A SHORT HISTORY OF SHAKESPEAREAN CRITICISM by Arthur M. Eastman
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A SHORT HISTORY OF SHAKESPEAREAN CRITICISM

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Shakespeare is a God but he's worshipped in different ways. Victor Hugo thought of him as a great ocean, full of infinite possibilities, as did Hazlitt. For Johnson, his ""drama is the mirror of life."" Coleridge regarded him as a natural force, something wild and universal. Like a God, too, Shakespeare has had his share of disbelievers: Voltaire mocked the ghost in Hamlet. Tolstoy thought the situation in King Lear mbecilic, and Shaw was sniffy about everything. But these three are merely prodigal sons, or fallen souls who would rather reign in hell than sing hymns in heaven. In any case, since Ben Jonson, who loved his contemporary ""on this side of Idolatry,"" the supremacy of Shakespeare as poet and dramatist has been a critical commonplace. Of course, each generation presents its own portrait: some simply modify certain features, while others, like Morgann, for instance, with his demonstration that Falstaff was not a coward, alter the look of things radically. Professor Eastman's chronicle is the best work of its kind this reviewer has ever read. The coverage is ample, concise, and spirited; the scholarship of the highest order: and the quotations always selected with sensitivity and point. Reading his work one is reminded how many great men (Lessing, Goethe, Lamb, Pater) and intelligent critics (Bradley, Knight, Granville-Barker, Frye) have, in writing about Shakespeare, composed their finest essays. The ideas discussed, the analyses of character and creativity, form and music, are continually challenging, varied and robust. A splendid introduction to a protean subject.

Pub Date: June 12th, 1968
Publisher: Random House