Who Needs Shakespeare: Humanism and Politics


Editor's note: The following appeared as the first chapter of Who Needs Shakespeare? and was published by International Publishers in 1973.

Who needs Shakespeare? Apparently the stage needs him, for he is the most staged dramatist of our times. There has hardly been a period since his death in 1616 when his plays have not been shown. Not always in the form in which he wrote them, because it became recurrent practice to change then to fit the times. The plays that were produced in the 17th century were rewritten; in the 18th and 19th centuries they were drastically cut and rearranged. Today the 'improvements' often consist of shifting settings, costumes and atmosphere into those of an age later than Shakespeare's in the attempt to establish him simply as a student of abstract character who could have produced his plays in any age and had no integral relationships with his own.

Producers and critics often ascribe to Shakespeare a primary concern with one or another of the special problems that preoccupy modern writers. Thus we are offered a Freudian Shakespeare who, whatever he seems to be discussing, is actually writing of the Oedipus complex; a Jungian Shakespeare devoted to myths stemming from a 'collective unconscious'; an existential Shakespeare whose thesis is that the world is forever absurd: a philologist Shakespeare devoted to purifying the English language.

Motion pictures have entered the competition by providing interpretations that are at odds with the playwright's own words. The Old Vic's stage production of Troilus and Cressida adopted World War I costumes that robbed the play of Shakespeare's crucial analysis of medieval chivalry. In Peter Brook's King Lear, which moved from the stage to the cinema, Lear speaks and acts like a death's-head in the latter part of the play, thus nullifying the resurgence of his character that is one of the most wonderful and significant elements in this play. Zefferelli's Romeo and Juliet transforms Shakespeare's villainous Tybalt into a noble personage, Mercutio into an inept clown, and Romeo and Juliet into squalling brats – canceling out the heroism revealed in Juliet's later scenes. His Much Ado about Nothing updates the costumes a couple of centuries and, among other things, nullifies the 16-century charm of Dogberry and his followers. Polanski's Macbeth contributes nudes and scenes of violence, and by adding a scene at the end where Donalbain seeks out the witches, moves the play into an existential frame.

The influential poet and critic, the late T.S. Eliot, gave a historical reason for Shakespeare's great stature, at the same time removing him from history:

To pass onto posterity one's own language, more highly developed, more refined, and more precise than it was before one wrote it, that is the supreme possible achievement of the poet as poet. Of course a really supreme poet makes poetry also more difficult for his successors, but the simple fact of his supremacy, and the price off literature must pay for having a Dante or a Shakespeare, is that it can have only one. Later poets must find something else to do, and be content if the things left to do are lesser things.

It is hard to believe, however, that writers after Shakespeare who were also masters of the English language, like Donne, Pope, Keats, Dickens and Hardy, were rendered impotent because of the wonders he had wrought or felt weakened by their rivalry with him. Nor did they make language, rather than the reality they projected through it, their primary concern. As life has changed, people's minds have changed and, along with them, their language. Later writers reshaped Shakespeare's language in order that it would follow the usage of their own times and express their own sensibilities. From Eliot's remarks one would have to conclude that to bring forth a new Shakespeare we would have to create a wholly new language – an impossible task. Eliot would appear to be looking for some overriding, fateful reason outside himself that made him find 'lesser things' to do than Shakespeare. He blames the existence of a writer 350 years ago for his own limitations.

It is Shakespeare, the social thinker and the writer who dealt with politics in its deepest sense – concern with the theory and practice of government and the state of civic morality – who is the center of the present study. The perception and grasp with which he met the challenge of his own times made him a giant among artists. Later ages could not ignore him for they, too, were confronted by many of the questions he raised; and today, when the answers are finally at hand, he still remains a constant source of inspiration.

The England of 1564 in which Shakespeare was born was medieval in its political institutions and in much of its thought. That is, it was ruled by a monarch with absolute powers, presumably approved by God. Below the monarch was a group of aristocratic families who were also great landowners, and thought of themselves as sharing in the lineage of kings. Some were selected by the monarch to be members of a ruling state council. There was a class of gentlemen – knights, squires and possessors of coats of arms – gentry who lived off the land and despised labor or trade. Sometime they held government or court posts; while among the lesser gentry the local justices of the peace were to be found. At the bottom of the social ladder, with no rights in their own government, was the great mass of the population – the laboring peasantry. Rising out of the masses when they accumulated a little money were the merchants, traders, small manufacturers, skilled artisans, and the small independent farmers. They had scarcely more rights than the peasantry, and their ambition generally was to own substantial land, buy themselves a coat of arms and enter the ranks of the gentry.

