And Question This Most Bloody Piece of Work

Levinas Studies 16:129-158 (2022)
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Abstract

This article surveys the numerous philosophical themes Levinas attributes to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Detailed discussions are provided of the face as the temptation to commit violence and its prohibition, of the there is as the impossibility of an exit from existence, of the foundational role of con­science in ethics, and of the nature of the tragic hero who seeks to postpone the inevitability of death. I argue that it is only by treating the face as in some sense provoking violence can we hope to understand how the character Macbeth finds it possible to murder Duncan while looking him in the face. This reading requires us to see him as ethically ambivalent, as one might expect from a play in which “nothing is but what is not.” The essay concludes with a brief reflection on why Macbeth manages to evoke our pity, even though we know him to be a murderer.

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