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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: December ::
Re: Tolkien and Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2452  Friday, 20 December 2002

From:           Brian John Rosebury <
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Date:           Thursday, 19 Dec 2002 18:27:11 +0000
Subject: Re: Tolkien and Shakespeare
Comment:        SHK 13.2441 Re: Tolkien and Shakespeare

Dear Shakespeareans,

Tolkien's complex and ambivalent relation to Shakespeare is brilliantly
unpacked in Tom Shippey's The Road to Middle-earth (see especially, but
far from exclusively, chapter 6, where the improvements of Macbeth are
analysed in detail).

I don't know of any evidence that T. lectured expressly on Shakespeare
at Oxford or Leeds, but he discusses Macbeth (again) in his
lecture/essay "On Fairy Stories", originally given at St Andrews in
1939. There are also a few passing references in his published essays
and letters, notably this one about the Ents from letter 163, to Auden:

"Their part in the story is due, I think, to my bitter disappointment
and disgust from schooldays with the shabby use made in Shakespeare of
the coming of 'Great Burnam wood to high Dunsinane hill'. I longed to
devise a setting in which the trees might really march to war."

In general T's view seems to have been that S. could have made better
use of many of his inherited materials than he did. However, he does
frequently acknowledge the gulf between what is effective in live drama
and what is effective in narrative for reading -a good example being his
enthusiastic report on a performance of Hamlet (letter 76).

I thought the Ents looked pretty good in The Two Towers, but their
character was needlessly trivialised in order to give Merry and Pippin a
moment of active intervention. They ought to go to Isengard out of
deeply-held, carefully considered, ultimately volcanic indignation, not
because they are easily deceived by a couple of annoyingly perky
hobbits.

Brian Rosebury (colleague of S.Hampton-Reeves who kindly forwarded this
exchange to me).

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