Poets at Play: An Anthology of Modernist Drama

Poets at Play: An Anthology of Modernist Drama

Poets at Play: An Anthology of Modernist Drama

Poets at Play: An Anthology of Modernist Drama

Excerpt

In the 1989 film The Dead Poets' Society, a charismatic poetry teacher, John Keating (played by Robin Williams), instructs his class to rip out the introduction to their textbook anthology, Understanding Poetry, by the fictional Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, PhD. “Rip it out!” Keating exhorts his students, “I want to hear nothing but the sounds of ripping!” Not content with mere close reading, the pupils of Keating’s class spend almost two minutes of screen time literally tearing apart the three-page introduction. Pritchard’s introduction, a fictional parody of New Criticism, offers a systematic method of analysis by which the “greatness” of a poem can be calculated as the total area of “how artfully the objective of the poem has been rendered” multiplied by “how important is that objective.” Keating’s objections to Pritchard are precisely this systematic, analytical (dare we say boring?) approach, which he attacks as the work of “armies of academics going forward measuring poetry.” Like his Romantic-poet namesake John Keats, Keating espouses the importance of feeling; but unlike the Romantics, the cinematic Mr. Keating replaces poetry with performance. Although its lead characters espouse the virtues of language, the film itself demon . . .
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