'Rightly to be great': Dionysiac Greatness in Nietzsche and Shakespeare

  • Andrew Grundy

Student thesis: Phd


Abstract This thesis reads Dionysiac greatness in Nietzsche and Shakespeare from three critical viewpoints. First, it reviews the operations of active and reactive forces, using Gilles Deleuze’s interpretation of Nietzsche—with their emphasis on the notions of misery, sickness and ressentiment—and how these are discovered in Shakespeare’s Sonnets along with the relationship between Hal and Falstaff in Henry IV Part 1 and 2. Second, it examines the dispossession of identity—as developed by Pierre Klossowski in his Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle along with the notion of ‘rapture’ elaborated by Martin Heidegger—which is read into Hamlet, with its emphasis on the questioning of identity, followed by a discussion of the dissolution of identity in Macbeth. Finally, the relationship between greatness and femininity through Jacques Derrida’s identification of the affirming woman in Nietzsche’s writing, in opposition to the reactive binary of the castrated and castrating woman, is read into Shakespeare’s Coriolanus—where Volumnia is interpreted as the epitome of the castrating woman—then Twelfth Night and Sonnet 20, with their concomitant motifs of the destabilisation of gender, which are seen to look forward to the affirmative woman. The conclusion extends these readings by examining Nietzsche’s comparisons between art, life, truth and women, considering how these relate to Shakespeare, arguing finally for Nietzsche’s ‘ultimate gratitude to Shakespeare’. Within this context, this thesis brings together Nietzsche and Shakespeare against a critical legacy that has largely downplayed their connection. Exploring this relationship through the motif of greatness allows the thesis to consider afresh the influence Shakespeare had in Nietzsche’s writing as well as showing how using Nietzsche in Shakespearean studies develops our understanding of his oeuvre in new and original ways. The thesis intervenes in critical discussion of both writers by utilising a range of theoretical positions in order to advance our understanding of greatness, including deconstructive approaches, psychoanalytic interpretation, gender theory and feminism. Each chapter has four parts, opening with an introduction that connects Nietzsche with the Shakespearean texts to be discussed, followed by an explication of Nietzsche’s interpreters, then an application of these Nietzschean viewpoints to the Shakespearean texts. Whilst each chapter of the thesis builds on its predecessor, they can also be read as exploring different viewpoints on greatness owing to their differing concerns with reactive forces, identity, ‘non-identity’ and the feminine. This is intended to show that there is no ‘single’ definition of ‘greatness’ but rather that ‘greatness’ as a motif can only be understood from varied critical perspectives. The movement of the thesis, as it explores Shakespeare in connection to Nietzsche, has its foundation in Nietzsche’s claim that we must strive to move from reactive sickness and asceticism to the affirmation of difference beyond the restrictions of identity in favour of the active forces of the body: that is, to move ‘beyond good and evil’.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDaniela Caselli (Supervisor) & Jerome De Groot (Supervisor)


  • Nietzsche, Shakespeare, Greatness, Dionysian, Reactive Forces, Active Forces, Ressentiment, Sickness, Misery, Rapture, Ambition, Women, Affirmative Woman, Art, Truth, Life

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