Time and the other in Cymbeline

Authored by: James A. Knapp

The Routledge Companion to Shakespeare and Philosophy

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138936126
eBook ISBN: 9781315677019
Adobe ISBN:


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In this paper, I take Emmanuel Levinas’s articulation of phenomenological time as a jumping off point for a reading of the dynamics of time and ethical responsibility in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. The play’s repeated staging of moments when characters are confronted with the other person are juxtaposed in the play to confrontations with death. In Time and the Other, Levinas worked to counter Heidegger’s ecstatic theory of time as “being-for-death” by focusing on the movement of time as revealing the “ungraspable” nature of death. For Levinas, it is this phenomenological time that constitutes the alterity of the other person as immanent. The ungraspable nature of death allows Levinas to develop a phenomenology which is not bounded in the world, like Heidegger’s, but which is enacted in the temporality of sociality. I argue that Shakespeare offers a surprisingly similar phenomenology of time and the other in Cymbeline.

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