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Shakespeare's Language Paperback – 5 Apr 2001
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Sir Frank Kermode's Shakespeare's Language is a deeply significant publication, the result of a lifetime of writing and thinking on the Bard by one of our greatest critics, and it certainly lives up to its expectations. Kermode's numerous critical studies, such as The Sense of an Ending, have become classics and his recent memoir Not Entitled vividly captured a life of letters, characterised by a passionate commitment to the value of literature.
The author begins by lamenting the fact that general readers have not "been well served by modern critics, who on the whole seem to have little time for [Shakespeare's] language". However, rather than launching into a diatribe against current literary fashions, he proceeds to offer an elegant and detailed account of how "Shakespeare became, between 1594 and 1608, a different kind of poet". For Kermode, Shakespeare "moved up to a new level of achievement and difficulty", associated with the rich complexities of Hamlet and the enigmatic poem The Phoenix and the Turtle. Kermode defines that shift as "the pace of the speech, its sudden turns, its backtrackings, its metaphors flashing before us and disappearing before we can consider them. This is new: the representation of excited, anxious thought; the weighing of confused possibilities and dubious motives". This leads Kermode to break his book into two parts. The first deals with the plays up to 1600, including some controversial dismissals of plays, including As You Like It, whilst the second part offers 15 detailed chapters on the tragedies, problem plays and romances. Each chapter is full of detailed and illuminating interpretations of the difficulties, but also pleasures of Shakespeare's language. This is classic Shakespeare criticism, written in the mould of Johnson and Coleridge.--Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Frank Kermode has been Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English at University College London, King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge, and Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard. His previous books include THE GENESIS OF SECRECY, AN APPETITE FOR POETRY, THE SENSE OF AN ENDING and his autobiography, NOT ENTITLED. He was knighted in 1991.
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Top Customer Reviews
His approach to Shakespeare is deliciously dispassionate. Eulogistic where he judges it appropriate, and definitely not where he doesn't!
And his insights into the Bard's language are a kaleidoscope of serendipitous delights. Time and again he plays the fool and says wisely what wise men do foolishly.
Buy it? Foolish not to !
Kermode outlines the ways in which Shakespeare graduated towards a "toughening of the language" by "rougher handling of the pentameter", something Kermode elsewhere calls "progression", although far from steady and uninterrupted. But also, another, more subtle change from the simpler expression of the earlier plays to a more dramatically complex, more life-like and much greater psychologically penetrating language.
Early in the book Kermode gets rid of the idolatrous perception that Shakespeare never collaborated in his work. With something like half of all the plays put on in the public theatres during his writing life playwrights collaborated to bring a play to production. If he never, or rarely, collaborated he would have been almost alone among his peers. That's not to say, as Kermode points out, that he did not write the vast majority of the work ascribed to him.
Above all, Shakespeare's language changed in the service of characterisation (a huge leap towards modernity), towards prose that might be characterised as that with the cadence and feeling of poetry, and away from formal schemata, though he used poetry proper throughout his writing life in all of his plays. The early play, The Merry Wives of Windsor has 87 percent prose, Twelfth Night 61 percent, whereas the first tragedy Titus Andronicus has only 1 percent prose. Hamlet has 27 percent and Corliolanus 22 percent. There is no overall pattern to this, perhaps showing the confoundedness of trying to reach conclusions about Shakespeare's language, at least in technical detail.Read more ›
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" of Leeds has gone into great detail and, as I agree with her, there is little point in repeating it here just to impress. Kermode has shown throughout his publishing life what a master he is, what a firm grasp he has of his material and his books seem just to improve. Here he looks at the plays from within, from the clear, unmisted perspective of Shakespeare's language and shows what a masterful genius he was. He does not digress into abstractions, vague ideas and suppositions, "simply" enhances one's understanding of the language and, therefore, the plays themselves. There are few guides more reliable, knowledgeable and erudite.
Today, the speculation which has raged for centuries about the true authorship of the plays, seems to be growing and there is an entire genre of books on the subject. Kermode does not enter the fray. He just deepens one's appreciation of these wonderful plays - whoever wrote them.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Seminal, hugely informative, a must for understanding ShakespearePublished 17 months ago by Dr diane Greenwood
I would not go along with Melvyn Bragg that it's 'The best book on Shakespeare I have ever read.' (front cover) Nor would I agree with John Carey of the Sunday Times that it's '. . Read morePublished on 6 Oct. 2014 by Mac Cooper
This is a wonderful book. If you love Shakespeare, read it! But don't read it on your Kindle. I bought this to read on holiday. Read morePublished on 27 May 2014 by Andy Lewis
I think of myself as as a bit of a student of literature and hope to learn more about Shakespeare (teaching myself). Read morePublished on 8 Mar. 2013 by Kevin Amatt