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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: October ::
Re: Eliot on the Elizabethans
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1978  Saturday, 28 October 2000.

[1]     From:   Yvonne Bruce <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Oct 2000 12:52:10 -0400
        Subj:   Eliot on the Elizabethans

[2]     From:   Philip Weller <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Oct 2000 10:47:34 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1965 Eliot on the Elizabethans

[3]     From:   Marcus Dahl <
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        Date:   Thursday, 26 Oct 2000 05:58:16 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1974 Re: Eliot on the Elizabethans

[4]     From:   Jack Heller <
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        Date:   Thursday, 26 Oct 2000 12:48:40 GMT
        Subj:   Eliot on the Elizabethans


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Yvonne Bruce <
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Date:           Wednesday, 25 Oct 2000 12:52:10 -0400
Subject:        Eliot on the Elizabethans

Yes, I agree that Eliot's superciliousness can be trying, but I believe
him to be the most perceptive reader ever, in many ways, of Elizabethan
literature:

From the _Sacred Wood_: "we cannot grasp [the Elizabethans], understand
them, without some understanding of the pathology of rhetoric. Rhetoric,
a particular form of rhetoric, was endemic, it pervaded the whole
organism; the healthy as well as the morbid tissues were built up on
it.  We cannot grapple with even the simplest and most conversational
lines in Tudor and early Stuart drama without having diagnosed the
rhetoric in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries."

This remark shone a brilliant light on the themes of feeding and hunger
and the images of corporality in Coriolanus; I'm still trying to work
out Eliot's implications. Even when I was an undergraduate this remark
struck me, more as relief than inspiration; if Eliot thought Shakespeare
needed grappling with, that his rhetoric was pathologically complex,
perhaps, then I was doing all right. Many of my teachers seemed to "get"
Shakespeare while I was still struggling through the syntax. Turns out
Eliot was too.

And Eliot on Seneca is instructive (from _Selected Essays_, though I'm
not sure where this essay appeared originally). There is more than one
Seneca, according to Eliot, and his influence shows up on the
Elizabethan stage in more than revenge horrors or "bombast": Seneca also
shows up in the "thought, or what passes for thought, in the drama of
Sh. and his contemporaries."

Eliot continues, and all of it is a revelation to me. I don't know
anyone else whose thinking has helped me to understand, for example, one
of my interests, Elizabethan Senecan closet drama (usually associated
with the Pembroke circle or, as Eliot calls them, the Senecals). How are
they Senecan? What relationship do they have to the legitimate theater?
Eliot's ruminations have prompted me to look at drama in a way no one
else has, and to consider rhetorical/philosophical links between works
that never would have occurred to me.

I can live with the superciliousness.

Best,
Yvonne Bruce

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Philip Weller <
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Date:           Wednesday, 25 Oct 2000 10:47:34 -0700
Subject: 11.1965 Eliot on the Elizabethans
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1965 Eliot on the Elizabethans

I agree that "Eliot's criticism is always about how Eliot is a better
writer and smarter man that the authors he discusses."  And Shakespeare
is one of those authors.  See his snide footnote in "Hamlet and His
Problems" (http://www.clicknotes.com/hamlet/Eliot/e96.html).  Offering
snide for snide, I might speculate that Rymer's racism induced Eliot to
overlook his obtuseness.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcus Dahl <
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Date:           Thursday, 26 Oct 2000 05:58:16 EDT
Subject: 11.1974 Re: Eliot on the Elizabethans
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1974 Re: Eliot on the Elizabethans

RE Responses on Eliot:

A fine tutor once taught me to beware of quoting Eliot for fear that his
tremendous critical insight and intelligence undermine the surrounding
commentary. This advice I pass on. And for emphasis:

Eliot on Shakespeare:

In a play of Shakespeare you get several levels of significance. For the
simplest auditors there is the plot, for the more thoughtful the
character and conflict of character, for the more literary the words and
phrasing, for the musically sensitive the rhythm, and for the auditors
of greater sensitiveness and understanding a meaning which reveals
itself gradually. And I do not believe that the classification of
audience is so clear-cut as this; but rather that the sensitiveness of
every auditor is acted upon by all these elements at once, though in
different degrees of consciousness...

(From: The Uses of Poetry and The Uses of Criticism)

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Heller <
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Date:           Thursday, 26 Oct 2000 12:48:40 GMT
Subject:        Eliot on the Elizabethans

I recall in the mid-90s pondering a response to Eliot's comments on
Thomas Middleton, which as I recall, were something like: Middleton has
no point of view. He is merely a name that brings together about 8 good
plays.

Eliot seems to have liked the plays Middleton's name brought together,
alluding to Women Beware Women and A Game at Chess in "The Wasteland"
and writing appreciatively on Moll Cutpurse's character in The Roaring
Girl. I would look at Eliot's criticism as an in-road to understanding
his poetry. However, for understanding Middleton, Eliot's comments are
utter rubbish. I responded by ignoring him.

Jack Heller
 

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