Knowing and Forgiving

  • Regina M. Schwartz
Part of the Crossroads of Knowledge in Early Modern Literature book series (CKEML, volume 1)


The knowledge that retribution seeks is certain knowledge, gleaned from evidence, testimony, witness and confession. Such retribution is based on inchoate ideas about the justice of hurting the hurter, evening the score, although as long ago as Plato, the insight has been available that punishment only redoubles harm. Forgiveness, in contrast, seeks a knowledge that is inevitably partial, known only by the sufferer; and yet, forgiveness generates new knowledge, that the wrongdoer can be re-oriented toward the good. This process of restoration, toward the good, but also toward the repair of a broken relationship, is a long, mutual process of acknowledgement: of wrongdoing, of pain, of suffering; and it includes rebuke, the calling to attention of one’s moral transgression. According to the Bible, we bear a responsibility to rebuke offenders. Rebuke, from the Bible on through its commentators, holds a key place in the process of forgiveness, and we can see it at work in Hamlet: a play that stages rebuke, rather than retribution, as an effective response to transgression.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Regina M. Schwartz
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

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