Shakespeare's Sublime Pathos : Person, Audience, Language book cover
1st Edition

Shakespeare's Sublime Pathos
Person, Audience, Language

ISBN 9781032017945
Published July 30, 2021 by Routledge
254 Pages

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Book Description

Shakespeare’s Sublime Pathos: Person, Audience, Language breaks new ground in providing a sustained, demystifying treatment of its subject and looking for answers to basic questions regarding the creation, experience, aesthetics and philosophy of Shakespearean sublimity. More specifically, it explores how Shakespeare generates experiences of sublime pathos, for which audiences have been prepared by the sublime ethos described in the companion volume, Shakespeare’s Sublime Ethos. To do so, it examines Shakespeare’s model of mutualistic character, in which "entangled" language brokers a psychic communion between fictive persons and real-life audiences and readers. In the process, Sublime Critical platitudes regarding Shakespeare’s liberating ambiguity and invention of the human are challenged, while the sympathetic imagination is reinstated as the linchpin of the playwright’s sublime effects. As the argument develops, the Shakespearean sublime emerges as an emotional state of vulnerable exhilaration leading to an ethically uplifting openness towards others and an epistemologically bracing awareness of human unknowability. Taken together, Shakespeare’s Sublime Pathos and Shakespeare’s Sublime Ethos show how Shakespearean drama integrates matter and spirit on hierarchical planes of cognition and argue that, ultimately, his is an immanent sublimity of the here-and-now enfolding a transcendence which may be imagined, simulated or evoked, but never achieved.

Table of Contents


Aims and "ethos"

Plan of the work

Chapter 1. The Conundrum of Character, the Sublime Mistook

Judith’s face

Ambiguity, realism, sublimity

Ambiguity, freedom, sublimity

Contemptus mundi

Chapter 2. Hollow Men

Liberal humanist character

Protean persons

The moral core

Freedom of choice?

Mutualistic character

Myriad minds

Chapter 3. Sympathetic Imagination

Sympathy and imagination

Psychology and phantasia

Passionate playgoing

Chapter 4. Language of Passion

Cause and effect

"Conceit deceitful"

Thought in progress

Botching words

Entangled, obscure, baroque

Chapter 5. The Mutualist’s Dividend

Going mad with Shakespeare


"The sticking place"

General Conclusions

The Shakespearean sublime

Shakespeare’s originality

Enter perfection?

Letting in the daylight


Mechanical dreams

Orsino’s luck


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Jonathan P. A. Sell is Professor of English Literature at the Universidad de Alcalá, Spain. He holds degrees from the universities of Oxford, London and Alcalá, and his main fields of research are early modern and contemporary literature. He has written numerous articles and several books, including Rhetoric and Wonder in English Travel Writing, 1560–1613 (2006), Allusion, Identity and Community (2012) and Conocer a Shakespeare (Getting to Know Shakespeare, (2012).


"Complex, far-ranging, at times dazzling, there is nothing really comparable to the sweep of this work"

--Clark Hulse, University of Illinois at Chicago

"This is a magnum opus in every sense of the word […] A thorough, indeed breath-takingly thorough knowledge of Shakespearean writing is everywhere in evidence"

--Andrew Hiscock, Bangor University

"Taken together, then, these two works on Shakespeare’s sublime [Shakespeare’s Sublime Ethos and Shakespeare’s Sublime Pathos] represent an outstanding contribution not only to Shakespeare studies, but more broadly to intellectual history. In seeking to make intelligible the seemingly inexplicable, Sell has succeeded in revealing the secrets of the apparent magic of the sublime."

--Rocío G. Sumillera, Universidad de Granada