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Colloquium focuses on Shakespeare’s Christian humanism

Readers of the classic work, The Odyssey, know that the Greek hero Odysseus relies on divine intervention to surmount several challenges.

But within the text of The Tempest one finds Prospero, a Christian humanist hero, who relies on the divine nature within himself to conquer his world, according to Dr. Terrell Tebbetts.

Tebbetts, the Martha Heasley Cox Chair in American Literature, argued this point during the third lecture of the 2019 Faculty Colloquium series on Nov. 1 at Lyon College.

Tebbetts’ lecture, “Homer Redux: Shakespeare's Christian Humanist Response to the Odyssey," referenced the interest in Greek and Latin classics influencing Renaissance thought during Shakespeare’s writing career. 

During the Renaissance, Shakespeare’s version of Christian humanism portrayed mankind as made in God’s image and thus equipped with the same powers as God, albeit to a lesser degree. In The Tempest, for example, Shakespeare’s hero deftly tackles the forces of nature with no reliance on Greek gods the way Odysseus does in The Odyssey.

“That form of humanism becomes apparent in this and other differences between The Odyssey and The Tempest,” said Tebbetts. 

Shakespeare’s heroic approach can instead be likened to that of Erasmus, the famed Christian humanist philosopher of the Renaissance, who refers to Christ as “the most merciful savior,” one whose example should be followed by Christian rulers.

Tebbetts described Prospero’s capacity for merciful forgiveness of his betraying and even fratricidal brother as he prepares to return to his dukedom at the end of The Tempest. 

He noted other works in which Shakespeare compared mercy to a gentle rain that “droppeth from heaven.” Tebbetts described Odysseus, by contrast, as the merciless killer of some 150 suitors and attendants when he returned to his kingdom.

Tebbetts’ lecture was followed by a reception in the Lyon building. The series provides professors the opportunity to present their ongoing research, regardless of what phase it is in, giving the campus community insight into the research process.

The final lecture will be delivered by Assistant Professor of Art Ian Campbell on Friday, Nov. 22.