The House of Commons, representing the smaller gentry, met very irregularly, when called by the monarch, and usually for the purpose of raising men and women for a war. Relatively few people could read and write. There were printed books and pamphlets but no newspapers, and the most powerful medium of public communication was oratory – notably that of the great preachers. S.T. Bindoff writes of the mid-16th century, 'For everyone who read Brinkelow or Crowley, a hundred must have listened to Hugh Latimer.'

But there were forces developing which could not continue to exist under these institutions and were straining them to the breaking point. A considerable increase in commerce, manufacturing and trade brought with it a fluidity among social classes, so that some people with money could become peers, and some noblemen and gentry were to turn to commerce. The growth of internal trade demanded a free flow of commodities throughout a nobleman's domain (held almost as independent territories) and increased the pressure for the establishment of a unified nation, at the price of limiting the power of the nobility. The growth of external trade as well as the scramble for American gold required something of a unified effort, and since the sacrifices of the commoners were needed, it became more difficult to continue to look upon them as nonentities.

The concept of an independent nation was alien to the medieval and feudal mind. Theoretically the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope ruled the local kings, who, in turn, ruled their nobles and barons, and so on down to the peasantry. But the feudal lords and barons considered themselves virtually independent rulers of their own domains, and they maintained their own retinues. In wars, the king had to appeal to them for troops, led by the lords and barons themselves. They as well as the king could increase their estates by wars and marriages. The language and customs of the land from which they drew revenues mattered little to them, and the monarch's revenues came from his own private land. The language of politics, education, religion and official culture was Latin.

But national languages were growing among the common people. From the 13th century on, this was accelerated, as the increasing oppression of the peasantry by the money-hungry nobility sparked rebellions. Since the king was often looked upon with contempt or used as a cat's paw by the great nobles, the idea grew among the peasantry and the more moneyed 'nobodies' of the cities that a strong king might be their protector against the nobility. This was by no means a stable solution, for if a strong king should arise who could assert his powers over the nobility, he could also eventually use them for his own purposes.

The first form of national unity arose under a strong monarch. Around the 16th century, nations were established in France and Spain, for example – from which a rich literature in the common people's language developed.

In France, the kings were able to assert their strength against such virtually independent centers as the Duchy of Burgundy; they could also run the French Catholic Church in relative independence of the Pope. French literature, national in feeling, flourished with Ronsard, Rabelais and Montaigne.

In Spain, the Moors were expelled and Castille was untied with Aragon by means of royal marriage. In the new nation Spanish literature soon flourished, helped along by the gold of the Americas. The Spanish kings could win independence from the Empire and the Pope by the simple process of taking them over or dominating them. Assisting them were the great banking families like the Fuggers and the Welsers. The Fuggers, writes, R.H. Tawney, 'provided the funds with which Charles V bought the imperial crown, after an election conducted with the publicity of an auction and the morals of a gambling hell.' And at the same time revolt against Spain flared in the Netherlands, resulting in the formation in the 17th century of another independent nation, the Dutch Republic.

Everywhere in Europe national movements were stirring, but not everywhere was it possible for them to come to fruition. In Italy, independent city-states like Florence and Venice had grown alongside of Rome, where the Papacy dwelt. They were ruled by an oligarchy of merchants and bankers who eventually, like the Medici, made themselves into a nobility. There, the great art of the Renaissance flourished. But a small city-state remained weak, as perceived by the astute observer and diplomat Machiavelli in the early 16th century. He sought for political unity, to avoid enslavement by those whom he called 'barbarians,' the French and Spanish. But such unity arrived only long afterwards – in the 19th century – and meanwhile the power of the Italian city-state was broken by the French and Spanish invasion. In Germany, the possibility of national unity was destroyed when the middle class joined the nobility to crush the great peasant revolt of 1525, and the middle class was later devastated by the wars among the nobles in the 17th century known as the 'Thirty Years War.' Germany remained divided into many petty principalities and stayed economically backward until well into the 19th century.

