Guide for




This unit raises the issue of the passions, especially love, their force in human life, and their relation to politics. The fundamental themes and alternatives that we will consider are provided by Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan, which is one of the accounts of the modern state and the passions on which it is grounded, and Plato's Symposium, perhaps the most famous treatments of love in the ancient world.

Hobbes's Leviathan, written in 1651, presents the natural condition of human beings as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Without a government over us that restrains our passions, we live in a state of war of every human being against every other. Specifically, in Hobbes's analysis, the equality in which human beings exist in relation to one another allows them to compete for the same goods, and competition leads to distrust. At the same time, the pride of human beings causes them to think highly of themselves, and more highly of themselves than of others. Since each also wants others to share his good opinion of himself, pride leads to conflict. Thus, says Hobbes, there are three principal causes of war, competition, distrust (Hobbes uses the word "diffidence"), and glory. As Hobbes writes, "In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; . . . no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death."

There is for Hobbes no relief from perpetual fear of others or any kind of progress until human beings discover how to remove themselves from the state of nature, by setting up a great "leviathan," a sovereign authority, or power "to keep them all in awe." So powerful is the force of human passions, and the harshness of life when they are given free reign, that the only remedy is a kind of absolute government to which human beings consent for their own protection from one another. No softer passions, no love, for example, bind humans to one another, only a rational or calculated agreement to accept an absolute sovereign for the sake of peace and security. As a result of his analysis of human nature, Hobbes could propose a government that satisfied our desire for security but not our noble impulses and a society that preserved individual lives but fostered no sense of community or love of country. Hobbes's bleak view of human prospects, however, works to encourage us to look for other understandings of human passion.

Written by Plato in the fourth century BC, the Symposium is an account of a drinking party in which the guests agree to spend the evening delivering encomia to the Greek god of love. Our selection includes two of their speeches, one that Plato attributes to the poet Agathon, the other to the philosopher Socrates, who responds to Agathon's speech. Like Hobbes in the Leviathan, Agathon admits that older times were characterized by conflict, force, and war, just as the myths tell of the Greek gods, who did dreadful deeds to one another. All life was ruled by "necessity" until "the birth of Love," but then affairs were ordered in peace and harmony. The arts, such as music, medicine, and the other crafts were invented out of a "love of the beautiful." Agathon, himself a poet, speaks in poetic terms of Love. Love, he says, is young, tender, and beautiful, and where he holds sway, his rule is gentle; he does not rule by force, for he is welcomed by all. He conquers even the tough God of War, Ares, who falls in love with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Love. Love is a poet who in his wisdom inspires poets.

Agathon calls attention to what is missing in Hobbes's view of human life--the gentle side of human nature, love, and the beautiful. Whereas for Hobbes it is the ugly fear of a violent death that inclines human beings to peace, for Agathon it is the beautiful love of beauty. Nevertheless Agathon sees no danger in the rule of love, or the passions that it encourages. He argues that Love is moderate, for it conquers all the desires, as no desire is stronger than Love. He thus seems to rule out the force of the desires described by Hobbes, such as the desires for gain and glory, and the destructive conflict that might arise from them. War is put to rest in Aphrodite's arms. Agathon fails to mention, however, that Aphrodite's affair with Ares in the Greek myth did not meet with the approval of her husband. That Agathon's tale is shaky is clear as well when we realize that he has no account of why the world changes from the violent rule of force and necessity to the peaceful rule of Love. Agathon simply says that Love is born, but if Love is the principle or cause of birth or generation, Love would require itself in order to come into existence. In Agathon's speech, Love plays the role that Hobbes gives to reason and its discovering the way out of the violent state of nature. Hobbes explains how human beings preserve their lives by establishing a government with sufficient force to keep them in check and thus safe from one another. For Agathon force seems to drop out of the picture, for "willingly" all serve Love "in everything."

