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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: October ::
Eliot on the Elizabethans
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1965  Tuesday, 24 October 2000.

From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Friday, 20 Oct 2000 12:12:54 -0700
Subject:        Eliot on the Elizabethans

I'd like your perspective.  I stopped reading Eliot's criticism 15 years
ago when

a) I didn't find most of it very satisfying, with just occasional
exceptions, and

b) I read a comment to the effect that Eliot's criticism is always about
how Eliot is a better writer and smarter man that the authors he
discusses.

At the time this seemed so true.  All these years later I wonder if it
was fair and if I should give Eliot another reading.  I just picked up a
paperback of his ESSAYS ON ELIZABETHAN DRAMA.  The back cover blurbs
are:

> On Shakespeare: Perhaps it is a part of his special eminence to have
> expressed an inferior philosophy in the greatest poetry

> On Thomas Heywood: In attempting to be amusing he
> sometimes has recourse, as other men than harried playwrights
> have been known to do, to the lowest bawdiness, which leaves
> us less with a sense of repugnance for the man who could write
> it than with a sense of pity for the man who could think of nothing better.

> On John Fletcher: Fletcher was above all an opportunist...
> To Fletcher, because he was more intelligent, less will be forgiven.

> On Ben Jonson: The reputation of Jonson has been of the most
> deadly kind that can be compelled upon the memory of a great
> poet.  To be universally accepted... this is the most perfect
> conspiracy of approval.

> On Philip Massinger: Massinger's verse, without being exactly
> corrupt, suffers from cerebral anemia.

Except for the Jonson comment, that old criticism seems pretty fair
based on the lines excerpted on the back cover - unless, of course,
Eliot was right.

What do you think?  Was that comment about Eliot's criticism fair?  Was
Eliot right about the authors mentioned above?

(The book also deals with Marlowe, Tourneur, and Ford - what, no
Dekker?  Since his comments about them are not conveniently on the back
cover, I have not read for such comments for the purposes of this post.
Also, there is no chapter on Shakespeare.  I presume the Shakespeare
quotation was found in one of the other essays.)

Thanks in advance,
Mike Jensen
 

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