This is love’s paradox of sameness and difference: that it is universal and yet seems so infinitely variable. As human beings we are biologically disposed to seek love and affection, and to come into the world empty-handed may sentence us to dysfunction, depression, or worse. But it is equally true that the way we experience and conceptualise this basic need will differ according to culture, historical period, and individual experience.
This diversity has been the source of much confusion over the years, but we may soon, in the philosopher Irving Singer’s words, “be in a position to reconcile the divergent theories about love, to reach conceptions that will be defensible both as philosophy and as science.” I will begin this talk by raising the question of romantic love’s universality from a perspective of Darwinian interactionism, which I believe is uniquely equipped to integrate the best insights of the natural sciences (traditionally concerned with “nature”) and the humanities (“culture”). My second step will be to briefly apply these ideas to some four-hundred-year-old works by William Shakespeare. Four centuries is a long time by most standards, but it is merely the blink of an eye compared to the vast expanse of evolutionary time. So what makes Shakespeare our universal next-door neighbour in the treatment of love? And what is the most important difference between his amorous world and ours?
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