William Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 6

By Brian Vickers | Go to book overview

Preface

This, the last of the projected number of volumes for Shakespeare in this series, brings the story up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. Those who have followed it through the six volumes will note many continuities of attitude and critical method, but also their gradual transformation, under the impact of debate and disagreement. What this volume shows especially clearly is the emergence of Romantic, and some modern, conceptions of Shakespeare directly out of the Neo-classic system, partly by extension (on the question of characterization, for instance), and partly by a re-formulation of the analytical model, in order to counter the negative criticisms of Shakespeare that the Neo-classic model had produced. In order to grant Shakespeare his true status, proclaimed on every side, it was necessary to reform the critical system, and the process can be traced here in the commentary of Capell, and in the analyses of Hamlet’s character produced by Mackenzie, Richardson, and Robertson. As we read their work of the 1780s we see that we are within a stone’s throw of Hazlitt and Coleridge.

Not all aspects of Shakespeare’s reception and understanding reveal such a metamorphosis. In editing and textual criticism scholarship develops unevenly, with backward as well as forward movement. As I recorded in Vol. 2, when we turn from Pope’s edition to Theobald’s, we move from a brilliant poet but dilettante critic, tinkering with the text to make it conform to his own taste in language and morals, arbitrarily rejecting as spurious whatever did not please him, to the first modern scholar-critic, who established many of the methods by which Shakespeare’s text was corrected and properly understood. I still maintain my high estimate of Theobald, although increased acquaintance with the work of Edward Capell has given me even greater respect for his combination of intelligence, good sense, enormous range of learning, minute accuracy, scrupulousness of detail, and the ability to visualize a text in theatrical terms, a grasp of its totality which is rare in any age and was unique in his own. Yet to make such an

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