Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy

Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy

Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy

Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy

Excerpt

Critical interpretations of Shakespeare's plays are somewhat like pianistic interpretations of Beethoven's sonatas. If true to the art they elucidate, they will in each case seem much like other interpretations. The similarities will necessarily outweigh the differences; for the words and the notes are already there. The plays are Shakespeare's and the sonatas are Beethoven's, not the property of the interpreter. What is better or worse in interpretations will reside not in originalities or critical individualism, but in subtleties of tone and conception attendant upon a responsibility to attain as nearly as possible to the work of art as its author set it down.

In the discussions that now follow, accordingly, there has been no attempt at novelty. But these readings perhaps exhibit more of a variation in their likeness to received opinion—sometimes coinciding almost exactly with that opinion, at other times diverging considerably—than is usual within the pages of any one book on Shakespeare. This effect is dictated by the circumstances of their development; for they arose, quite without reference to the work of other critics and scholars, simply as the product of meditating on and teaching the plays over a number of years.

That there are drawbacks to such a form of development is obvious; but that there are advantages might also be true. If in the first instance the critic runs the risk of becoming attached to errors from which the labors of other scholars might have saved him, he also frees himself from the burden of misunderstandings that are sometimes passed from scholar to scholar. In any event, such a form of development is possible because those things that lastingly affect us in Shakespeare cannot be conceived as the preserve of antiquarian scholarship. Shakespeare commands us not as a writer bound by the conventions and local options of a bygone milieu, but because he penetrated beyond such ephemera to the larger realities of human nature and of recurring human experience. And those realities are open to everyone's understanding. "I would be willing to live," said Coleridge, "only as long as Shakespeare were the mirror to nature."

My friends, Albert Cook, William R. Elton, Arthur C. Kirsch . . .

Author Advanced search

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.