In the early 16th century England could be considered to have become an independent nation. In the 'Wars of the Roses,' between 1455 and 1485, the great noble families of York and Plantagenet decimated each other in struggles for the throne. This was the subject matter of what was probably Shakespeare's first set of plays, the tetralogy consisting of the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III. Then Henry VII, beating off rebellions, established on the debris of the conflict a strong Tudor dynasty. In the 1530's Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church, setting up an independent Church of England with himself at its head. What might have led to the change in Henry's thinking was his desire for a divorce, which the Pope refused, and his greed to enrich himself by seizing the church lands and selling them. But his break with the Roman Church spurred forces into motion that were more important than his own desires. By selling the seized church lands, he created a new gentry and nobility that was bound to the throne and was less feudal and more commercial-minded than the old order. Moreover, the merchants and manufacturers welcomed the move to independence.

Elizabeth became Queen in 1558, the year England lost its last French possession, the port of Calais. She drew income from the crown-controlled monopolies of various forms of manufacturing and trade and she encouraged piracy against Spanish ships bearing gold from the Americas. France and Spain were engaged in intrigues against the English crown, and this fired the growing patriotism in England. The defeat of the attempted invasion in 1588 by the Spanish Armada unleashed a great outburst of pride in the independent English nation.

Shakespeare deeply felt this national pride, and it is indicative of his stature as a human being as well as of his development as an artist that he dwelt on its human values and expanded what was socially progressive in it. He was no chauvinist; he did not deride other peoples in comparison to Englishmen. To him the formation of the nation meant internal peace and an expansion of human kinship. The bloody rivalry of the old-line, feudal-minded nobility, with their own armed bands, he felt, should be brought under control. And he insisted that the common people, especially the unlettered peasantry, were a living part of the nation and had to be considered and treated as human beings.

Shakespeare's attitude toward the common people is widely misunderstood. It must be seen in the framework of the medieval England of his time rather than as it becomes when distorted by the updating to which his plays have been subjected. For his period, the ignorance that characterized the common people was a social fact of life. In a more modern setting, this may often appear to be stupidity, but this is neither Shakespeare's intention nor feeling. He insists on the people's humanity, and though he may use them as material for laughter, it is with kindness and sympathy. It was, of course, inconceivable to him that they could ever become rulers of the nation; but they were part of it; they were wounded, suffered and died in its wars.

In Henry V, in which the flame of nationalism burns brightly, Shakespeare writes the powerful, haunting speech of a common soldier, Michael Williams, on what it means to die in a war. And if the people are frequently his clowns, as his art develops he gives this clownishness a double aspect. On the one hand, it entertains the masters and, on the other, it becomes a form of defense against their blows and even a criticism of their own stupidity. Thus the Fool in King Lear, in the first part of the play, is the King's sharpest and truest critic.

With the growth of the essentially progressive national feeling, Shakespeare moved into a wide-ranging battle of ideas. For the people had begun to feel the weight of medieval attitudes, born of medieval institutions, on their lives. And Shakespeare began to ask questions in his plays about such ideas as, for example, honor. Could its meaning be restricted to the confines of the family honor of the nobility? Honor, in this sense, might have its lofty side of courage and gallantry, but could its exercise be restricted to the confines of the nobility? Did it not deprive those who prized honor from engaging in useful occupations or trade; exalt fighting and killing as it pitted family against family, dividing the state and causing bloodshed among the ordinary people? Was it not now outmoded, and should not a deeper concept of honor be sought in human relations?

A king was obviously necessary to rule the state. But to whom was the king responsible? It could not be to God alone, for that would remove his acts from public scrutiny. It could not be to the nobility, for they disregarded and exploited the people and saw themselves as potential kings. Then could it be to the nation and the great mass of people? Were there principles of conduct involving the need for happiness of the great mass of people incumbent on a ruler? Thus Shakespeare's national feeling became a compelling factor in the development of his humanism – his social thought and politics.

Humanism had risen in the Italian cities in the 14th century with the avid appreciation and study of the classics of Ancient Greece and Rome, from a viewpoint different from that of the earlier Middle Ages. Scholars were less interested in finding the pagan precursors of Christian theological doctrine than in dwelling upon their regard for the stature of human beings and on their love of life and nature. Even before this time, humanistic influences had existed in the Middle Ages but, like nationalism, they had been regarded as heresy. Now, however, humanism began to flower openly, encouraged by the great growth in middle-class trade and manufacture and the possibilities of social progress. It was a reaction against the dominant medieval human as an impotent being, living in a vale of tears, redeemable only if he or she was a loyal servant of God, after which he was rewarded in death. Humanism began the study of real people, the application of reason to human affairs, and the possibility of human perfectibility. As it developed from the Italian poet Petrarch (1394-1474) to Erasmus (1466-1546) in the Netherlands, the emphasis away from the ancient past to an exposure of contemporary social evils and church abuses. With Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), in England it expanded to a vision of a utopian commonwealth in which all would share the labor and enjoyments of life; there would be no rich and poor since there would be no need for money.

