St. Justin Martyr

Shakespeare – a Comedy and a Tragedy

“A Comedy and a Tragedy” – as far as life goes, another word for it might be status quo.

To round off our Great Books mini-course, we allow Shakespeare to serve us a comedy and a tragedy, as always, with the insightful, and often surprising commentary of Dennis Quinn and John Senior. Comedy, of course – properly understood as a story with a happy ending, with or without lots of laughs – will have the last word (as in The Divine Comedy of Dante). Nonetheless, the painful stabs of the tragic still sink into us most every day, as they also once afflicted the innocent Body of Christ. But taking pain seriously does not mean dismissing the transcendent promises of permitted pleasure and genuine human joy.

There was much else in the original IHP program that is not included in this selection, and of course even more in the ambitious publication of the Chicago Great Books series (or the Harvard Classics, for that matter). Furthermore, as I always hasten to add, there is yet more coming to light from the recently unveiled world of Eastern classics, all destined to find their appointed place in our library of Great Books of the World.

But what we have in the 65 recordings available here is complete in its own way. And at their conclusion, Chaucer sums up the world of the European Middle Ages, and Shakespeare, in turn, anticipates both the promise, and the horror, of our so over-hyped modernity. Those of us today, who live in the so-called “contemporary” world, will learn sooner or later that we can understand whither we are going only when we have taken deep draughts of the wisdom that lies in the mysterious but instructive past, whence we have come.

I hope everyone enjoys this last installment of these rescued recordings of two very wise and eloquent professors. They plant seeds of promise that might survive – both in their students of yesteryear, but also in their latter-day online hearers – despite the wars and terrors that may still lie before us in the 21st century.


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