William Shakespeare

Thomas Jefferson owned numerous volumes of writings by William Shakespeare, as well as several essays and analyses of Shakespeare's work. Despite a general skepticism regarding works of fiction, Jefferson clearly enjoyed Shakespeare and considered his work to be a valuable component of education. In a letter to Robert Skipwith, Jefferson expressed his opinion that Shakespeare demonstrated that quality fiction could serve to augment the moral lessons found in history. He wrote, "a lively and lasting sense of filial duty is more effectually impressed on the mind of a son or daughter by reading King Lear, than by all the dry volumes of ethics and divinity that ever were written."[1] In an 1818 letter to Nathaniel Burwell, Jefferson, discussing the merits of educating women, deemed Shakespeare to be one of the few poets whose works were beneficial, rather than detrimental, to education. Shakespeare, according to Jefferson, "may be read with pleasure and improvement."[2]

- Alana Speth, 7/9/07

Footnotes

  • 1. Jefferson to Skipwith, August 3, 1771, in PTJ, 1:77. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 2. Jefferson to Burwell, March 14, 1818, in Ford, 10:104-06.

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