity in certain situations of employing apparently contradictory descriptions without embarrassment. In this view, human communication and understanding of ultimates must necessarily be paradoxical. Whether in fact this concept from atomic physics applies to the moral universe is an open question. Suffice it that Professor Rabkin has made very convincing use of it in this book.

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