Ethics and femininity: Emmanuel Levinas, William Shakespeare, and the other

Melissa Diane Azar, University of Texas at El Paso


In his book, Ethics and Infinity, Emmanuel Levinas states that in looking at the encounter with the other, it is responsibility that enforces the genuine relationship between two people. Levinas suggests that in dealing with the other, one must first consider one’s duty towards him or her before considering the self. One must detach from the needs and desires of the self, focusing primarily on the encounter with the other and additionally considering the other a separate and alternate being who should not be imposed upon. The respect that one has for the alterity of the other moreover contributes to what Levinas considers the ethical relationship, and in maintaining the alterity of the other one reinforces one’s own individuality. The plays of William Shakespeare examine the nature of relationships between two people, suggesting particular action by the audience through his characters. In two of his comedies, Twelfth Night and As You Like It, the heroines Rosalind and Viola not only exhibit the ethical encounter with the other, but also do so disguised as men. Through the detachment and selflessness that each disguise promotes, the women display an active duty towards the other, dissolving illusions of love and of life, therefore promoting an appreciation of reality. Shakespeare’s women exhibit respect for the alterity of the other while embracing their own individuality, suggesting to his audience the importance of the ethical relationship that Levinas endorses.

Subject Area

Literature|Theater|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Azar, Melissa Diane, "Ethics and femininity: Emmanuel Levinas, William Shakespeare, and the other" (2007). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1457880.