Shakespearian Tragedy

Shakespearian Tragedy

Shakespearian Tragedy

Shakespearian Tragedy

Excerpt

The honour of being invited to be the Clark Lecturer to Trinity College, Cambridge, may well go to any man's head, swell his presumption and inveigle him, in choosing his subject, to fly well beyond his capacity. Obviously, I have done this in choosing Shakespearian Tragedy as my theme. In mitigation of such presumptuousness, I have but one decent motive to plead. It is a matter of professional morality. For the whole of my adult life, I have earned my living as a teacher of literature. It is a profession which Plutarch put third in a list of the most desirable and worthy occupations (though he somewhat spoils the compliment to such teachers by putting at the head of this list a form of livelihood which it is hard to describe as other than sponging on a monarch). The academic world does not appear to be hostile to Plutarch's appraisement of professors of literature; at all events, almost every university has founded chairs of literature. The motive for this must lie in a belief that literature as such has its own special contribution to make to the moral or spiritual well-being of mankind. Even for a sojourner in an Epicurean garden, 'l'œuvre la plus haute n'a de prix que par ses rapports avec la vie; mieux je saisis ces rapports, plus je m'interesse á l'œuvre', as Anatole France put it, and he was not thinking of a Marxian world. If this belief be well-founded, then the greater the literature, the greater must be its potential spiritual or moral worth. From this it follows that, however much for their private hobbies the stipendiary teachers of literature may rightly revel in intriguing by-ways and in exhumations of poetae ignoti whom the world has willingly and wisely let die, yet in their public office they must not skip lightly over the giants of literature. It is the duty of every professor of literature to say his say on Shakespeare and on what Shakespeare means to the world. To . . .

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