This volume explores Shakespeare’s interest in pity, an emotion that serves as an important catalyst for action within the plays, even as it generates one of the audience’s most common responses to tragic drama in the theater. For Shakespeare, the word "pity" contained a broader range of meaning than it does in modern English, and was often associated with ideas such as mercy, compassion, charity, pardon, and clemency. This cluster of ideas provides Shakespeare’s characters with a rich range of possibilities for engaging some of humanity’s deepest emotional commitments, in which pity can be seen as a powerful stimulus for fostering social harmony, love, and forgiveness. However, Shakespeare also dramatizes pity’s potential for deception, when the appeal to pity is not genuine, and conceals contrary motives of vengeance and cruelty. As Shakespeare’s works remain relevant for modern audiences and readers, so too does his dramatization of the powerful ways in which emotions such as pity remain essential to our understanding of our shared humanity and of our awareness of compassion’s role in our own private and civic lives.

chapter 1|24 pages

Sinon's Borrowed Tears

chapter 2|30 pages

Pity and Piety in Titus Andronicus

chapter 3|36 pages

Love, Pity, and Deception in Othello

chapter 4|24 pages

Pity and Poverty in King Lear

chapter |6 pages


“Pity, Like a Naked New-Born Babe”