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Holding a Mirror up to Nature: Shame, Guilt, and Violence in Shakespeare
James Gilligan and David A.J. RIchards
Cambridge University Press / Softcover / Dec 2021
9781108970396 (ISBN-10: 1108970397)
Psychology / Violence
price: $33.95
350 pages
In Stock (Ships within one business day)

Shakespeare has been dubbed the greatest psychologist of all time. This book seeks to prove that statement by comparing the playwright's fictional characters with real-life examples of violent individuals, from criminals to political actors. For Gilligan and Richards, the propensity to kill others, even (or especially) when it results in the killer's own death, is the most serious threat to the continued survival of humanity. In this volume, the authors show how humiliated men, with their desire for retribution and revenge, apocryphal violence and political religions, justify and commit violence, and how love and restorative justice can prevent violence. Although our destructive power is far greater than anything that existed in his day, Shakespeare has much to teach us about the psychological and cultural roots of all violence. In this book the authors tell what Shakespeare shows, through the stories of his characters: what causes violence and what prevents it.

• Analyses Shakespeare's plays as if they were 'case histories' that explicitly illustrate the key principles of the psychology of violence and non-violence
• Shows how Shakespeare illuminates inter-disciplinary perspectives from the behavioural and social sciences, literary analysis, moral philosophy and law, to help inform our understanding of violence, from the characters in his plays to present day clinical examples
• Brings an empirically grounded theory showing how shame and guilt in personality and culture, and retributivism in criminal justice systems, stimulate violence

Reviews & endorsements

‘Whoever would have thought that William Shakespeare could help us prevent murder in the twenty-first century? In this extraordinary book, James Gilligan and David Richards shepherd their readers through a riveting and brilliantly written journey, explaining how the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon can offer unique insights into the origins of violence. I simply could not put this down!' Estela V. Welldon, Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Honorary Member, American Psychoanalytic Association, UK

‘Were I able to persuade my political colleagues to imbibe the wisdom of one book, this is it. What Girard did with the novel, Gilligan and Richards do for Shakespeare, making him accessible and essential for understanding and responding to personal and political violence. It is both brilliant and transformational.' Lord John Alderdice, House of Lords, Westminster, UK

'James Gilligan and David Richards, an eminent psychiatrist and a distinguished legal scholar with vast experience dealing with violent men, brilliantly help us explore how Shakespeare’s plays are among the most insightful sources for understanding human nature and human psychology. In the course of their work, they met men who were virtual reincarnations of Macbeth, Othello, Richard III, Timon and others, who felt so overwhelmingly shamed and humiliated that they did not know how to bring their emotional pain to an end except by destroying the world around them. Shame and its opposite, pride and honor, are the central themes Shakespeare uses to describe the motivations for violence. Gilligan and Richards show how Shakespeare enables us to understand not only what causes violence, but also how we can prevent it.' Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score, founder of the Trauma Research Foundation, and Professor of Psychiatry, Boston University

'The depth of Jim Gilligan’s knowledge of the murderous mind and his understanding of shame as a motivating force are matched only by Shakespeare’s poetic insights about what drives Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and others. Psychoanalysis and great creative writing join in Holding a Mirror up to Nature and give unique insights to the problems of violence in our modern age. Gilligan’s work – together with the rational voice of law scholar David Richards – offer to the practitioner of Shakespeare’s theater a road map to understand the great tragic heroes. It is an exhilarating mix of scholarship and dramatic knowledge, which can only deepen our appreciation of the power and truth of the plays of William Shakespeare.' Tina Packer, Founding Artistic Director, Shakespeare & Company

Table of Contents

Introduction: can we learn from Shakespeare about the causes and prevention of violence?
1. Shame and guilt in personality and culture
2. The cycle of violence in history plays
3. Fathers and mothers: the perversion of love in King Lear and Coriolanus
4. Make war, not love: Anthony and Cleopatra
5. The motives and malignity: shame and masculinity in Othello and Macbeth
6. Moral nihilism and the paralysis of action: Hamlet and Troilus and Cressida
7. Apocalyptic vioence: Timon of Athens
8. Transcending morality, preventing violence: Measure for Measure, The Tempest, The Winter's Tale, and The Merchant of Venice
9. The form and pressure of Shakespeare's time – and ours: what Shakespeare shows us about shame, guilt, love and violence

About the Authors:

James Gilligan, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, NYU, wrote Violence (1996), Preventing Violence (2001), Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others (2011), a Times Literary Supplement 'Book of the Year', and co-authored The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump (2016), a New York Times best-seller. His advice has been sought by President Clinton, Tony Blair, Kofi Annan, the World Health Organization, and the World Court.

David A.J. Richards is Professor of Law at New York University. He is the author of over 20 books including: Free Speech and the Politics of Identity (1999), Disarming Manhood: Roots of Ethical Resistance (2005), The Deepening Darkness: Patriarchy, Resistance, and Democracy's Future (Cambridge University Press, 2009, with Carol Gilligan), Why Love Leads to Justice: Love Across the Boundaries (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

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