Themes And Issues
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There is a danger that we read great literature to extract lessons from it as if authors were preachers and their readers wayward members of their flocks. It would be strange in writing that describes or dramatises a life we can recognise if there were not something to be discovered that enlightened or inspired us; but teaching lessons as such is not a function of art and extracting morals from books like plums out of a pudding is to be deplored. Great art is more finely balanced and less obvious in its assessments than is reducible to simple moralising. Often the ambiguities and uncertainties call for judgements from us and that will mean that individuals will come to different conclusions. Thus, it would be quite wrong to draw a lesson from Henry V that ‘a just cause vigorously pursued will be crowned with success’; seven years later, Henry, still pursuing what he took to be a rightful cause, was dead of dysentery and, as the final Chorus indicates, England lapsed into internecine strife.
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