As a theory of social reform, humanism rested on an appeal to the good will of princes. Thus it was bound to fail. With the passage of centuries, social progress i the form of inventions, expanded manufacture of goods, and the rise of the capitalist middle class to state power, was carried on with the most flagrant greed. In consequence, humanism tended to become a set of precepts restricted to personal life. As Erwin Panofsky today defines it:

It is not so much a movement as an attitude, which can be defined as the conviction of the dignity of man [sic] based on the insistence on human values (rationality and freedom) and the acceptance of human limitations (fallibility and frailty): from this, two postulates result – responsibility and tolerance.

Implied here is a withdrawal from an ugly society. A person who is convinced of the dignity of humanity can be tolerant of different views from his/her own. But can he/she be tolerant of militarism? Or widespread public lying by supposedly responsible authorities? Or the spread of poverty and misery? Yet humanism remains a vision of human possibilities, although the problem is less to alter society by teaching people to be humanists than to discover the real forces operating in society and master them so that people can be liberated to live in a truly human way.

To Shakespeare, humanism was a social force, opened up by changes in society and prospects of continuing change, and it impelled him to a study of people in their social relations that resulted in his becoming a social and political dramatist. For how could he feel responsible for human suffering without concerning himself with the way in which people were governed and sought their freedom? His great virtue as an artist is that he based his vision of what people could be on a firm grasp of what they already were. In this process he became not merely a follower of humanist thought but its great developer, carrying it into new directions. His plays give no visionary answers impossible for the time, like Sir Thomas More's Utopia, but they raised profound questions.

The social conditions surrounding Shakespeare – medieval institutions stretched almost to the breaking point by the new forces rising within them – helped him to discover his own powers and rise to a rich fulfillment of them.

Son of a Stratford-on-Avon glovemaker and merchant, who was successful enough to become a town official and who yearned to get a coat of arms, Shakespeare himself never got a university education. He married a woman older than he, who was pregnant with his child. In an earlier time he might have become a local schoolteacher or a clerk to some nobleman. But at this period there were broader opportunities in London, and there he went – probably in the late 1580's. Theater was being welcomed as a highly popular form of entertainment. Medieval in its framework, it stemmed from the old religious miracle and morality plays put on the by the town guilds, and form performances by traveling companies of mountebanks, comedians and acrobats. Such a traveling group appears in Hamlet. Thanks to the lively and enormously increasing population of London and to the rise of many social questions in the air, acting companies now began to settle down in one place and take up serious issues. Shakespeare was able to work as an actor in an established company and also to rewrite old plays for his company's repertory. In this process, he discovered in himself a talent for writing plays of his own, and in a few years he rose to become the most popular playwright in London.

Shakespeare's company was successful enough to build its own theater, outside the city limits in order to escape the censorship of puritanical city officials. This theater was still medieval in framework, resembling the courtyard of an inn, with a stage jutting out into the audience and no front curtain. But Shakespeare could make the conventions this stage demanded part of his creative thinking, for he saw the stage as representing an open door to the audience. The audience was not bound by narrow class prejudice; it embraced many classes from gentlemen to apprentices, and this was an added inspiration. Queen Elizabeth's policies of encouraging manufacture and trade and strengthening her position against the older feudal noble families encouraged a relative freedom of ideas. Of course, there were varying levels of intelligence in the audience and many fools among them – not necessarily determined by their class position.

To some extent Shakespeare's acting company was a cooperative form of middle-class business enterprise. For although a company had to have some nobleman's sponsorship (his was that of the Lord Chamberlain), its actual support came from the audience who bought the admissions. And while the theater had to make money, commercialism in the form of a standard formula for creating works as sellable commodities had not yet made its appearance. There was, furthermore, a community of spirit in the company. (It was two of Shakespeare's associate who, after his death, produced the First Folio, the complete printed edition of his plays.)

