In the novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, what does the character Helmholtz think of Shakespeare?

Expert Answers
chriseparker eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To start with, let’s establish some background found in Chapter 12 of Brave New World. Helmholtz reveals to his friend Bernard that Helmholtz himself got in trouble with the authorities for sharing his original verse about solitude as he lectured a class on  “the Use of Rhymes in Moral Propaganda and Advertisement.” The trouble, of course, came from the fact that Helmholtz writes about solitute. Here we learn that Helmholtz appreciates the power of rhyme to convince, and that he aspires to write verse himself.

Helmholtz, to Bernard’s dismay and jealously, bonds immediately with the Savage when Bernard introduces the two; the Savage returns Helmholtz's admiration. On the occasion of their third meeting, Helmholtz shares his original rhymes with the Savage, and this is where we learn that Helmholtz greatly admires Shakespeare’s poetry. As the Savage shares Shakespeare’s poem, “The Phoenix and the Turtle,” Huxley writes that:

Helmholtz listened with a growing excitement. At "sole Arabian tree" he started; at "thou shrieking harbinger" he smiled with sudden pleasure; at "every fowl of tyrant wing" the blood rushed up into his cheeks; but at "defunctive music" he turned pale and trembled with an unprecedented emotion.

Bernard, jealous of the bonding between the Savage and Helmholtz, bursts out with “Orgy Porgy.”  Bernard further uses outbursts like this to interrupt the Savage and Helmholtz when they share their admiration for poetic readings. We can see that Helmholtz enjoys these readings because he “...threatened to kick [Bernard] out of the room if he dared to interrupt again.”

Huxley writes about Helmholtz's reaction to Shakespeare that Helmholtz thinks Shakespeare is a master at propaganda:

...taken detail by verbal detail, what a superb piece of emotional engineering! "That old fellow," [Helmholtz] said, "he makes our best propaganda technicians look absolutely silly."

We can see that as the Savage shares more of Shakespeare’s writing by reading Romeo and Juliet, that Helmholtz admires Shakespeare’s ability and craft. He does not, however, admire or understand the romantic love or family relationships. Helmholtz himself interrupts the Savage’s reading of the scene in Romeo & Juliet when Juliet despairs about marrying Paris. "Helmholtz broke out in an explosion of uncontrollable guffawing."

The Savage is so offended by Helmholtz’s behavior that he puts his book away. Helmholtz apologizes for his laughter, but he clearly cannot identify with the mothers and fathers in R&J, nor about “...who's going to get excited about a boy having a girl or not having her?"

Thus, Shakespeare’s craft, the writing itself, is what Helmholtz admires, but he cannot understand the content and the relationships in Shakespeare's story.

Further Reading:
florine | Student

  One of the interest points that pertain to the conversation between Helmholtz and the Savage is the fact that Helmoltz, in Chapter 10,  considers Shakespeare, "the old fellow", to be "such a marvellous propaganda technician"! He doesn't say that Shakespeare's craftsmanship is overestimated but what he says is even worse! It implies that the values of the old world based on family ties and so on were but another form of conditioning. Oddly enough, Helmholz is persuaded that the violence and madness found in Shakespeare are absolutely necessary and must be found somewhere else: "But what? What? Where can one find it? He was silent; then, shaking his head, I don't know, he said at last, i don't know." At the end,  Helmholz is beset by doubts because of the savage's strong convictions and because of the objections he raised.

Read the study guide:
Brave New World

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