‘Happiness’, as we now commonly understand the term, is not something we should expect to meet in Shakespeare’s work. When he employs alternative words – such as ‘felicity, ‘merry’ or ‘blessed’ – he rarely seeks to convey what latter-day readers might assume to be the concept of ‘happiness’ that we accept as an agreeable state of mind. Shakespeare’s ‘happy’ seems to apply to circumstances rather than to a state of mind. His characters often appear to be luckier in their happiness rather than actual achievers of happiness. The idea that the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is an essential part of the definition of the human condition (as in the founding documents of the American Revolution) may well owe far more to John Milton’s use of the words ‘happy’ and ‘happiness’ and the common acceptance of ‘happiness’ as a socially and politically desirable condition.
Katrin Röder and Christoph Singer
OH happiness! our being’s end and aim! Good, pleasure, ease, content! whate’er thy name: That something still which prompts th’ eternal sigh, For which we bear to live, or dare to die … Fix’d to no spot is happiness sincere, ’Tis no where to be found, or ev’ry where: ’Tis never to be bought, but always free, And fled from monarchs, St. John! dwells with thee. … Some place the bliss in action, some in ease, Those call it pleasure, and contentment these … Who thus define it, say they more or less Than this, that happiness is happiness? …
Alexander Pope’s lines from the Essay on Man (1734) suggest the richness, diversity and overwhelming, transgressive nature of the concept of happiness. In the above quotation, happiness seems to be curiously self-evident and inconclusive at the same time. It is the central motivation for any action or non-action, all-pervasive, omnipresent and elusive. The obviousness with which Pope uses the word ‘happiness’ for so many different states of existence (material wealth, flourishing, bliss, the good life, the common good) is, however, the result of a long process of semantic change that is convincingly described by Phil Withington: being ‘derived from the Old Norse noun hap, meaning luck or fortune’, the word ‘happiness’ was, according to Withington’s findings, first used by William Caxton in his translation of Raoul Lefèvre’s French History of Troy. The addition of the English suffix ‘ness’ to the adjective ‘happy’ denotes ‘the quality and state of hap (i.e. fortune) or the circumstances and phenomena that exemplified such a condition’. The word changed its meaning from denoting good luck and favourable external (providential) conditions to signifying ‘the active pursuit of virtue and the common good’. Happiness became an umbrella term referring to a ‘commonplace mixture of physical well-being and psychological content’, to the individual and collective desire for and pursuit of ‘public improvement’, autonomy, liberty, ‘consumer self-interest and national aggrandisement’.
Incestuous Desires in John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore
John Ford’s play ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore offers a compelling rendering of the state of happiness. Its scandalous plot, which revolves around the incestuous relationship between the two siblings Giovanni and Annabella, confronts the audience with an intricate discussion of early modern notions of happiness. Situated in the ambiguous sphere between a secular and a theological reading of what it means to be happy, Ford’s play stages the conflicts and the calamities that derive from its protagonists’ eager attempt to attain and to live their own version of happiness.
Sir Philip Sidney is not commonly associated with a search for happiness or the use he made of concepts of happiness in his works. Yet, as this article seeks to show, he employed a rhetoric of happiness throughout. In particular, Sidney’s Arcadias – the Old Arcadia, which he finished in 1581, and the New Arcadia, the substantial rewriting which remained unfinished – are markedly different in their representations of and their reflections on happiness. While happiness is associated with the Arcadian state as a – potentially fatal – aim in the Old Arcadia from its very beginning, it is subordinated to a sterner and more violent discourse in the New Arcadia, for which after Sidney’s death other writers wrote diverse happy endings. This different treatment of happiness in the Arcadias is also discussed with a view to different manuscripts and print editions as well as to the power play at the Elizabethan court.