Agathon's speech on Love is praised as beautiful by Socrates. Nevertheless, Socrates says that it is untrue. Socrates finds a contradiction in Agathon's position, which claims both that Love is beautiful and good and also that Love seeks the beautiful and good. Recounting what he has learned from a prophetess named Diotima, Socrates suggests that Love is really quite different from the description of a young god given by Agathon. Love is not a god, nor is he mortal, but is an intermediary between gods and human beings, who spans the divide between the world of mortals and the divine. Contrary to Agathon's claim, Love is not possessed of the thing that it desires, but is in need of and seeks the beautiful and the good. Human beings love what they apparently can never possess-the beautiful and the good for all eternity. But Love is never without the resources or the will to continually attempt to achieve that which is its object, the everlasting possession of the good, or happiness.

Moreover, since love seeks immortality, human beings love not only the good, but also desire to procreate, or generate, whether in body or soul. Parents will sacrifice themselves for their children, and others who seek fame desire to leave behind for posterity works of poetry, inventions in the arts, or laws and institutions. Diotima teaches Socrates that Love, in its generative capacity, binds lovers to their families, to the political communities, and to posterity. Love inspires the great deeds of heroes and statesmen. She suggests that the lover, "beholding beauty" will be able "to bring forth and nurture, not phantom images of virtue," but "true virtue." Only in this way will he "become immortal, as far as any human being can." And this, Diotima suggests, is no ignoble life, but a glorious one.

Socrates tells the guests at the party that he is persuaded of what Diotima taught him, but why does he present this teaching that he claims to accept through the mouth of another? More important, does this story of Love give its due to both the harsher side of reality that Hobbes describes and the aspirations for beauty that move the poet Agathon? Does the tale, like Love himself as Diotima describes him, fall in-between these other versions of the human condition? The stories that we study in this unit are examples of conflicts that arise from the passions, especially the passion of love. Does Socrates' presentation of love as connecting human and divine help us to understand these stories, or are the accounts of Hobbes and Agathon more useful guides to at least certain aspects of these stories?

The Story of Gyges

King Candaules, of Herodotus' Histories, seems to be in possession of the beautiful, in the person of his wife, with whom Herodotus tells us "it happened he was in love." Yet for Candaules this was not enough. He must praise her beauty to his trusted bodyguard, Gyges, and eventually insist that Gyges look upon his wife's beauty when she is naked. Candaules is not satisfied until another has a direct sight of the beauty he possesses. He is not made happy by the mere possession of beauty, but seeks recognition of others of his "happiness," or fame for possessing the most beautiful of women.

Although Gyges at first refuses what Candaules asks, objecting that "each should look upon his own," he finally yields to Candaules, with direful consequences. Candaules illustrates what Diotima calls the "irrationality" of human beings who are "terribly stirred by the love of renown and establishing their immortal fame for all eternity." Like Diotima, Herodotus recognizes that the possession of beauty alone is insufficient for happiness. He shows the destructive potential of love when it reaches beyond established boundaries, whereas the Mantinean prophetess emphasizes the positive side of this aspect of love -- the lover's connections to others through engendering and nurturing offspring.

Candaules' Queen, perceiving what passed, confronts Gyges with the choice to kill her husband or be killed on the spot. Just as he looked upon the Queen's beauty only when forced to do so by Candaules, he now commits regicide and seizes the kingdom only out of necessity. Moreover, unlike the retelling of this story in the film, The English Patient, Herodotus does not tell us that Gyges found the Queen to be "more lovely than he could have imagined." He simply gazes on her, and is apparently unmoved by her beauty. Herodotus' Gyges is not a lover, and consequently is not ambitious for the kingdom of Candaules anymore than he is ambitious to possess his beautiful wife. Gyges had neither sufficient desire for glory to seize the kingdom of his own accord, nor did he possess sufficient virtue to inspire him to die rather than submit to the will of Candaules or his wife. Finally, Gyges was not moved in his thirty-eight year reign, Herodotus tells us, to attempt a single feat worthy of mentioning for its nobility. That his reign is devoid of noble exploits should not surprise the reader who is familiar with the wisdom of Diotima that although all human beings "act for the fame of immortal virtue" and "renown," "the better they are the more they do this." Herodotus leaves us with the tragic possibility that the love of beauty, which ennobles human beings and is the source of noble deeds, leads to violations of decency and law, and ultimately regicide and usurpation.

