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
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
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
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
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
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
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