Why Shakespeare Is For All Time
'A decade ago, the psychiatrist Peter Kramer published a book called Listening to Prozac, which claimed that our understanding of neurochemistry was so advanced that we would soon be able to design—and no doubt to vary—our personalities according to our tastes. Henceforth there would be no more angst. He based his prediction upon the case histories of people given the supposed wonder drug who not merely recovered from depression but emerged with new, improved personalities.
Yet the prescription of the drug (and others like it) to millions of people has not noticeably reduced the sum total of human misery or the perplexity of life. A golden age of felicity has not arrived: and the promise of a pill for every ill remains, as it always will, unfulfilled.
Anyone who had read his Shakespeare would not have been surprised by this disappointment. When Macbeth asks a physician:
Canst thou not minister to a
Pluck from the memory a
Raze out the written troubles
of the brain,
And with some sweet
Cleanse the stuffed bosom
of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?
The physician replies laconically: “Therein the patient / Must minister to himself.”
Every day, several patients ask me Macbeth’s question with regard to themselves—in less elevated language, to be sure—and they expect a positive answer...'
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