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Love and Violence: Insights from Shakespeare on Ethics, Psychology, Theater and Law

Title: Love and Violence
Subtitle: Insights from Shakespeare on Ethics, Psychology, Theater and Law
Subject Classification: Law and Legal Ethics, Arts, Society and Culture, Psychology, Literature and Literary Criticism
BIC Classification: JKV, DSGS, JM
BISAC Classification: SOC051000, PSY031000, PHI005000
Binding: Hardback, pp.366
Publication date: 1st November 2023
ISBN (Hardback): 978-1-80441-127-8
ISBN (ebook): 978-1-80441-128-5


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This book offers both a philosophical and psychological theory of an aspect of human love, first noted by Plato and used by Freud in developing psychoanalysis (transference love), namely, lovers as mirrors for one another, enabling them thus better to see and understand themselves and others. Shakespeare’s art makes the same appeal—theater as a communal mirror—expressing the artist holding a loving mirror for his culture at a point of transitional crisis between a shame and guilt culture.

The book shows how Shakespeare’s plays offer better insights into the behavior of violent men than Freud’s, based on close empirical study of violent criminals; develops a theory of violence rooted in the moral emotions of shame and guilt; and a cultural psychology of the transition from shame to guilt cultures. The work argues that violence is, contra Freud, not an ineliminable instinct in the nature of things, requiring autocracy, but arises from patriarchally inflicted cultural injuries to the love of equals that undermine democracy, and that only a therapy based on love can address such injuries, replacing retributive with restorative justice, and populist fascist autocracy with constitutional democracy.

Love, thus understood, underlies a range of disparate phenomena: the appeal of Shakespeare’s theater as a communal art; the role of love in psychoanalysis; in Augustine’s conception of love in religion (disfigured by his patriarchal assumptions); in Kant’s anti-utilitarian ethics of dignity; in a naturalistic ethics that roots ethics in facts of human psychology;  the role of law in democratic cultures as a mirror and critique of such cultures; and the basis of an egalitarian theory of universal human rights (inspired by Kant and developed, more recently, by John Rawls). In all these domains, uncritically accepted forms of culture (the initiation of men and women into patriarchy) traumatize the love of equals, and thus disfigure and distort our personal and political lives.


Author: David A.J. Richards is Edwin D. Webb Professor of Law at New York University, USA


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