Coleridge and “Interpretive Communities”
TILLYARD’S EVALUATION OF COLERIDGE AS THE “GREATEST” ENGLISH master of “theoretical criticism” (Tillyard, p. ix) as explained in the previous chapter on Lamb, is acceptable, considering that Coleridge borrowed terms and ideas from the writings of his British predecessors1 and from German philosophers and critics, then applied and synthesized them into his own principles and theories. Tillyard’s term “theoretical criticism” is employed to indicate both Coleridge’s lack of Lamb’s “quality of self-surrender sufficiently to make his criticism of authors supreme” and his greatness in “his many brilliant aphorisms on literary theory” (Tillyard, pp. ix–x). It refers to Coleridge’s professionalism and range of critical interests, in contrast to Lamb’s “amateurishness and lack of range” (Tillyard, p. xi). This emphasis on Coleridge’s intellectual drive towards the implementation of critical assumptions, however, does not imply that his practice of Shakespeare criticism is reducible to critical dogma, but that he applied what he identified as the theoretical background to the judgment of Shakespeare’s characters and their actions.
Similarly Jonathan Bate juxtaposes Coleridge with Lamb, using the device of the Shakespearean comparison. Bate proposes that Coleridge’s identification with Hamlet and Lamb’s sympathy for Kent in his tale of King Lear are models for the relationship between their Shakespearean criticisms: “Kent is a furnisher of common sense remarks and single pithy insights; Hamlet philosophizes on them at length, occasionally wrong-headed or eccentric, always brilliant and enthusiastic.”2 He conceives of these two models as standing comparison with, and being complementary to, one another: “Lamb plays Kent, the loyal servant, not to Lear but to Coleridge’s Hamlet,” therefore “Put together, the two give us Shakespearean criticism at its best.”3 This account suggests that the ideal practice of Shake