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Genius of Shakespeare: Tenth Anniversary…

Genius of Shakespeare: Tenth Anniversary Edition (udgave 2008)

af Jonathan Bate (Forfatter)

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
239585,925 (4.02)3
This fascinating book by one of Britain's most acclaimed Shakespeare scholars explores the extraordinary staying-power of the world's most famous dramatist. Bate opens by taking up questions of authorship and then goes on to trace Shakespeare's canonization and near-deification, examining not only the uniqueness of his status among English-speaking readers but also his effect on literary cultures across the globe. Ambitious, wide-ranging, and historically rich, this book shapes a provocative inquiry into the nature of genius as it ponders the legacy of a talent unequalled in English letters. A bold and meticulous work of scholarship, The Genius of Shakespeare is also lively and accessibly written and will appeal to any reader who has marveled at the Bard and the enduring power of his work. This tenth anniversary edition has a new twenty-page afterword that addresses the renewed interest in Shakespeare and recent film adaptations of his most celebrated works.… (mere)
Titel:Genius of Shakespeare: Tenth Anniversary Edition
Forfattere:Jonathan Bate (Forfatter)
Info:Oxford University Press (2008), Edition: -10th Anniversa ed., 402 pages
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek

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The Genius of Shakespeare af Jonathan Bate


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Viser 5 af 5
A fascinating book and a very good read. And a good basis for controversy!
One reviewer on LibraryThing ("proximity1") attacks it fiercely and at extraordinary length - in truth an essay, rather than the longest book review I've ever come across. "proximity 1" seems totally opposed to the view espoused by Bate, that the works of "Shakespeare" were actually written by the grammar school boy from Stratford. Despite its length his review seems to take little interest in the rest of Bate's rather more interesting perspective as to why and how, "Shakespeare", whoever it was, became and remains such a collossus of world literature.
For a much more balanced - though critical - review, see Peter Berek in the Shakespeare Quarterly, Spring 2000.
Bate certainly writes with passion and fervour and - for those not of an already strong and fixed view - his stuff about who was the author is entertaining. But its the rest of the book, reporting on and interpreting how perspectives and insights on "Shakespeare" have evolved through the centuries, that most non-specialist readers will most enjoy. ( )
1 stem NaggedMan | Jun 20, 2020 |
Review: The Genius of Shakespeare (original edition, 1997, Picador/ Macmillan Publishers, Ltd. London); 386 pp., Illustrated, Notes, Index.

(all italics in quotations are my additions for emphasis unless otherwise indicated with a ° as original to the cited author.)


It's now twenty years since the first publication of this book. Though its title suggests that the book's main topic is a discussion of the character of William Shakespeare's genius, a more frank and accurate title for it should have been, “Why the increasingly-popular and vexatious 'Oxfordian' school of Shakespeare-studies is still wrong,” for that is the real preoccupation of the author in these pages. It's his bid to counter, mainly, the view held by growing numbers of better-informed people that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (1550- (?) circa first decade of 1600) rather than William Shaksper of Stratford-upon-Avon is the rightful author of the works of “Shakespeare.”

Rather than tell you, the reader, what you ought to make of Professor Bate's arguments, I want to urge that you decide that for yourself—in just the same way that you ought to read Bate's text without allowing him to tell you what to think about his actual topic here, known by its partisan disputants as “the Authorship Question.” In the end, it's your judgment which is the key.

You need to know more than Bate explains, however. It is not sufficient to take his text at face value, to accept without question his portrayal of the case and the partisans he opposes from start to finish in the book. You need to know that when he claims that, for example,

“Most Stratfordians admit that Shakespeare had his off days (the Gentleman's entrance with the bloody knife in the final scene of King Lear heralds a truly abysmal passage of dialogue), whilst all Oxfordians admire every word of the works indiscrimanately—or, if there is a sequence they don't like, they simply dismiss it as an interpolation on the part of the vulgar players” (p. 74)

Bate is caricaturing Oxfordians by a quite dishonest exaggeration as a cult of fanatics. Oxfordians are in fact quite prepared to admit that the author of Shakespeare's works had his off-days. Indeed, theirs, above all, is the case which actually humanizes the author of the poems, sonnets and plays. They are Stratfordians who require a freak of nature for their author.

You need to know that his assertion that,

“The only reasoned argument against Shakespeare (i.e. Shaksper of Stratford)
is the neoclassical one premised on the assumption that all great art must be
like the art of the ancients.” (p.92)

That, too, is a grotesque caricature of the Oxfordian case. There may be an Oxfordian who believes that “ all great art must be like the art of the ancients” but, if so, I have never met or heard of him or her.

Just two paragraphs above this, Bate informs his readers,

"Anti-Stratfordianism promulgates not just a Romantic
idea of authorship, but an aristocratic one. The traditional
image of Shakespeare made much of his humble birth;
the absence of privilege suited the idea of his innate genius" (p. 92)

In fact, this supposedly "traditional image of Shakespeare" is the very image which was created and produced through a deliberate effort to make William Shaksper's utterly lack-lustre personality into the genuine genius behind the "Shakespeare" opus--poems, sonnets and plays. That effort became an academic hot-house enterprise from sometime in the latter half of the 19th century when academics pursued the creation and imposition and, later, the perpetuation of what was then the as-yet hardly-existent public idea of the personality of the author.

In an interview, Lawrence W. Levine, author of Highbrow/Lowbrow explains,

... "I was quite impressed and surprised by the ubiquity of Shakespearean parody: "When was Desdemona most like a ship? When she was Moored." And they got very positive responses to things like that. Hamlet tells Ophelia, "Get thee to a brewery," rather than "Get thee to a nunnery." Well, you know, there's a lot of that. And I wondered, why would they laugh at that? Because I came at this with my own twentieth-century consciousness, that reading William Shakespeare was tough going. When we read him in school, we had footnotes. (Fardels, we had to know what fardels were.) He was the supreme playwright, very hard to understand, very difficult to comprehend, and when you could understand and when you could comprehend him you could be proud of yourself. He was for the few and not the many. He was culture and not just entertainment.

"And then I discovered that minstrels can crack jokes like this and get people to laugh, so they keep cracking jokes like this, over and over. Then I ultimately discovered that Shakespeare's in advertisements for bread. Reporters will say when they're reporting a robbery, they'll say—oh, what's that famous Shakespearean quote: "Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands. He who robs my purse robs nothing, but he who steals from the my good name steals something that benefits him not, hut makes me poor." They would do that in reportage. I mean, Shakespeare was all over that culture. I discovered that late." (1)
... ...

... "I didn't really know what I wanted to see, but I did know that Shakespeare was advertised and disseminated—not Shakespeare, but his plays were advertised and disseminated through playbills. They'd pass them out. They'd hang them up on churches, on buildings, on wherever; well, maybe not churches. So I said, 'Do you have playbills for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America?'

"He said, 'Yes, we have a lot of playbills. What would you like to see?' I said, 'I'd just like to start at the beginning,' and I did. I read an enormous amount of playbills, and that really answered my question for me. Shakespeare was presented as popular culture. 'See the witches on the heath, see the forest come to Dunsinane, see the whatever.' And admonitions against rowdy behavior. Of course, there was a lot of rowdy behavior. That is, the masses were going co the theater, and they didn't read Shakespeare.

"You see, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, they read Shakespeare and they'd talk about it in their letters and everything else. They read Shakespeare. The working masses of America saw Shakespeare, so the whole notion of visual culture—you know, they went to the theater. It was a popular entertainment." . . . (2)

Yes, "Shakespeare's" plays, especially, were "all over the culture," and that was true as well among even the illiterate in the popular audiences—which, in the 16th and 17th centuries, would be most of them—from the time of the plays' presentations at the original Globe theatre since, despite being illiterate, they could come to learn some of the choice dialogue simply by attending a performance. What these illiterate play-goers of the late 16th and the 17th centuries neither knew nor really cared about was the question "who is this 'Shake-speare' who wrote this play?"

Shakespeare only became a serious problem for students in secondary school and university-level studies when it became a requirement to read and study his plays, poems and sonnets as indoctrination by professors who were in the business of creating and later perpetuating a view of Shakespeare's identity; it was an identity which, as it happened, had been first created in the late 16th century as a mask, a pen-name, in order that the author and, just as important, the very powerful people close to him, could avoid the immense problems which should inevitably spring from a very important nobleman's becoming widely known as having been intimately associated in the writing, staging and presentation of plays, performed by actors, actors being people which, in Oxford's day, had the social standing of vagabonds and thieves. It was important both in the real, the actual, author's own lifetime as well as after his demise.

But, prior to this academic appropriation of the identity of Shakespeare-—or, rather, the appropriation of what was actually, though they were simply not astute enough to understand it, the author's mask-identity, his pen-name identity—there simply was no such thing as a "traditional image of Shakespeare" which "made much of his humble birth" or which made anything at all, humble or exalted, of his birth.

In the author's own life-time, a reader or audience-member at a play's performance either understood that the name "Shake-speare" was a pseudonym for the actual author, in which case he or she either knew who the real author was or neither knew nor cared who it was or did not understand anything at all about the actual or presumed author and, again, didn't care to know or ask. There were no formal courses in which to study "Shake-speare" in school or at university and precious few hand-written or printed copies of the plays until the appearance of the quarto editions. Contemporary members of court knew in most cases to whom the name "Shake-speare" really attached and, for their own sakes and those of their families, they were bound, as nobles or courtiers, not to make this identity widely known publicly.

As for "innate genius"—what other kind is there? All genuine geniuses owe their genius to what are "innate" qualities—by definition. One cannot buy, borrow or steal genius. One must be born with it. So, for Bate to refer to "the absence of privilege suit(ing) the idea of his (Shakespeare's) innate Genius" illustrates that he has a very simplistic conception of genius. As something inherent, something which is always "innate," it is neither more nor less attributable or found among members of one class than among members of any other. Charles Darwin's having been a born outside of the ranks of nobility neither enhances nor detracts from his genuine genius. It is the unfortunate person who'd imagine or reason otherwise. The author "Shakespeare's" social standing by birth, while extremely important socially in society up to and beyond the 16th century, had simply nothing whatever to do with his having or not having any particularly astounding genius.

Continuing, Bate asserts—again, abusively—

"But the Anti-Stratfordians cannot abide the thought of Shakespeare resembling an untutored Romantic genius of low origins like John Clare. They require something more glamorous: a background similar to that of the Romantic whose life became his greatest work, Lord Byron."

On the contrary, if it were not absurd, preposterous on its face, to suppose that a personality such as we're given as that of Shaksper of Stratford from his birth up to the point of the first claims of his having written the Shake-speare opus—if such an idea weren't ridiculous, there is no particular reason why these "Anti-Stratfordians," if they're Oxfordians, would balk at a person of so-called 'common' birth or origins being a writer of world renown and rarely paralleled genius-—provided, of course, that his renown, if for literary genius, is for writings the informational content of which he or she could conceivably have been capable of acquiring. Thus, if a genius-—or a blockhead, for that matter-—is renowned for having written things which exhibit a very detailed and accurate knowledge of something, then it's only reasonable to expect that the author actually had the requisite experiences which could make that acquaintance possible. If he or she does not and could not have had those experiences, then there is simply no way that "genius" or any amount of imagination which may be supposed to go with it, can make up for that deficiency of experience. To surmount this problem, Stratfordians start out with the prior and automatic assumption of William Shaksper's having been the author of the work attributed to someone called "William Shake-speare" Without that prior assumption as a starting point there is no reason to ever connect the two identities and they have nothing compelling in evidence to offer otherwise.
Genius is genius from its inception—from birth. It's not transitory. You don't possess it only on odd or even days of the month. It's not something that you obtain upon arrival at the age of majority. The qualities which mark out genius, however we define and recognize them, are natural gifts which are both in-born and shaped by life experiences from birth to death. A genius's talents are part of his larger personality.

What Oxfordians "cannot abide" is the idea that someone of a "Shakespearean" genius should have given absolutely no indications whatsoever in his early life of any remarkable intellectual ability of any kind. Period. That is simply contrary to what happens in real life. Certainly there are children who are called "late bloomers". But such a circumstance does not necessarily in and of itself indicate either a presence or an absence of genius. When someone is recognised by adulthood to be a genius, there are at least some indications of it from very early in life. He behaves in ways which others notice as setting him apart from everyone else. One doesn't reach the age of nineteen or twenty—or thirty—as a genius without anyone in the genius's entourage ever having had the slightest inkling of it.

