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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: January ::
Re: Johnson's Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0096  Tuesday, 16 January 2001

[1]     From:   Mari Bonomi <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Jan 2001 12:59:13 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0065 Re: Johnson's Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 16 Jan 2001 06:45:18 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 12.0051 Re: Johnson's Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mari Bonomi <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Jan 2001 12:59:13 -0500
Subject: 12.0065 Re: Johnson's Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0065 Re: Johnson's Shakespeare

Charles Costello writes,

>That presumption of past-sucking seems to cling to Shakespeare, who was
>a good playwright (with respect to a particular kind of drama), better
>than many before, during and after his time (with respect to drama in
>general), but will never have his boots cleaned with the spit of any of
>the majestic drama of 14th-15th c. England (or any other time).

I'd be curious to know from Mr. Costello what majestic drama he holds to
be so enormously superior to Shakespeare's drama that he'll never have
his boots spitshined?  Or am I misreading the analogy?

Thank you.

Mari Bonomi

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Tuesday, 16 Jan 2001 06:45:18 -0500
Subject: Re: Johnson's Shakespeare
Comment:        SHK 12.0051 Re: Johnson's Shakespeare

The notion that 'Johnson was not only remarkably learned but had
tremendous insights' still strikes me as pious nonsense. How many of
SHAKSPER's contributors would endorse the following?

1. Shakespeare seems to write 'without any moral purpose  . . . he makes
no just distribution of good or evil'. This is a very  serious fault
(the source of 'most of the evil in books or in men') for which 'the
barbarity of his age' is no excuse.

2. 'In his comic scenes he is seldom very successful when he engages his
characters in reciprocations of smartness and contests of sarcasm.'
Indeed, the jests made by these characters are 'commonly gross, and
their pleasantry licentious' and neither his gentlemen nor his ladies
'have much delicacy nor are sufficiently distinguished from his clowns
by any appearance of refined manners'.

3. His 'declamations or set speeches are commonly cold and weak'.


4. 'A dramatic exhibition is a book recited with concomitants that
increase or diminish its effect'.

5. 'A play read affects the mind like a play acted'.

To excuse Johnson on the grounds that he was blinkered by his time
obviously undercuts the claims made for his  scholarship and
perception.  'Remarkable'-even 'tremendous'-capacities in these areas
ought to enhance awareness rather than the reverse.  In fact, Johnson
had a poor grasp of the nature of the society from which early modern
plays derived and to which they spoke. As a result he was, and remains,
a very limited critic of Shakespeare. My graduate students could do
better.

Terence Hawkes
 

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