Brave New World

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Shakespeare Symbol Analysis

Shakespeare Symbol Icon
In Brave New World, Shakespeare represents two things. First, he represents all of the art that has been rejected and destroyed by the World State in the interest of maintaining stability. Second, the powerful emotion, passion, love, and beauty on display in Shakespeare's plays stand for all of the noble aspects of humanity that have been sacrificed by the World State in its effort to make sure all of its citizens are always happy.

Shakespeare Quotes in Brave New World

The Brave New World quotes below all refer to the symbol of Shakespeare. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Dystopia and Totalitarianism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper Perennial edition of Brave New World published in 2006.
Chapter 8 Quotes
"O brave new world," he repeated. "O brave new world that has such people in it. Let's start at once."
Related Characters: John (the Savage) (speaker), Bernard Marx, Helmholtz Watson, Lenina Crowne
Related Symbols: Shakespeare
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

Bernard and Lenina have travelled to the Savage Reservation, where they have witnessed a man be whipped and met John, a white man dressed as a savage. John has told Bernard what he can remember of his life story, and Bernard promises to take John and his mother, Linda, back with him to the World State. When Bernard tells John he is not married to Lenina, John joyfully exclaims, "O brave new world that has such people in it," a line from Shakespeare's play The Tempest. Because he has been raised on the Savage Reservation, John's only knowledge of the outside world comes through the works of Shakespeare, and it is fitting that he quotes from The Tempest, a play that explores the themes of exploration, colonization, and civilization.

John's love for Lenina and excitement at his initial impressions of the World State highlight the superficial appeal of the society depicted in the novel. However, as Bernard points out when he responds that John should wait to see the "brave new world" before he gets too excited, beneath this superficial appeal lies a dystopian reality. Indeed, it will take the perspective of John––an outsider––to expose the "brave new world" for what it really is. 

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Chapter 12 Quotes
Why was [Shakespeare] such a marvellous propaganda technician? Because he had so many insane, excruciating things to get excited about. You've got to be hurt and upset; otherwise you can't think of the really good, penetrating X-rayish phrases.
Related Characters: Helmholtz Watson (speaker)
Related Symbols: Shakespeare
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

Bernard has unsuccessfully tried to throw a party to show off John the Savage, but John refused to leave his room and appear at the event. Meanwhile, Helmholtz's students have reported him to the government for writing a poem about being alone. In this passage, during the party, John and Helmholtz discuss Shakespeare; at first, Helmholtz is unable to get over how ridiculous he finds Romeo and Juliet, but then undergoes a moment of realization during which his evaluation of the play changes. While it seems strange to Helmholtz for anyone to be as "hurt and upset" as the characters in Romeo and Juliet, he begins to trace the connection between these painful feelings and the existence of great works of art. Indeed, he realizes, if people remain in a state of constance satisfaction and emotional satiety, they cannot create anything of real value. 

Note that even as Helmholtz arrives at this subversive realization, he cannot help but frame it in terms particular to his conditioned mindset; Shakespeare is not a playwright but a "propaganda technician," and his writing is not insightful but "X-rayish." Huxley once again explores the boundary of just how far human thought can be controlled, and to what extent people are able to remain critical of the world into which they are born. 

Chapter 16 Quotes
You've got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art.
Related Characters: Mustapha Mond (speaker)
Related Symbols: Shakespeare
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

During his conversation with John the Savage, Mustapha Mond has revealed that he is one of the few people in the World State who has read Shakespeare. Mond has laughed at John for expecting the Deltas to "understand" Shakespeare's play Othello; when John insists that Shakespeare is better than the "feelies," Mond concedes that this is true, but that sacrificing high art is the price that must be paid for general happiness.

This exchange makes explicit one of the major themes of the novel: that there is a direct connection between freedom, suffering, and "high art." While Mond does not deny this connection, he believes that high art is less important than happiness and stability, and thus reasons that it is preferable to live in a world without it. 

Chapter 17 Quotes
"In fact', said Mustapha Mond, 'you're claiming the right to be unhappy.'
'All right then,' said the Savage defiantly, 'I'm claiming the right to be unhappy.'
Related Characters: John (the Savage) (speaker), Mustapha Mond (speaker)
Related Symbols: Shakespeare
Page Number: 240
Explanation and Analysis:

Mustapha Mond has conceded that it is necessary for people to occasionally experience negative emotions, and explained that this is why the World State forces citizens to undergo Violent Passion Surrogate, or V.P.S., once per month. He argues that this is a way to reap the benefits of "fear and rage... without any of the inconveniences." John responds that he wants the inconveniences, and Mond concludes that John is "claiming the right to be unhappy." This exchange contains the key philosophical question raised by the novel. For John, the "right to be unhappy" gives life meaning; while the citizens of the World State are happy, to John it is far better to be unhappy, as long as one retains one's individual identity and freedom.

Although Mustapha Mond's contrasting view is shown to be somewhat appealing and persuasive, this is undermined by Mond's powerful and unique position within society. As a former scientist who has had access to "high art" such as Shakespeare, Mond is able to retain his individual identity and exercise rational thought and choice, all while maintaining power and authority over the masses. While Mond is confident that life under the World State is preferable for everyone, the agitation and dissatisfaction shown by characters such as Bernard and Helmholtz suggests that Mond is perhaps mistaken. The example of John indicates that, given the choice, it seems that most (unconditioned) people would choose "the right to be unhappy" over being controlled and conditioned into happiness. 

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Shakespeare Symbol Timeline in Brave New World

The timeline below shows where the symbol Shakespeare appears in Brave New World. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 7
Individuality Theme Icon
...dressed like an Indian, but has blond hair and blue eyes. He says in peculiar (Shakespearean) English that he wishes he were the one who had been whipped. Lenina asks him... (full context)
Chapter 8
The Cost of Happiness Theme Icon
Individuality Theme Icon
...from her work in the Hatcheries... Popé brings him a book: the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Inspired by Hamlet, he tries to stab Pope. Popé laughs off what is just a... (full context)
Technology and Control Theme Icon
Individuality Theme Icon
...married to Lenina. Bernard bursts out laughing. John is overjoyed, and quotes a line from Shakespeare's The Tempest: "O brave new world, that has such people in it." (full context)
Chapter 11
Technology and Control Theme Icon
The Cost of Happiness Theme Icon
Individuality Theme Icon
...her apartment, but he says good night in a strangled way. Later, the Savage reads Shakespeare's Othello to calm himself down. Lenina, upset he didn't want to sleep with her, takes... (full context)
Chapter 12
Technology and Control Theme Icon
The Cost of Happiness Theme Icon
Individuality Theme Icon
Helmholtz and the Savage like each other immensely, and Helmholtz is mesmerized by Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet, however, makes Helmholtz laugh. The entire plot strikes him as ridiculous. But... (full context)