Antony and Cleopatra

In Antony and Cleopatra Shakespeare dramatizes the love story between the conquered Egyptian Queen and the Roman triumvir, which ends in their suicides. As Shakespeare presents it, Cleopatra's very status as conquered sovereign renders her motives with respect to her lover suspect. Furthermore, she has previously been the lover of Julius Caesar and Pompey. In her affairs with powerful Roman men, she has progressed from the once powerful to the lately victorious with regularity. So we readers, like Antony himself, have reason to question whether she will remain loyal to Antony as he finds himself, in the course of the play, repeatedly bested by the young Octavius Caesar.

On the other hand, Antony's love for Cleopatra is also suspect insofar as he still feels some allegiance to his country, his soldiers and his wife Fulvia. At the play's beginning, he is married to a Roman woman of great fortitude, and as the first scene here shows, the cares of Rome compete with the demands of his lover. Cleopatra ridicules him, and his duty to his wife Fulvia and to his fellow triumvirs. She so makes light of the ambassadors' business as to inspire Antony to protest the measure of his love for her, "Let Rome in Tiber melt." The triple pillar of the world finds no glory in his governing one third of the world. Glory rests, he protests, in the inimitable love he shares with Egypt's Queen. But Antony, despite his protestations in the first scene, is clearly torn between his duties as a triumvir and the demands of constant sport with his beloved.

When his wife Fulvia dies, Antony marries the sister of Octavius in an effort to both "break these Egyptian fetters," and reconcile with Caesar. Nevertheless, Antony continues to feel the pull of Egypt and its Queen and remains torn between the gravity of real battle with Caesar and the sport he makes of arms with Cleopatra. In particular, Antony is divided between his duties to his soldiers as a Roman general, the honor and glory such a position affords, and the desire to prove himself wholly a lover to Cleopatra by forsaking Rome.

Antony's friend Enobarbus not only recognizes Antony's folly but, unlike his fellow Romans, he also appreciates the pleasures of Egypt. Yet he too, like many of Antony's allies and soldiers, leaves Antony to join with Octavian. Enobarbus appears moved to do so less by a desire for glory or gain than by a loss of respect for Antony. In the end, the death of Antony, as well as that of Enobarbus himself -- for he seems to die simply for love of Antony, suggest the possibility for greater glory. The fame of Antony and Cleopatra is rivaled only perhaps by other lovers who are reported to have taken their lives for the sake of love, such as Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Thus, a kind of immortality, not entirely unlike that of which Diotima speaks in the Symposium, is achieved by these lovers.

Shakespeare, however, does not simply endorse these lovers, and their passions and choices. Antony and Cleopatra's love is haunted throughout the play by an alternating sense of possession and loss. They are never happy in love until their doubts of each other are expelled in their mutual suicide. Moreover, their love undermines their political loyalties and concerns. Cleopatra has "immortal longings," and Antony insists that "kingdoms are clay." Shakespeare shows us that Antony's soldiers cannot simply abandon themselves to the fortune of a man who gives himself over to love and rejects reason and interest, especially in his poignant presentation of the dilemma Enobarbus faces.

Even if the politics of the Roman empire cannot evoke a sense of political duty and patriotism, are there no causes of interest or justice which might be noble and desirable objects for which to give our lives in battle or, perhaps more importantly, not only to fight but to live for? The first two movies we watch in this unit again raise these questions, and their different political context suggests positive answers.

The English Patient

The story of The English Patient is closer to us in time than are the ancient stories of Socrates, Gyges, and Antony and Cleopatra. Adapted from Michael Ondaatje's novel, the 1996 film takes place during World War II, where we meet a dying man, his faced burned away in a fire from an airplane crash in the Sahara Desert, and his memory almost equally worn away. The film involves flashbacks through which he pieces together his past and his gradual acceptance of a moral responsibility that played little role in the love for a woman that consumed him as the world moved toward war.

