The Comedy of Forgiveness

readings in Shakespeare and Dickens

John Haddon

The relation of art and the good is a perennial question. Neither Shakespeare nor Dickens is a didactic author, and neither engages in formal philosophising. An artist may nevertheless profoundly affect our understanding of moral, spiritual or religious ideas.
     Somehow forgiveness is not a topic often discussed with regard to Shakespeare. Has anybody noticed how important forgiveness is in Shakespeare’s plays?—in a number of forms and different degrees of seriousness and profundity. Shakespeare did not invent forgiveness, and he will not teach forgiveness to anyone who does not already know it, but he can and does as poet and dramatist show us forgiveness as we cannot see it outside great art.
     It is some support of the view of Dickens as a Shakespearean artist that he too can show forgiveness in particularly clear and beautiful ways.
      But Shakespeare and Dickens remain poets not preachers. Their pictures of forgiveness depend all the time on imaginative realisation, and so Mr Haddon’s discussion of the different creations—from the perfect forgiveness of Lear by Cordelia, or of his lady by Sir Leicester Dedlock, to the variously problematic forgivenesses in The Tempest, Measure for Measure, Little Dorrit and Othello—is all the time necessarily a sensitive reading, asking how this moment is to be acted or how we take that line or paragraph.
     In this way The Comedy of Forgiveness is both literary criticism and a contribution, in its discussion of the ways Shakespeare and Dickens create forgiveness, to the philosophy of criticism.
     What new can be said about either Shakespeare or Dickens or forgiveness? Here is new thinking about all three. The book should be read by anybody interested in Shakespeare, Dickens, or the relation of art and the good.

1 Introduction
2 Forgiveness and Dramatic Sincerity: Two Gentlemen of Verona
3 Conditions of Sincerity
4 Isabella
5 Prospero
6 Miss Wade
7 Amy Dorrit
8 Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet
9 Hermione
10 Cordelia
11 Desdemona
12 Beyond Harm?
13 Restoration
14 Pictures of Forgiveness
15 The Comedy of Forgiveness
16 Epilogue: The Church

Return to Home Page or Shop