Contrary to dominant debates about Utopia, I do not think it matters whether Thomas More actually believed that ‘communism’ was the solution to social inequality and injustice; what I think is important is that the book raises the question of a different type of society. As I argue in the second part of my article, the power of Utopia, like all radical utopianism, derives not from the production of blueprints; rather, it comes from the stimulation of desire for a ‘happy place’, which can reflect negatively on, and produce discontent within, the here and now. Understood in this way, radical utopianism offers a form of resistance to dominant constructions of reality and our complicity, conscious and unconscious, with them.
For two millennia the heart was considered to be the seat of intelligence, motion and sensation. Thomas Hobbes’s friend William Harvey revolutionised the understanding of the heart by demonstrating how blood circulates, and correctly identifying the function of the heart as propulsion. Soon after the publication of De Motu Cordis, Descartes redefined the heart as a ‘pump’, and Hobbes as a ‘spring’. In these mechanistic and rationalist systems the heart lost its prestige, and could no longer be considered the source of sensation and emotion. Harvey did not, however, seek to displace the heart from its traditional position in metaphysical anatomy, but by retaining an Aristotelean interest in causes, continued to promote the centrality of the heart in ways that have persisted in philosophy, theology and literature even to the present day. A fresh look at Harvey’s writings will help us to understand why.
Happiness and Care of the Self in Sir Kenelm Digby’s Letter-Book In Praise of Venetia
This article focuses on the idiosyncratic conception of happiness Sir Kenelm Digby develops in the letters he wrote after the death of his wife in 1633. It contextualises Digby’s vision of happiness through an examination of the different traditions he revisits and appropriates to develop his personal and subjective ethics of self-care, mainly Renaissance Neoplatonism, the idealisation of conjugal love, the idealism of Italian poetry, and an ascetic model of widowhood linked to the tradition of spiritual mourning. It analyses how Digby’s conception of happiness, through its vindication of subjectivity and excess, challenges the early modern ethos of consolation and speculates on the reasons that may have led Digby to present his readers with such an extraordinary self-portrait.
Diversion, Pleasure and the Good
Pascal sees happiness (bonheur) as the ultimate goal of all human activity, but argues that experience shows it to be unattainable; our underlying condition is unhappiness. In the immediate, he argues, human activities are forms of diversion or distraction, by which we seek to screen from ourselves our unhappiness and mortality and to gratify our vanity. This analysis omits the role of pleasure, which he elsewhere identifies as the motive force of all volition. In order to reconcile this anomaly, we need to distinguish between the motive of our actions, the ultimate end they have in view, and the Supreme Good. The motive of our actions is pleasure, their ultimate end happiness, and the Supreme Good God, in union with whom authentic happiness consists.
In this article, I discuss Richard Brome’s tragicomedy The Queen and Concubine (1635–1636), focusing on how the play reflects the iconography of Charles I as well as Stuart ideals of statecraft. I argue that the play’s representation of a royal ruler in a pastoral setting draws on Van Dyck’s portraiture and on Charles I’s masques, as well as on Lipsius’s political concept of ‘love’. I claim that the play promotes a ‘politics of happiness’ which affirms the Caroline ideology of royal rule. My reading of Brome’s play aims at furthering the critical understanding of the cultural and political concerns shared by court drama and drama written for the commercial theatre in the Caroline period.
Images of London in Dissolution in the Novels of William Le Queux
In the years before 1914 the novels of William Le Queux provided a catalyst for British debates about the economic, military and political failures of the empire and featured plots that embodied fears about new national and imperial rivals. For Le Queux, the capture of London was integral to German military occupation. Representative of the nation’s will to resist, or its inability to withstand attack, the vitality of London was always at issue in his novels. Drawing on contemporary fears about the capital and its decay, this article considers the moral panics about London and Londoners and their relationship to Britain’s martial decline reflected in his stories. Engaging with images of anarchist and foreign terrorism, and drawing on fears of covert espionage rings operating in government circles, this article probes the ways in which Le Queux’s fiction expressed concerns about London as a degenerate metropolis in the process of social and moral collapse.