The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.2307 Wednesday, 29 December 1999.
Date: Sunday, 26 Dec 1999 21:05:00 -0600
Subject: Kermode's essay in LRB: "Good and Bad Shakespeare"
When I finally got a chance to read Frank Kermode's essay on "Good and
Bad Shakespeare" in the 9 December LRB, I found myself in entire
agreement with his conclusion: "the argument that Shakespeare wrote
badly is, I think, a defense against that danger [the whole purpose
dissolves into neo-historicism, gender criticism and so forth, on the
one hand, and, on the other, heritage waffle] . . . . (p. 8). Close
attention to language is at the heart of Kermode's argument and
abandonment of this precept would result in "the disappearance not only
of Shakespeare as anything but a document like any other historical
document, but of all poetry-indeed of everything that we used, in an
old-fashioned way, to call literature" (p. 8). That this ringing
conclusion could result in a "tyrannous" (p. 8) Shakespeare is to be
developed in the forthcoming book.
I'm glad that someone is ringing the changes on a old theme in a new
book, but I'm still curious to know how Isabella's reproach to Angelo in
Measure for Measure, ""O it is excellent/To have a giant's strength, but
it is tyrannous/To use is like a giant' "(p. 8) is relevant. Reading
Shakespeare can be difficult, but the benefits outweigh the
disadvantages. A tyrant wields power for his own advantage and
aggrandizement. Shakespeare never does-he uses his poetic power to
further complex and valuable insights that benefit, not subvert, the
reader. I think his aim was not the obfuscating but the furthering of
knowledge and the love for the common reader, not his malaise.