Archive for the ‘Shakespeare’ Category


W. Shakespeare, Gent.

I posted a blog entry today at Lisa Haneberg’s Management Central site on the topic of motivation vs. behavior. In it I quote Hamlet to Gertrude as he advises her to have nothing to do with his murderous stepfather:

Assume a virtue, if you have it not.
. . . Refrain to-night,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence; the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
And either exorcise the devil, or throw him out
With wondrous potency.

In other words, behavior. Don’t become virtuous so that you may act virtuously; instead, act virtuously so that you may become virtuous.

The problem here is that we need to recognize that while Shakespeare may articulate this or that idea, we mustn’t fall into the trap of the Shakespearean fallacy: acting as if Shakespeare is advocating the same. He isn’t; his character Hamlet is.

Or take this better-known speech, from the same play:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

This is Polonius to his son Laertes. How many motivational speakers have gotten 4 hours ot of this? But:

  • Is this Shakespeare’s advice?
  • Sure, it sounds reasonable.
  • But Polonius is a fool.
  • Does that make his advice worthless?
  • Does it matter?

This why, in Shakespeare, you end up throwing up your hands and say it’s the ultimate example of John Keats’ negative capability — the capacity of the artist to create believable characters who may (or may not) be like their creator. Sort of the opposite of the clueless Dan Brown.

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