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< Back to question Is Shakespeare's writing universal and timeless? Show more Show less

Ben Jonson described Shakespeare as being "for all time" - that is, his works resonate with all time periods and peoples. His body of work spans poetry and plays, many of which are the most praised, quoted and performed still today. Is the work of Shakespeare truly this universal and timeless?

No, Shakespeare's writing is of his time and place. Show more Show less

Shakespeare's writing so reflects the time and place in which he wrote that it cannot be universal nor timeless.
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His work is exclusive and bigoted.

Shakespeare's writings often indulge in racism and anti-semitism, making the audience which can read him without being demeaned far from universal.
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The Argument

Shakespeare often utilized racist, anti-semitic, and sexist language in his poems and plays. If women and minorities cannot read a work without being offended, it cannot be universal. "The Merchant of Venice" is Shakespeare's biggest offender, where he indulges in the Jewish caricature of Shylock as his main villain [1]. He utilizes stereotypes about moneylending and greed to dehumanize the character, and people as odious as the Nazis have weaponized these stereotypes in performance of the play. His other works frequently feature lines which discuss women as sexual objects or as essentially different than men. He also frequently has characters refer to darker skin as if it is inherently ugly or makes one evil. In "Othello," the dark-skinned protagonist brutally murders his wife [2]

Counter arguments

Both Shylock and Othello are characters Shakespeare wrote to be deeply sympathetic. The most famous speech from The Merchant of Venice deals with Shylock's innate humanity, and Othello was manipulated by Iago.


[P1] Bigoted writing offends readers who identify with the targeted groups. [P2] Shakespeare's writing was bigoted.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Thoughtful readers can engage with bigoted writing without being personally offended. [Rejecting P2] Shakespeare wrote bigoted characters, not bigoted works.



This page was last edited on Wednesday, 8 Apr 2020 at 15:40 UTC


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