A magnum opus from our finest interpreter of The Bard.
The true biography of Shakespeare -- and the only one we need to care about -- is in his plays. Frank Kermode, Britain's most distinguished scholar of sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century literature, has been thinking about Shakespeare's plays all his life. This book is a distillation of that lifetime of thinking.
The finest tragedies written in English were all composed in the first decade of the seventeenth century, and it is generally accepted that the best ones were Shakespeare's. Their language is often difficult, and it must have been hard even for contemporaries to understand. How did this language develop? How did it happen that Shakespeare's audience could appreciate Hamlet at the beginning of the decade and Coriolanus near the end of it?
In this long-awaited work, Kermode argues that something extraordinary started to happen to Shakespeare's language at a date close to 1600, and he sets out to explore the nature and consequences of the dynamic transformation that followed. For it is in the magnificent, suggestive power of the poetic language itself that audiences have always found meaning and value. The originality of Kermode's argument, the elegance and humor of his prose, and the intelligence of his discussion make this a landmark in Shakespearean studies.
Pleasure is not usually associated with reading literary criticism, but this work of beauty and grace by one of our most distinguished critics is in no way typical textual analysis. Aiming less at specialists than at "a non-professional audience with an interest in Shakespeare that has not... been well served by modern critics," Kermode writes from a conviction that "every other aspect of Shakespeare is studied almost to death, but the fact that he was a poet has somehow dropped out of consideration." Kermode's thesis is both basic and subtle: around 1600, he argues, the Bard's already masterful works "moved up to a new level of achievement and difficulty"; Kermode associates a "turning point" with Hamlet and the poem "The Phoenix and the Turtle." In proof of this, he demonstrates certain linguistic "matrices" that become "fundamental to Shakespeare's procedures" and identifies passages that represent a new linguistic "suppleness" and "muscularity." He devotes particular attention to the four great tragedies written at the height of Shakespeare's powers: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. While Kermode's concern is with the Bard's verse, he betrays no simplistic notions about literary language operating in a vacuum. A careful, close analysis of passages in each play is informed by a breathtaking knowledge of Elizabethan history and culture, as well as by the entire history of Shakespeare criticism from Coleridge to Eliot and the new historicists. Kermode's volume succeeds in doing the two things a great work of literary criticism should: it makes us want to read and reread the original texts in light of the critic's findings, and it makes us wonder how the literary world has been getting along without this work for so long. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|