Of Human Kindness: What Shakespeare Teaches Us about Empathy

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Of Human Kindness: What Shakespeare Teaches Us about Empathy
An award-winning scholar and teacher explores how Shakespeare's greatest characters were built on a learned sense of empathy

"Thoughtful, astute, invitingly readable--and uncommonly timely. Especially now that so many younger readers are casting suspicious glances at Shakespeare, Of Human Kindness shows with mind-changing clarity why his work has never been more relevant to our common problems."--Terry Teachout, drama critic, Wall Street Journal

"A warm and committed book, firmly rooted in long experience of the classroom."--Emma Smith, Times Literary Supplement

While discussing Shakespeare's plays in her university classroom, Paula Marantz Cohen discovered that they unlocked a surprising sense of compassion in both herself and her students. In this short and illuminating book, she shows how Shakespeare's genius lay in his ability to arouse empathy, even when his characters exist in alien contexts and behave in reprehensible ways. Cohen takes her readers through a selection of Shakespeare's most famous plays, including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and The Merchant of Venice, to demonstrate the ways in which Shakespeare thought deeply and clearly about how we treat "the other." Cohen argues that only through close reading of Shakespeare can we fully appreciate his empathetic responses to race, class, gender, and age. Wise, eloquent, and thoughtful, this book is a forceful argument for literature's power to champion what is best in us.

Publication Date: 
February 9, 2021