Without God or Reason: The Plays of Thomas Shadwell and Secular Ethics in the Restoration

Without God or Reason: The Plays of Thomas Shadwell and Secular Ethics in the Restoration

by Kevin J. Sharpe
     
 

This book deals with Restoration ethics and - at length - with the works of Thomas Shadwell, author of extraordinarily successful plays including The Squire of Alsatia (1688). In Squire, the hero discards a mistress with whom he has had a child, seduces the daughter of a lawyer, lies to father and guardian, and, in the fifth act, promises to reform and be a faithful…  See more details below

Overview

This book deals with Restoration ethics and - at length - with the works of Thomas Shadwell, author of extraordinarily successful plays including The Squire of Alsatia (1688). In Squire, the hero discards a mistress with whom he has had a child, seduces the daughter of a lawyer, lies to father and guardian, and, in the fifth act, promises to reform and be a faithful husband to a convenient heiress. Modern critics have argued that Shadwell was either a fool or a knave when he claimed, in the prologue to the play, to be writing morally instructive drama. Yet - as Christopher J. Wheatley points out - in his own lifetime Shadwell (frequently a target of satire on political, religious, and aesthetic grounds) seems not to have been attacked for moral hypocrisy despite his repeated claims that drama should be morally instructive. In investigating the real reasons for Shadwell's waning popularity, Wheatley uncovers much about the history of ethics. The introduction to this book examines the ways in which critical misconceptions about the history of ethics and literary representations of ethical beliefs hinder an understanding of Restoration literature. The first chapter posits that ethical obligation in The Squire of Alsatia is based on one's role in society. It also holds that the foundations of such a role-based ethos are custom and prudential judgments about social consequences, rather than divine law or universality of ethical principles. The second chapter examines a wide variety of sources (philosophical and theological works, courtesy books, and popular literature) to explore how a dialectical tension between traditional ethical systems and skepticism about God and reason could make a role-based ethic an acceptable option for dramatic representation to a Restoration audience. Subsequent chapters show that an ethic based on social role and custom is consistent with the body of Shadwell's works and the didactic component of Shadwell's drama undergoes little change

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780838752432
Publisher:
Bucknell University Press
Publication date:
08/28/1993
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
6.69(w) x 9.84(h) x (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >