Essays in Literary Criticism of George Santayana

By Irving Singer; George Santayana | Go to book overview

TRAGIC PHILOSOPHY

IN COMPARING a passage from Macbeth with one from the Paradiso, Mr. T. S. Eliot tells us that poetically the two are equally good, but that the philosophy in Shakespeare is inferior. By what standard, I am tempted to ask, may the poetic value of different types of poetry in different languages be declared equal? By the equal satisfaction, perhaps, that fills the critic's mind? But the total allegiance of a mature person, his total joy in anything, can hardly be independent of his developed conscience and his sense for ultimate realities. He cannot be utterly enchanted by what he feels to be trivial or false. And if he is not utterly enchanted, how should he recognise the presence of the supremely beautiful? Two passages could hardly be pronounced equal in poetic force if the ultimate suggestions of the one were felt to be inferior to those of the other.

Admitting, then, that poetry expressing an inferior philosophy would to that extent be inferior poetry, we may ask this further question: In what respect other than truth may philosophies be called inferior or superior? Perhaps in being more or less poetical or religious, more or less inspired? Sometimes a philosophy may spring up imaginatively, and in that sense may be inspired rather than strictly reasoned or observed, as the myths of Plato are inspired; but nobody would call such inspired philosophy superior unless he felt it to spring from the total needs and total wisdom of the heart; and in that case he would certainly believe, or at least hope, that this superior philosophy was true. How then should the poetic expression of this inspired philosophy not be conspicuously superior as poetry, and more utterly enchanting, than the expression of any other philosophy?

Let me postpone generalities, and turn to the passages in question.

-266-

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Essays in Literary Criticism of George Santayana
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • A Note About This Edition v
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction: Santayana As A Literary Critic ix
  • Part I - Three Philosophical Poets 1
  • Part II - Critical Essays 75
  • The Homeric Hymns 77
  • Platonic Love In Some Italian Poets 94
  • Cervantes 112
  • Hamlet 120
  • The Absence of Religion In Shakespeare 137
  • The Poetry Of Barbarism 149
  • Hints of Egotism In Goethe 179
  • Shelley: or the Poetic Value Of Revolutionary Principles 186
  • Leopardi 208
  • Dickens 210
  • Emerson 224
  • Penitent Art 234
  • Proust On Essences 241
  • The Last Puritan 246
  • Preface 246
  • Tragic Philosophy 266
  • Part III - Critical Theory 279
  • The Elements And Function of Poetry 281
  • Speech And Signification 304
  • Poetry And Prose 317
  • Literary Form 336
  • Literary Psychology 394
  • Mythology 402
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