Tolstoj and Shakespeare

Tolstoj and Shakespeare

Tolstoj and Shakespeare

Tolstoj and Shakespeare

Excerpt

The records of Tolstoi's life thus far, then, present a picture of only occasional, random reading of Shakespeare, persistent disparaging criticisms, frequent attempts at finding and exposing reasons for Shakespeare's popularity with others, and expressions of an increasing desire to come to grips with Shakespeare's fame and to present an argument against him fully and systematically.

It was in 1879 that Tolstoi took an important stept towards his long-wished-for formal presentation of the case against Shakespeare. He wrote What Is Art , in which he developed fully his theory of art and literature. He explained his opinions both by formal, general statement, and by examples of good and bad works. He made three fundamental demands on the artist: his work must be individual, clear, and sincere. Especially the last two requirements he was later to invoke against Shakespeare. In What Is Art he used the criterion of clarity to condemn works of many contemporary authors, including Maeterlinck, Mallarmé, and Verhaeren. We have already seen that Tolstoi agreed when his views on Shakespeare were likened to those of the French critics. In What Is Art , his critical principles make it fully evident that Tolstoi belonged in many respects to the tradition of French neoclassicism, particularly in his demand for absolute lucidity.

Very important to Tolstoi, however, were also the moralistic and religious criteria which he applied to literature. Having defined art as a work which provokes feelings (with which it . . .

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