Over the past couple of years, I volunteered to teach in the West Tennessee State Penitentiary, where I was part of a faculty cohort that offers humanities seminars to incarcerated women.
The program director had invited me to discuss a play, but I didn’t think I could do justice to a drama in just two brief sessions. So we read Shakespeare’s sonnets instead. Right choice! One student, Aja, was so enthusiastic that she came to the first class having already translated her favorite into her own verse.
The sparse classroom has a corkboard on one wall whose dimensions mirror the shape of a sonnet on the page, giving us a good visual analogue for the form: why would an artist choose to work within such a frame? G. K. Chesterton, who held that art consists in limitation, was only half jesting when he asserted that the most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.
How to Think like Shakespeare
From the footnotes, original source:
Cited by Ian Ker, Chesterton: A Biography (Oxford University Press, 2012), 254.
“If the madman could for an instant become careless, he would become sane. Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”
Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton
QUESTION: Was it Chesterton who said, “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly”?
ANSWER: A resounding Yes! The line, which has shown up on posters, cards, needlepoints, and calendars everywhere, actually reads “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.” It comes from the chapter entitled “The Eternal Revolution,” in Chesterton’s great book, Orthodoxy.
via The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton
In the preface to that admirable collection of essays of his called ‘Heretics,’ Mr. Chesterton writes these words: “There are some people–and I am one of them–who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether, in the long run, anything else affects them.”
I think with Mr. Chesterton in this matter. I know that you, ladies and gentlemen, have a philosophy, each and all of you, and that the most interesting and important thing about you is the way in which it determines the perspective in your several worlds. You know the same of me.
Pragmatism, A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking – William James