Sunday, February 28, 2021

Paula Marantz Cohen's "Of Human Kindness"

Paula Marantz Cohen is the Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University, as well as host of the television interview show The Civil Discourse.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Of Human Kindness: What Shakespeare Teaches Us About Empathy, and reported the following:
Page 99 occurs toward the end of my chapter on King Lear, about ¾ of the way through my short book. I’ve just completed a close reading of Lear that presents it as as a cautionary tale for parents of adult children. Lear has been an abominable parent—one who encouraged competition among his children for his love and he now compounds his bad parenting by refusing to step aside in old age (he wants to give up his kingdom but not his sense of priority). He suffers the consequences. I argue that the play helps us see the marginality that comes with aging and how important it is to accept this philosophically and with magnanimity.

This page is actually an excellent sample of the work as a whole—indeed, it is exceptionally reflective of my method and what I feel the book does best: i.e., read Shakespeare in light of my own and my students’ experience and show how the plays, read in a loosely chronological fashion, encourage readers to enlarge their empathetic imagination.

This is one of the few points in the book when I address my own limitations as a parent but also where I try to show myself some empathy. It’s a very felicitous choice because the page contains what I think, retrospectively, is one of the most honest lines in the book:

“My response [to Lear] may be connected to knowing my own tendency to be manipulative and histrionic as a parent. I am hard on myself and, by extension, hard on Lear.”
Visit Paula Marantz Cohen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue