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William Shakespeare (1) vs. Karl Marx

For yesterday‘s winner, I’ll follow the reasoning of Manuel in comments:

Popper. We would learn more from falsifying the hypothesis that Popper’s talk is boring than what we would learn from falsifying the hypothesis that Richard Pryor’s talk is uninteresting.

And today we have the consensus choice for greatest writer vs. the notorious political philosopher. Marx is unseeded in the Founders of Religions category but he’s had lots of influence on the world. Both these guys are pretty quotable. So who’s it gonna be, the actor or the radical?

P.S. No Groucho jokes, please. And no need for reminders that lots of bad things were done in the name of Marxism. We’re choosing a seminar speaker here, that’s all. We’re not endorsing a philosophy.

P.P.S. As always, here’s the background, and here are the rules.


  1. brianG says:

    ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.’

    To me, that sounds like ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing’.

    The Bard gets my vote.

  2. Jonathan (another one) says:

    As near as I can figure, Shakespeare was nothing more than a guy who could string a bunch of famous phrases together and make a play out of them. It’s a talent, to be sure, but a fairly minor one. Plus, if he’s in love with Gwyneth Paltrow, I’m out.

    Back in graduate school, when I was a TA in the History of Economic Thought course for a crusty old conservative professor, he told me: “I always have my TA give one lecture, and if you don’t mind, I’d like you to give the one on Marx, because frankly my heart isn’t in it.” I suspect Marx on Marx is a lot more interesting than Jonathan (anther one) on Marx.

  3. David N says:

    I vote for Shakespeare just to see who actually shows up.

  4. babar says:

    it’s a shame to pit the two against each other – i would love to see how each of the two actually spoke in contrast to how they wrote.

    that being said i would vote for WS. very little is known about the man. i care very little about Marx’s mannerisms but i’d like to know if WS had modern day actor mannerisms. i’d like to see how he moved – is he a physical actor, or just a writer? i’d like to know the extent of his ego and what he thought of his own importance.

    i’d like him to write me a sonnet.

  5. Joe says:

    Karl Marx. Because a specter is haunting Europe, just not the same one.

  6. Jon M says:

    There’s so many more unknowns about Shakespeare that generations have tried to understand (who he was, whether he wrote all his plays, what he would think of his own longevity etc). Marx was comparatively recent enough, that we basically know what he has to say because he spent his life actively arguing and writing about it. The only argument for Marx is to see whether he would change any of his views after seeing the world today, but I suspect he basically wouldn’t.

    So I vote Shakespeare because I have know idea what he would say, but it would probably be something new (just don’t let him spend the time doing a reading of his work).

  7. Conor says:

    Shakespeare would have my vote if in fact Francis Bacon did turn out to be the true Bard. But, barring all conspiracy theories, I’m voting for Marx. I think he’d be an engaging and powerful speaker. Apparently one of the reasons he died broke (besides raging alcoholism) was the fact that he could never make much of a career as an essayist – he’d get approached to write a short piece about Ricardo, and end up turning in 100 pages of raging criticism instead. That could make for a somewhat rambling lecture, but it would at least make for an entertaining one.

  8. Xi'an says:

    The first one is a sentence carved into the entrance wall of Humbolt Universität, Berlin. Which shows relativity by the author. Meaning Karl get my vote. For using statistical arguments. And promoting rationality (at least in his writings). And because spending a year reading Das Kapital earns me the right to attend a lecture by Marx. And because there is no X in Shakespeare’s name.

  9. Manoel Galdino says:

    I vote for Marx. I see myself as an erratic marxist, like the greek finance minister. But the best thing on watching Marx as a speaker is to finally understand what the hell is dialetics after all.

  10. jrc says:

    I’ve sold my vote to Michel Foucault. He votes for Shakespeare:

    “Marxism exists in nineteenth century thought like a fish in water: that is, it is unable to breathe anywhere else.”

    So that doesn’t sound like a very fun seminar, what with the suffocating and the dying. Personally, I would’ve gone for Marx, but Michel promised me non-metaphorical opium if I gave him my vote – don’t know why, something about being locked in a room for eternity with some Marxists, but the email was tl;dr.

    1 vote for the English over the German guy, from the French guy

  11. James G says:

    Shakespeare on the condition he exclusively critiques the movie O.

  12. WB says:

    If Marx in person is anything like Marx on the page, kill me. So Shakespeare gets my vote.

  13. Brad Stiritz says:

    “If we wish to know the force of human genius we should read Shakespeare” ~Hazlitt

    [Of Shakespeare] “A being of a higher order to whom I look up” ~Goethe

    “I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honor to Shakespeare, that in his writing, whatsoever he penned, he never blotted out a line.” ~Ben Johnson

    Is there really any room for doubt? Across recorded history, WS rests at the apex of human achievement, along with very, very few others. His profound gifts in *communication* make him a near-certain bet to be worth listening to. Despite being a “middling actor” ;)

  14. anon says:

    Marx would bring an interesting engel to every debate.

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