ON SHAKESPEARE by Northrop Frye


Email this review


A boon to both Shakespearean scholars and readers dipping into the Bard's works for the first time. Frye, after nearly a half-century as one of the world's most eminent literary critics, retains an enthusiasm for and a refreshingly down-to-earth approach to material that seems to bring out the Polonius in many interpreters. No pontificating here, no overworked aphorisms; just lively, sensible, constantly stimulating insights into Shakespeare's plays, their anther, conventions, layered meanings, the times in which they were composed and their relevance to us today. Frye focuses his attention on 10 works--comedies, histories, tragedies and romances. In analyzing these, he compares and contrasts them with other examples, finally discussing almost the entire canon in the process. The lengthy treatise is dotted with perceptive comments about everything from the attempts of some of today's directors to ""update"" the plays (""if he's some idiot who wants to. . .set The Tempest on the planet Mars, you're not all right, and neither is the play"") to hints for reading the texts most rewardingly (""assume you're directing the play and have to think of what kind of people you would choose to play what parts, and where you would place them on stage and get them on and off""), In one of his most provocative passages, Frye speculates that, while Hamlet may have been the central Shakespearean play to 19th-and early 20th-century audiences, King Lear, with its sense of the world's ""absurdity,"" speaks most forcefully to today's viewers. The play that may prove central to the 21st century? Antony and Cleopatra gets Frye's reasoned nod because of its investigations of the uses and abuses of power. Written with verve, erudition and more-than-occasional humor, this ""summing-up"" of 50 years of scholarship will be read with pleasure, profit and gratitude by drama lovers for years to come.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1986
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press