Shakespeare's Philosophy: Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays
by Colin McGinn
"In both Montaigne's and Shakespeare's work, there is a kind of appalling, but exhilarating, candor. And some of that ruthlessness is philosophical: the determination to expose reality for what it is, to undermine dogma and complacency. In the end, of course, this is nothing other than a dedication to the truth." (p 16)
Readers who have both a familiarity with Shakespeare's major plays and an interest in philosophy will probably enjoy this short book.
Following an introduction in which the author discusses general themes there are essays on six plays: The Tempest, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, the last of which I am soon to see performed at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Perhaps the book should be subtitled "Discovering the meaning behind some of the plays". The essays on specific plays are complemented by four essays on general topics such as gender, ethics, and psychology. McGinn has a lucid style that makes this book easy to comprehend.
While the focus is primarily on the philosophical aspects of the plays the book also provides a useful commentary to provide background for anyone reading the plays. It is enhanced by useful notes and an index that allows referential reading. I have added it to my small library of Shakespearean commentary that stands beside the complete plays.
Shakespeare's Philosophy by Colin McGinn. Harper Perennial Edition, 2007 (2006).