The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.1326  Monday, 21 December 1998.

From:           R. D. H.Wells" <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 21 Dec 1998 11:38:36 +0000 (GMT)
Subject:        Tillyard

Hugh Grady writes (10 December): 'I had hoped to respond to the issue of
a supposed "myth" of Tillyard hegemony c. 1940-1970 (short answer: the
fact of numerous dissents from Tillyard's position in the era in the
face of its continued institutional dominance is evidence of its

I wonder why Professor Grady assumes that, like those mythical soldiers
trapped in the jungle for years after the war was over, critics like
Elton, Rabkin, McElroy, Jones and Grudin imagined they were still
fighting a battle that had already been fought in the 1950s. Tillyard
may have continued to be taught in high schools and sixth forms. But
with such demanding timetables it can be very difficult for school
teachers to keep up with the latest criticism (many do of course), even
more so now when they are excluded from it by an elitist language that
is designed to be understood only by a coterie of professional
academics. By the 1960s Shakespeare criticism had moved on, and there
were now far more interesting critical and historical questions to
address than Tillyard's conspicuous limitations. What interested Elton
and others was not 'unitary meaning', but 'the multi-voiced dialogue' of
the plays. Most of these critics do not even mention Tillyard, or if
they do cite him, it is only in passing.

Regardless of whether Tillyard enjoyed hegemonic power in the '60s and
'70s (in universities he didn't), isn't it a bit misleading to claim
that it is 'the clarity of the focus provided by the new critical
paradigms of our own day' that has enabled us to leave behind such
notions as 'the transcendent author and transparent, single-leveled
meaning' when we know that those notions - if indeed they ever existed
in such a caricatured form - had been rejected over half a century ago?

Until the 1980s it was customary to advise postgraduate students to
begin their dissertations with a survey of the present state of
scholarship, and a statement of how they proposed either to question or
to build on existing criticism. It was expected that they would start,
not by mounting an otiose challenge to the most jejune and outdated
criticism, but by addressing the most recent and most sophisticated
critical work, either modifying or rejecting its methods and principles
or applying them to new materials. Published monographs provided
examples of how to do it. If the exercise was sometimes a bit
mechanical, at least it saved the tedium of seeing the same wheel
endlessly reinvented. Perhaps it is time we revived the convention.

Seasonal greetings,
Robin Headlam Wells

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