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E. M. W. Tillyard (1889–1962)

Forfatter af The Elizabethan World Picture

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Associated Works

Eight Great Tragedies (1957) — Bidragyder, nogle udgaver388 eksemplarer
The poetry of Sir Thomas Wyatt; a selection and a study (1949) — Redaktør — 7 eksemplarer

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Kanonisk navn
Tillyard, E. M. W.
Juridisk navn
Tillyard, Eustace Mandeville Wetenhall
Jesus College, Cambridge



Summary: A discussion of whether the personality of the author should enter into the criticism of a work of poetry.

In 1934 C. S. Lewis published an article in Essays and Studies to defend this assertion:

In this paper I shall maintain that when we read poetry as poetry should be read, we have before us no representation which claims to be the poet, and frequently no representation of a man, a character, or a personality at all.

The article was written for anyone to take up. E. M. W. Tillyard published a response in the following year that led to two more rounds of responses between Lewis and Tillyard, resulting in this book in its present form.

In a nutshell, the controversy between the two men concerned whether, in poetry, we have access to the personality or mind of the poet in some degree (Tillyard) or whether poetry is about something in the world (Lewis). Lewis contends that in poetry, the poet is saying "look at that" and not "look at me."

Tillyard proposes that in a poet's work, we encounter a certain "fixed state of mind." What makes the reading of and reflection upon poetry worthwhile is contact with particularly perceptive minds, and that in literary criticism, to attempt to discern the character of the poet's mind, as well as what that mind perceives is a valuable part of the critic's contribution to understanding a work.

What both strenuously object to is "poetolatry," and particularly using the biography of the poet as some kind of critical shortcut to understanding a work of poetry, without doing the hard work of study and reflection upon the poem itself. The subsequent discussion then is a back and forth between Lewis, who thinks personality does not enter in any important way in the understanding of a poem, and Tillyard, who tries to find various arguments and approaches and examples to persuade Lewis, and the reader, otherwise.

It is of a piece with works like The Abolition of Man, in Lewis's defense of the objective against the incursions of relativism and subjectivism. While I find myself in agreement with Lewis, and particularly with the slipperiness of assertions about an author's personality, I also recognize that the style and perception of different writers does reflect something of their unique personalities. The problem, it seems is saying just what this is, and in this case, I think we are wiser to stick with Lewis's approach, because the work, and what the poet has said in it about something is really all we have. Anything else seems largely a speculative venture, at least in my own critically untrained opinion!

One of the delights in reading this is to see two scholars sharpening each other's thoughts in dialogue, while respecting the person with whom they are in disagreement. It also strikes me as characteristic of many academic dialogues I have observed--while ideas are sharpened and clarified, positions rarely change, at least within the frame of such a discussion. The ground of disagreement may diminish, the areas of common agreement are more clearly articulated, but usually some fundamental disagreement remains. Even if you do not understand all the terms of the argument, this is a glimpse of the academic world at its best, as these closing words of E. M. W. Tillyard suggest:

...Mr. Lewis is an admirable person to disagree with; and I incline to admire his arguments as much when they seem wrong as when they seem right. He is, indeed, the best kind of opponent, good to agree with when one can, and for an enemy as courteous as he is honest and uncompromising; the kind of opponent with whom I should gladly exchange armour after a parley, even if I cannot move my tent to the ground where his own is pitched.

Would that the university world, and our public discourse were marked more by this kind of spirit!
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BobonBooks | May 21, 2018 |
This was a great book to break down Shakespearean literature and the Elizabethan world picture. Its helped understand literature more fully.
Jen_Muller | 8 andre anmeldelser | Apr 7, 2013 |
This is one of the most difficult books I've read since I was in college. In fact it wouldn't surprise me to find that this was written as a graduate college text. It's a small volume, coming in at just 109 pages, but in many ways, except for the fact it is obviously written in English, with the odd Latin phrase or two, it might as well have been written by Martians for as much as I was able to glean from it. However, I did learn quite a bit from it. It's learning that requires digestion for the understanding.

The book presents a view of the world seen through the eyes of the Elizabethans. It pulls together several literary sources of the time and mines them for their world view. This is where it gets tough, Elizabethan English is hard enough to read just for enjoyment, throw in the philosophical aspects of the time and you have an intellectual (at least for me) nightmare.

The Elizabethan world lived by the Great Chain of Being with its links and planes and correspondences all culminating in the great Cosmic Dance. Sounds easy, right? Not hardly. It seems Aquinas's question about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin was a plain simple inquiry, not a comment on the ethereal nature of angelic existence. The Elizabethans understood this to be a simple question. This worldview stretched all the way back to the ancient Greeks. By the time of the Elizabethans this view was as much a part of the fabric of life as physics, biology, chemistry, and cosmology are at the heart of ours. That's what made this so difficult. Unless you can think like an Elizabethan much of this is unknown territory. It's this difference in system that makes it so hard to come to grips with. Unless one is accustomed to thinking in terms of the four elements, the four humors, and the relationship of each link to its fellows both above and below, this book, while it does its best to explain these things, is still something of a slog.

One other aspect of things here is that the modern was bearing down on the Elizabethans and so there is a mix of proto-modern thinking alongside the harmony and music of existence, but after two thousand years, the mechanisms and devices used to construct meaning in the world were becoming less and less adequate for the task at hand. A whole new world had been discovered, alchemy was moving into science, Copernicus had redefined the shape of the solar system and removed the earth from its center in favor of the sun. Knowledge was expanding and new schemes of organizing were having to be created to include these discoveries. Life was becoming less certain. Without these changes Locke and the political philosophers of fifty or a hundred years after Elizabeth could never have created our modern world with its modern sensibilities. The Elizabethans were living under that old Chinese curse: they were living in interesting times. Not unlike our own, when some would take us back to the system that sufficed to explain the world for so long.

I am in the unfortunate position of having to rate a book that I feel completely unqualified to rate. I expect the author accomplished his goal of describing the philosophical underpinnings of the time, but they are so foreign to us today they seem almost fantastic. I gave this three and a half stars based mostly on not knowing what I don't know about the quality of the book. I expect a scholar, or someone buried in this history would give it more or fewer stars. For all I know, this is the definitive work on this aspect of the Elizabethan world view and should get five stars. I feel wholly inadequate to the task of placing this book in its niche. I learned a lot, and once I digest it will reread it with an eye to greater understanding. At that time the rating may be reviewed.
… (mere)
6 stem
geneg | 8 andre anmeldelser | Jul 30, 2010 |


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