Thursday November 30, 2023

Poetry and philosophy: Exploring Shakespeare

By our correspondents
February 13, 2018

The Area Study Centre for Europe (ASCE), University of Karachi, was the venue for a highly engrossing lecture on Shakespeare by a noted academic and visiting professor at the ASCE, Dr Muhammad Reza Kazimi.

Actually, according to the original schedule, Aurelie Salvaire of France, was supposed to deliver a lecture, “The contours of gender equality in Europe and in Pakistan”. However, on account of some last-minute hitch, she couldn’t turn up and Kazimi’s lecture was a substitute arrangement.

In his lecture, titled, “Poetry and philosophy: exploring Shakespeare”, Dr Kazimi explored the thought of Shakespeare in vivid detail. Despite the fact that the lecture was a hurried makeshift arrangement, it evinced a lot of interest among the students of a totally different discipline, International Relations. In the highly animated question-answer session that followed, students asked very searching questions exhibiting not only deep knowledge of English literature but also post-medieval history of literature and the arts of Europe.

The thrust of Kazimi’s talk was poetical thought and said that poetical thought lacked the regimentation necessary for philosophy. He quoted John Middleton Murry, “In literature, there’s no such thing as pure thought; in literature, thought is always the handmaiden of emotion. Emotion becomes habitual till it gains the dignity of conviction.”

He quoted Millicent Bell and how her take on Shakespeare demonstrated the way the bard had mastered precise thought and had a coherent view of life.

He said that the apparently mundane in Shakespeare could actually be metaphysical. Quoting Millicent Bell, he said, “Shakespeare’s thought pits an idea against its opposite. His plays are never allegorical, yet in them ideas contend from line to line in the richest language the stage has ever known.”

When Bell cites the most famous of Shakespeare’s soliloquies, she projects the complexities therein as the playwright’s own. Hamlet resembles a mind that could have been his own. In Hamlet, Bell finds a mirror of the doubts preying on Shakespeare’s mind when she cites the works of Claudius, the king/murderer.

The apparently mundane in Shakespeare can be metaphysical. Consider King Lear and Macbeth, said Kazimi. In King Lear, he said, the inevitable adds to the suspense. In Macbeth, the avoidable is relentlessly pursued. In short, it was one hour of a highly engrossing and gripping lecture from which surely all those present must have benefited greatly.