Let us take a moment and go back mentally—not twenty years but almost one hundred and five years ago—to April 15th, 1912. Imagine the misfortune of being in the north Atlantic aboard the Titanic on that night. The ship has struck an iceberg and is sinking. I imagine the horror of passengers as they come to the recognition that the ship is going to be lost and that many lives are going to be lost with it, as they came to the recognition that there are not enough lifeboats to accommodate all passengers or that if there were, in the event, their deployment is too disorderly to afford the most effective use of the lifeboats which are aboard.

Now imagine that one of the ship's crew made it into one of the lifeboats, and, in the midst of the catastrophe and the loss of life, became delusional and began to insist that, in fact, he and his fellow lifeboat refugees were still safely aboard the Titanic. I could forgive that as the delusion of a person under extreme mental stress. But, if, once rescued, this crew member continued to insist that the ship had not struck an iceberg and sunk that night, but, instead, had gone on to its intended destination in New York, I'd be less forgiving. And, if—imagine it—the crew member wasn't just any ship's steward but, instead, was the second officer, or the ship's first assistant to the chief engineer—and he went on to insist, after rescue, that the ship came safely into port at New York, what then? What if an entire school of opinion grew up according to which the Titanic never sank and unsuspecting students were taught this view as historical fact at accredited schools everywhere from their grade-school days through their university educations? In that case, I'd not be forgiving at all.

One of the most fascinating things about what's known as the “orthodox” view, that is, the Stratford Shaksper as author of the works attributed to Shakespeare, is that a group of what are clearly people of otherwise normal intelligence can be such woefully poor reasoners when it comes to a topic about which they are extremely well-read. The professoriate of Stratfordians are often very erudite. The trouble is that, as thinkers, they are wash-outs. They cannot reason effectively and this runs through and through their case.

As example, we have Professor Bate, referring to the sonnets, propose:

… To my ear, the bitterness of tone in certain of the sonnets is incompatible with the idea that they are mere exercises. But it could equally well be argued that Shakespeare knew how to mimic bitterness in his plays—think of Hamlet's soliloquies—and that he may therefore be feigning it in his sonnets. The only solution to this problem is to allow the sonnets to rest in a middle space between experience and imagination.” (p. 52)

I ask : was the author of the sonnets feigning when he wrote,


"The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end: wherof this Pamphlet without beginning is but a superfluous Moity. The warrant I have of your Honourable disposition, not the worth of my untutord Lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours, what I have to doe is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater my duety would shew greater, meane time, as it is, it is bound to your Lordship; To whom I wish long life still lengthened with all happinesse.

"Your Lordships in all duety.


Many scholars and other readers of the sonnets take them to be addressed not only in the excerpt above to the young Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley, but that the fair youth addressed in the first 126 sonnets is the same person. So, the question might occur to a scholar: how is one to square the idea that the emotions expressed in these first sonnets is feigned, not genuine, with the idea that they are addressed to the same person about whom the author had written the above?

It occurs to me that, one, there is, in fact, an alternative “solution” and, two, that this “middle space” “between” experience and imagination is an absurd nonsense which doesn't exist. “Experience” and “imagination” are not opposing concepts; “imagination” is part of real experience. There isn't some “refuge,” some “safe place” “between” “experience” and “imagination.” What Bate really wants to say—but, of course, cannot say because it's simply too ridiculous to state without weasel words—is that there's some “space” somewhere between actual fact and fiction and that, here, in the source of the sonnets, we're in it—that the author's words neither reflect his genuine experiences and feelings as they are in fact nor are the expressions entirely fictional. They're somehow more than just imagined—feigned, “mere exercises”—but less than true in fact. Personally, I don't “see” any such “middle space.” An author's words are either an expression of and a reflection of his or her own "real" personal experiences, coupled, or not, with imagination, and his views in fact as they are, that is, they are in important and meaningful senses the presentation of his or her own self or they aren't. In the latter case, we might describe them as “exercises” or “sheer fiction” --not intended to be understood to be the author speaking about himself or herself . But they are not both at once speaking about himself and not speaking about himself nor could they fall into some “middle space” between” “really about me” and “not really about me.”

As another example of shoddy reasoning, Bate writes, at page 92,

“The argument that Shakespeare must have been an aristocrat because he wrote so knowingly about courts is facile. Every Elizabethan and Jacobean professional dramatist wrote about courts, yet none of them was a courtier.”

