How does a comparative study of texts enhance your understanding of issues that are common to both texts?
A comparative study of two texts allows one to shape a more profound understanding of the complex, tacit notions presented within each text that is driven by the contextual backgrounds of each composer. Giovanni Pico’s ‘Oration on the Dignity of Man’ and William Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ both delve into key concepts: the nature of reason and the divine order of things. Despite the common ideas within these texts, their style and perspectives have been influenced by their socio-cultural and religious context. While Pico’s text was influenced by ancient Greek philosophy which privileged mankind’s place in the world, Shakespeare’s play was driven by the secular nature of his times.
The capability to think, understand and form judgments logically can have a significant impact on one’s well-being and status. Throughout the Renaissance period, there was a momentous outbreak of philosophical perspectives which championed the abilities of man, including the power and nature of reason. At the time, Pico was beginning to expand his scope on the nature of reason and the value of it to human beings. Pico exemplifies his approach towards reason when he writes, “If, however, you see a philosopher, judging and distinguishing all things according to the rule of reason, him shall you hold in veneration, for he is a creature of heaven and not of earth…” His consideration of man as metaphorically a ‘creature of heaven’ demonstrates his belief that one who seeks to reason and rationalise things is enlightened. Here, we also see an allusion and influence of the Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, appropriating their belief that the ultimate exemplar for man was a philosopher or a contemplative man. In his exaltation of reason, Pico also writes that to use reason well is to “imitate the life of the cherubim”, and that individuals should do so “by refraining the impulses of our passions through moral science, by dissipating the darkness of reason by dialectic—thus washing away, so to speak, the filth of ignorance and vice…” The alliterative use of the hard consonant ‘d’ sound here emphasises the “darkness” that man can emerge from by eschewing the impulsive nature of the passions and pursuing rationality and intellectuality instead. The cleansing nature of intellectual pursuit is moreover supported by the light/ dark or heaven/ hell imagery (also, imagery of baptism and rebirth) when he writes that reason can “wash… away, so to speak, the filth of ignorance and vice…” Ultimately, Pico concludes that one who reasons and contemplates is angelic and the perfect exemplar for man.
In King Lear, Shakespeare also reflects upon the nature of reason but absorbed Pico’s ideas through a secular lens, outlining the liberating times of the later Renaissance period. Unlike Pico, Shakespeare delved deeper into nature of reason, exploring how the ability of reasoning...