Shakespeare also wrote poems, which he dedicated to various noblemen to gain their patronage, but he was still a nonentity so far as they were concerned; fortunately, he did not depend upon them for money. In some respects, inevitably, his thinking was medieval; he could conceive no form of government more advanced than that of an absolute monarch; he had no strong convictions as to whether witches and ghosts actually existed. And although he was a realist, he could not describe his own country directly in terms of the issues he raised in his plays.

Among the many Elizabethan plays, some of them did deal with what was presumably contemporary life, but only in its more personal aspects, while they skirted the existing government and its issues. It was only a succession of later revolutions in history that were to make independence in literature possible. In the form of the history of other countries, however, or in writing of far places and distant times, he could indirectly point up issues of challenging cogency to the England and the government of his own time.

If Shakespeare became the great political dramatist of his day, it does not mean that his plays abound in political treatises that can be understood as reflecting his own thinking. Nor does it mean that his subject matter was kings and administrators who can be called political leaders. Others in his time dealt with such figures, too, but their plays are not at all political. Shakespeare himself wrote one tragedy in his early years, Titus Adronicus, with noble characters and no political cast of thought at all. When we call Shakespeare a political dramatist, we mean that he deals with government administrators in their capacity as governors of the state and makes the state's problems central to the play. Thus the content of the play becomes political in that the way the people are governed becomes crucial to him, and this includes such apparently personal concerns as honor, morality, love and the acquisition of money.

A comparatively early tragedy like Romeo and Juliet may deal overwhelmingly with young love, but central to it and determining the action are the city-state of Verona and the relation of its governmental needs to the two feuding old-line noble families. A deal with a ready-made story of the attempt of a Jew to outwit a Christian, but in the course of the play, Shakespeare examines the character of the government of Venice and makes it central to the development of the play.

Shakespeare is keenly conscious of the conflict between old and new ideas in his time, and he becomes profoundly aware of the dependence of ideas on social classes. This does not mean that he thinks of class in the way a 19th or 20th century Marxist would. What it means is that he has grasped how the thinking of people is conditioned, if not controlled, by their social status or interests. And thus he can treat the most intimate matters and show that they also are class and political questions.

The conflict of old and new in society also becomes a conflict within the mind, and in Shakespeare this generates a new level of realism on which people are not simply angels or sinners, saints or monsters; they are human beings, like his listeners. The problem is to understand why they do what they do. The realism of this search does not, of course, mean that his characters are scrupulously recreated from real life in every detail nor that they can be considered to be 'real' people of whom his plays provide a partial biography. They are what he makes them, but he them a complex mentality that relates to the complexities of the world outside them – a mentality of conflict. They have strengths and weaknesses, courage and fears, humane and selfish impulses. Out of this complexity some factors predominate that result in action and may often have unexpected results, reacting back on the characters in such manner that an individual's actions and thoughts become part of a social picture.

This quality Shakespeare exhibits in the treatment of characters has been misinterpreted as a triumph of individualism. Thus D. A. Traversi writes: If the Divine Comedy sums up and unifies the discoveries of a whole period of European civilization, its science, its politics, its philosophy, and its religion, Shakespeare's great series of plays is a synthesis of the experience of the individual; as such, it is supreme. Naturally, if one ignores or refuses to take seriously the society that Shakespeare recreates in his play, they will appear to be nonsocial. But one of the characteristics of the abundance of characters in a Shakespeare play is that through them he is creating a society in which individuals play their role and are shaped by the traditions of that society, the opportunities for growth it gives them and the demands it makes upon them. They are bound to that society by the influence it has exerted on their ways of living and thinking. They oppose some aspects of it because of collectively generated activities that do not bend to their individual needs or desires. Shakespeare’s men and women are immersed in their society; their outer life, along with their internal reactions, are two sides of the same truth. If his humanization does not always make the unloveable characters more loveable, it makes them more understandable.

His power to create characters who think in terms of social realities developed slowly, but it can already be glimpsed in his earliest plays, as in the trilogy of Henry VI (which may not be altogether his own). The trilogy deals with the War of Roses.

In Part I of this trilogy, Joan la Pucelle, known to the French as Jeanne d'Arc, makes her appearance. Shakespeare, and English patriot, sees her as the enemy accepts the legend that she is a witch. Yet he humanizes her with the remarkable insight that his own feelings about his country can also be felt by others about their own. Joan makes an impassioned plea to the Duke of Burgundy to join with Charles of France:

Look on thy country, look on fertile France, And see the cities and the towns defaced by wasting ruin of the cruel foe; As looks the mother on her lowly babe When death doth close his tender dying eyes, See, the pining malady of France; Behold the wounds, the most unnatural wounds, Which thou thyself hast given her woeful breast, O, turn the edged sward another way; Strike those that hurt, and hurt not those that help. Act III, Scene 3

Thus Joan also speaks for a nation.