One of the patient's first memories in the film introduces us to a group of explorers for the Royal Geographic Society, at their base camp in the northern African desert shortly before the outbreak of the war. We meet the patient as the Hungarian Count Almasy -- who is later incorrectly identified as an "English" patient -- a member of this group. Almasy remembers the beautiful Katherine Clifton, as she recounts around a campfire the story of the ill-fated Gyges. Katherine's husband, Geoffrey Clifton, although not nearly as egregious as Candaules in his treatment of his wife, confesses to an "excessive" or inordinate love for her. Just as Gyges warns Candaules about exposing his wife, Almasy warns Geoffrey about leaving his wife in the desert while he goes on a photographing expedition. Unlike Gyges, however, Almasy experiences great passion, which Katherine requites, and they commence an affair that will ultimately bring about their own deaths as well as Clifton's. Their actions do not end, however, with only isolated, private consequences, anymore than do Candaules' and Gyges.' As Almasy recovers his memory, he learns of the consequences of his behavior, and we discover the political naiveté that blinded him to anything but his all-consuming love.


Like The English Patient, Casablanca is set in North Africa, during the time of World War II. Like Count Almasy, Rick Blaine is in love with the beautiful wife of another man. Ilsa Lund's husband Victor Laszlo is, like Geoffrey Clifton, a patriot. Lazlo, the leader of the Czech resistance to Hitler, is a man whose work affects "the lives of thousands and thousands of people." And, like Almasy, Rick is not involved in the causes that are moving the world around him. He says, "I stick my neck out for nobody" and "I am the only cause I am interested in". But he too is stirred by his passionate love for a woman. As Captain Renault says when thinks Rick is betraying Laszlo so that he can leave Casablanca with Ilsa, "love, it seems, triumphs over virtue."

While Renault's statement may apply to Almasy, however, it does not apply to Rick. As the movie makes clear from the outset, the cynical Rick was once a patriot. He turned cynic when mysteriously abandoned by the woman he loved. He is reminded of why he loves her when he learns the truth -- she left him to return to her husband whom she had thought killed by the Germans. To be true to himself -- and to her -- and thus to their love, Rick too must yield it to the noble cause the two of them share with her husband. And Rick's decision is one which Ilsa accepts if "not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of [her] life." Thus Casablanca presents a different view of love of the beautiful than does The English Patient: Rick's love of Ilsa must be understood in the context of a deeper lover of the beautiful -- a lover of the beautiful deed, one serving a noble cause.

Casablanca raises Hobbes's question of political authority in its presentation of the Nazi regime, represented in the film by Major Strasser (the Major "is one of the reasons the Third Reich enjoys the reputation it does today," Renault observes ironically). Hobbes claimed that the absolute authority of the sovereign was a price humanity had to pay for relief from the harshness of life in the natural state, in light of which only absolute power is sufficient to guarantee the protection of individual rights. Hobbes left unanswered two large questions: what protects individuals from possible abuses of power on the part of the sovereign, and what moves self-interested individuals to commit themselves to fight to protect their country? Casablanca addresses Hobbes by highlighting the abuses of power-most manifest in the case of the Nazis but also in the more likable Renault -- and also by showing Laszlo's, and finally Rick's, dedication to protecting the free world, a dedication that cannot be fully explained in terms of Hobbesian psychology of self-interest.

Casablanca suggests that the experience of the nobility of others, as in the case of Rick, will inspire others to like nobility. Just as Renault stages for Major Strasser a demonstration of the efficiency of his administration, Casablanca stages for its audience a demonstration of heroism. Poetry has the high calling of supporting regimes of liberty by encouraging virtue and noble deeds. Not only Rick and Ilsa, but the audience of Casablanca as well, will always have Paris.

Our next selection explores the role of art directly, through its portrayal of Shakespeare himself in love.

Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in Love is reminiscent of other works in this unit whose principal characters engage in an illicit love affair. Moreover, the story of Viola De Lessups and Will Shakespeare is paralleled in the play within the play, Romeo and Juliet, which Will is writing during his time with Viola. Like Romeo and Juliet, the "course of true love" experienced by Will and Viola runs into insurmountable obstructions that are the product of their circumstances-societal and class norms as well as familial expectations and English law. Viola longs to be a player (to act on the Elizabethan stage), and to attend the playhouses, but she finds the stage closed to women and the playhouses off limits to "well-born ladies." So too, Will and Viola discover that fortune does not afford them the opportunity of realizing their love.

