Shylock is a Meanie

On this Great Books Monday, gird up your loins, for we are about to embark on a quest for the Great White Whale.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Ch. 1-15  (GBWW Vol. 48, pp. 1-31)
  2. Fabius and Pericles Compared” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 154-155)
  3. The Energies of Men” by William James (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 157-170)
  4. Federalist #75-77 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 222-229; Antifederalist responses are here)
  5. On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies by William Gilbert, Preface and Book I (GBWW Vol. 26, pp. 1-25)
  6. Thomas Aquinas” by Henry Adams (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 422-461)

This week we will also complete our second volume of readings: Volume 10 of the Gateway to the Great Books series. From now on, all our philosophical works will come from the big set. Be afraid.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare: After reading the full text of this play for the first time in about ten years, I’ve concluded that modern stagings and film adaptations (such as the recent one starring Al Pacino) put way too emphasis on the Shylock character, turning him into a sort of tragic hero when Shakespeare intended him to be simply an obstacle to the main characters. In the modern stagings, Act V is anticlimactic in the extreme. It’s pretty clear from the text that we are not supposed to like Shylock. His hatred of Antonio stems from economic motives at least as much as it does from indignation over Antonio’s treatment of him. Plus, his daughter thinks he’s a rat.
  2. “Fabius” by Plutarch: Slow and steady wins the race. If ever a leader was justified in saying “I told you so” to his opponents, it was Fabius. It’s sad that after saving Rome through his prudent military leadership (which Hannibal recognized), he succumbed to pride and became an obstacle to Roman victory near the end of his life.
  3. “The Study of Mathematics” by Bertrand Russell: I appreciated Russell’s stress on the beauty of mathematics and its value in leading students to the appreciation of reason. I’m sure his argument that mathematics should not be taught with the technical training of engineers as its primary purpose would be surprising to many today.
  4. Federalist #70-74: These essays deal with the mechanics of the office of president. The argument for the four-year term is reasonable; that against a term limit maybe less so. I thought it interesting that Hamilton found it necessary to spill so much ink in support of the unitary executive. I had never realized that there was much of a call for a sharing of authority among different officers in the executive branch.
  5. An Anatomical Disquisition on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals by William Harvey, Chapters XII-XVII: These chapters detail some of Harvey’s experiments in such a way that others can reproduce them. Taken together, they seem a pretty convincing proof of his thesis of the blood’s circular flow.
  6. Protagoras by Plato: I would very much like to know whether a conversation like this one ever really took place between Socrates and Protagoras. I’m still not convinced by Socrates’s argument that virtue is all one.

I’m happy to announce the birth of my fifth son, Arthur, last Thursday morning. That I am capable of typing these words is due to the presence of my parents, who have driven down from Arkansas to help out. Happy reading this week!


About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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