In Part III of this trilogy Shakespeare gives the hunchbacked Richard, Duke of Gloucester (who will afterwards become Richard III), a powerful, revealing dialogue. Some of it reads like Marlowe, Shakespeare's great predecessor, who had died young and violently. Marlowe, in The Jew of Malta, has created a monster figure, the Jew Barabas, a merchant of extraordinary wealth who uses it to manipulate governments (which was actually being done at that time by the great Christian banking families). In this anti-Semitic play, Marlowe has Barabas say:

We Jews can fawn like spaniels when we please; And when we grin we bite; yet are our looks As innocent and harmless as a lamb's.

Richard, in his soliloquy, says:

Why I can smile, and murther whiles I smiles, And cry 'Content' to that which grieves my heart, And wet my cheeks with artificial tears, And frame my face to all occasions.

But in this monologue, Richard is also humanized, made more understandable. His deformity – he is a hunchback, with a withered arm and unequal legs – preys on his mind. He feels despised. How could one as ugly as he succeed, for example, in a love affair?

Why, love forswore me in my mother's womb; And, for I should not deal in her soft laws, She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe To shrink mine arm up like a withered shrub; To make an envious mountain on my back; Where sits deformity to mock my body; To shape my legs of an unequal size; To disproportion me in every part; Like to a chaos, or an unlicked bear-whelp That carries no impression like the dam. Act III, Scene 2.

Shakespeare in these early plays, while he writes excellent poetry, has not yet acquired the power to develop this psychological damage into a penetrating characterization, but he does make Richard somewhat more understandable. The speech that opens the next play, Richard III, repeats the thought:

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain, And have the idle pleasures of these days.

This scene gains an awesome power because Richard, though loathsome, is not depicted as a monster, and the other evil characters are all human beings, each of whom come alive as individuals. In the play, besides Richard, we find old Queen Margaret, widow of Henry VI, who herself is a murderess, now scorned by the others, while her harsh curses hang over the play; the Duke of Buckingham, a weal man turned evil by ambition, who joins with Richard to help him seize the throne. When the Duke asks for his promised reward, Richard tells him, 'I am not in the giving vein today.' There are two unnamed murderers who are commissioned by Richard to kill his brother, the Duke of Clarence. (One of them is afflicted by conscience.) Even Lady Anne, widow of the Prince of Wales, is a human if bitter characterization. Shakespeare explores the problem of how she let herself be flattered into marrying the man who killed her husband (she is later discharged by him.)

In this picture of the old order of nobility at its most murderous, there are practically no characters of any importance who are admirable human beings. Richmond, who conquers Richard and becomes Henry VII, enters too late to be given a full characterization. But already in this play Shakespeare is not so much passing judgment on evildoers as he is creating, on a higher level, a society in which the members claw at one another and, in the end, engineer their own destruction. This is the beginning of his many investigations into the politics of power and his search for a new morality.

Therefore, in answer to the question that begins this chapter, 'who needs Shakespeare?' we all need him – not in any mystic way, as a writer with miraculous powers that have since been lost; or one to whom we turn for relaxation and a dream life; or as one who has pleased his public by writing down to them, at the same time writing over their heads to us about the eternal verities that he was somehow able to capture better than any one since. We need him as an artist who, writing in the early or prerevolutionary stage of capitalism, grasped that changes were under way and put foremost in his work a concern for human values. Himself a 'nobody,' in that he had no political rights; a servant of the aristocracy who could nevertheless operate as an independent businessperson and artist, he was as critical of incipient capitalist currents as he was of the old feudal-minded order. He carried his concern for human values into the consideration of the central issues of the day, and in so doing encompassed in his art a range of characters from the highest strata to the lowest. He raised questions that capitalism, even with all the revolutions (which began in the 1640's, after his death), was not able to answer, and that are still on the agenda today. And now that capitalism in crisis becomes more savagely corrupt and inhuman and is being challenged by the rise of socialism, we need his humanity to illuminate these questions and to assure us that they are still central to the solutions that pave the way to human happiness.