While it seems at more than one point quite probable that Will and Viola's story will turn out tragically, it does not. In contrast to Romeo and Juliet, the lovers in this film accept the limits of convention: Will already has a wife in Stratford, and Viola's parents, with the Queen's approval, arrange her marriage with Lord Wessex. The Queen plays the biggest part in effecting the appropriate ending. Indeed she instructs the players in their parts: the story will end as all stories do when love is denied, with tears and a journey. And yet the film suggests not so much the tragic victory of life and its miseries, but the victory of art, when the Queen pronounces that by virtue of Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare wins his bet with Wessex, for his play reveals "the very truth and nature of love." So too must we understand Viola's and Will's acceptance of the Queen's pronouncement that Viola must accompany her husband to his plantation in Virginia as serving a higher love-that of the beauty and truth of Shakespeare's poetry: Shakespeare must stay in England and have the blessing of the Queen, for his poetry will flourish only in the context of a politics and society that support it. Moreover, although Viola goes off with Wessex, she is in a sense freed by a shipwreck, and follows the course of true love in Will's next play, the comedy Twelfth Night-requested, not incidentally, by the Queen herself.

Much Ado About Nothing

Whereas Shakespeare's tragic hero Mark Antony is torn between his Roman duty and his love for Cleopatra, Claudio, in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, is a soldier whose military exploits, duly performed, allow him and his companions to turn to the pleasures of peace. With no regrets he gives up "the drum and the fife" for "the tabor and the pipe," especially the pleasures of love and the vision of the fair Hero, "the sweetest lady ever [he] looked upon." Although Hero is delighted with the match (and her father acquiesces in her choice), trouble looms from the play's villain, who deceives the young lover into believing that Hero is unfaithful. And although unhappy outcomes threaten -- the wronged Hero might spend her life in a convent, and her spirited cousin Beatrice encourages her own lover to challenge and "kill Claudio" -- all is resolved when the lower class and barely literate Watch uncover the villainy. In their hands justice is not swift, but it is forthcoming.

Communal efforts operate as well in the marriage of the play's other couple, the witty and sparkling Beatrice and Benedick (played by Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh in Branagh's film), who left to their own devices might have never become aware of their fit as a couple. These strong and independent individuals are engaged in a merry war of wit and hardly notice its function as courtship. Only when their friends and relatives deceive each into thinking that the other loves him or her, do they recognize that their pride stands in the way of their happiness.

The play both points to the dangers of an individualistic society, which fosters independence and requires consent for association, and the ways in which communal efforts can support the personal happiness of its members. Shakespeare thus offers us a superior defense of liberalism to Hobbes's: for Hobbes individuals live in freedom only by consenting to an all-powerful sovereign out of fear for their lives. Peace, however, is of an altogether different character when it is filled with the blessings of love and friendship, as we see especially in the case of Beatrice and Benedict. Affairs of political life intrude, in the person of Don John, but his villainy is finally contained and punished. He is thus present at the end, but not enough to dampen the festivities. Demonstrating his capacity for rule, if only for the moment, Benedick promises to "devise brave punishments" for Don John and also instructs the Prince, Don Pedro, in his peacetime deficiencies: "Prince, thou art sad, get thee a wife. Get thee a wife!" Unlike Candaules in Herodotus' story, his love of beauty does not demand complete publicity, but will be content with Beatrice, with whom he will share domestic bliss and relations to friends and relatives in the larger community, to whom he remains responsible.

Benedick and Beatrice's love thus has more in common with that of Rick in Casablanca than that of the Count Almasy in The English Patient, with that of the lovers in Shakespeare in Love, and even with that of Diotima's lovers whose desires are fulfilled only when, by giving birth and nurturing, they are connected with a larger community. And yet, at the end of Much Ado, Benedick insists, contrary to both custom and the wishes of the father and uncle of the brides, that there be dancing before the marriage ceremony. Nature takes precedence over conventions, when nature is good, and its goodness understood by those who celebrate it.