The Modernist Shakespeare: Critical Texts in a Material World

The Modernist Shakespeare: Critical Texts in a Material World

The Modernist Shakespeare: Critical Texts in a Material World

The Modernist Shakespeare: Critical Texts in a Material World

Synopsis

Every epoch recreates its classical icons--and for literary culture no icon is more central or more protean than Shakespeare. Even though finding the authentic Shakespeare has been a goal of scholarship since the eighteenth century, he has always been constructed as a contemporary author. In this critical study, Grady charts the construction of Shakespeare as a twentieth-century text, redirecting "new historicist" methods to an investigation of the social roots of contemporary Shakespeare criticism. Beginning with the formation of professionalism as an ideology in the Victorian Age, this theoretically-informed study describes widespread attempts to save the values of the cultural tradition, in reformulated Modernist guise, from the threat of professionalist postivism in modern universities.

Excerpt

Shakespearian criticism has long been in search of the authentic, Shakespearian meaning, and almost every critic, including this one, writes as if she had come to be in possession of it. In fact, as had been recognized as early as the eighteenth century, the book-world of Shakespeare commentary is a scandal, a paper battlefield where armies of both ignorant and learned tilt and joust at each other in an ineffectual but never-ending contest of interpretations. Long ago, well before the mass of critical writings on Shakespeare reached the voluminous proportions of today's professional and international libraries of commentary, Hazlitt had sardonically observed that if we wished to perceive the splendours of human achievement, we should read Shakespeare; but if we wish to view the follies of human ingenuity, we may look to his commentators.

In undertaking this study of the history of Shakespeare criticism in the modem era, I have been more than once reminded of that acerbic observation from one of the great figures in Shakespeare commentary. But my aim here is not to despair at the unmanageable bulk and contention, the folly and arrogance, of so much critical discourse. It is rather to make use of the unique qualities of Shakespeare criticism in order to investigate and clarify the institutions and cultural forms which produce it--and produce as well the vast outpourings of the entire professionalized literary-critical enterprise in the modem world.

In what follows I will say very little of those curious abstractions of the critical imagination, 'Shakespeare himself', and 'the plays themselves'. It is not that I object to critical writing aimed at attempting to define the meaning of a work, its qualities as art and discourse, its relation to history and society. As long as we keep reading Shakespeare (and I take it as nonsense to suppose that we should or will ever stop reading him, if our culture survives), such writing--and the talking and teaching that accompanies it--is inevitable and needed. Here, however, I want to suspend momentarily that conversation and instead undertake a reflective discourse on the underlying assumptions which make such necessary and sometimes admirable talk and writing poss-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

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.