Apart from being simply factually false, this claim misses the point. Even if it were true that “Every Elizabethan and Jacobean professional dramatist wrote about courts, yet none of them was a courtier,” the point is that none of them wrote anything even moderately approaching the genius on display in the work by the author of “Shakespeare's” plays, poems and sonnets. "Shakespreare's" presentations of court life and, above all, of nobles, their words and their thoughts and deeds, are in a class virtually by themselves. There is no other writer I can name whose prose, poetry or drama can equal or surpass the remarkable verisimilitude of "Shakespeare's" portrayals of the nobility, "warts and all." We cannot make a respectable argument that these writings are sourced in something less than long, direct and personal participation in the life of a nobleman. Sure, commoners can and do write fictionally or factually about nobility. But none of them does it with the evident authority which "Shakespeare's" portrayals possess.

There were gifted writers among the “aristocrats,” the aristocracy”, yes, just as there were gifted writers among the nobility, which, by strict and enforced custom, did not dare to write and publish their writings publicly under their own real names. By the way, Oxfordians point out that Oxford was part of the titled nobility, not simply an “aristocrat.” But such blurring of distinctions is the sort of thing that helps proponents of a hopeless case pretend to make their way.

Bate has not thought well or clearly about the quality of genius. It is something inextricably personal. One's genius is expressed in, by and through one's life, one's actions and one's professed beliefs; and it is shaped, formed, by one's personal experiences from the earliest age. Thus, while geniuses have something superficial in common—that is, when their genius is recognized they all manifestly “stand out from the crowd,” —the way they “stand out from the crowd” is particular to each one.

Shakespeare's genius, as some abstract point of interest is irrelevant. It's only as a feature of his personality that it becomes interesting and instructive to someone. To imagine that one can appreciate the genius but care little or nothing about who he or she actually was in historical or actual fact is an absurd—but quite common—belief, especially when it comes to Shakespeare as the Stratfordians would have it. The Stratford Shaksper simply did not and never could have known or even learned second-hand about the genuine author's detailed knowledge of history, politics, geography and so much else revealed in his poems and plays (See Noemi Magri's book, Such Fruits Out of Italy: The Italian Renaissance in Shakespeare's Plays and Poems ). And the idea that the intensely personal, powerful and noble (in the strictest class-distinction sense of the term) preoccupations on display in the sonnets could conceivably have been the product of the person we are offered in that of William Shaksper from Stratford-on-Avon is equally ridiculous.

“Sincerity, i.e., that the author should himself keenly feel what he expresses. Without this condition there can be no work of art, as the essence of art consists in the contemplator of the work of art being infected with the author's feeling. If the author does not actually feel what he expresses, then the recipient cannot become infected with the feeling of the author, he does not experience any feeling, and the production can no longer be classified as a work of art.”
— Tolstoy, (Sincerity: Shakespeare and the drama, p. 269)

“The complete absence of sincerity from all the plays is the primary indictment in Tolstoy's case against Shakespeare.”

“The demand for sincerity was Tolstoy's error. The genius of King Lear is that it was written by a man who was totally unlike his creation. The poetry of a teenager in love is sincere: that is what makes it bad. The key to dramatic art is Insincerity, i.e. that the author should only pretend keenly to feel what he expresses.” — p. 150

Yes, I'm afraid you read that right: “the key to dramatic art is Insincerity” on the part of the playwright—to say nothing, I suppose, of the actors playing the roles on the stage.

But there's some ambiguity in the phrasing. Does Bate mean that the playwright ought to keenly pretend to feel or that he should pretend to keenly feel “what he expresses”? The answer comes right in the next sentence:

"That way, he can pretend equally keenly to feel the opposite things which he also expresses. He can infect the spectator with the feeling of what it is like to be Goneril as well as that of what it is like to be Lear.”

The “keenness” is intended to be in the playwright's pretense itself rather than in what the pretense is supposed to portray. As for the playwright who really does sincerely feel what his characters'—all of them—lines indicate they are “feeling,” we must then suppose that such a playwright is at a distinct disadvantage compared to his colleagues who are quite genuine in their insincerity. Nor are we told what to think about or how to explain the love-poetry of a man of thirty, forty, fifty or more years of age who is—unaccountably—like the teenager, thoroughly sincere and yet—again, unaccountably—his poetry is manifestly not that bad. It might occur to a critic that the actual source the problem of the teenager's bad love-poems has really nothing to do with his or her being sincere and everything to do with his or her being youthful and perhaps still a novice in the arts of recognizing genuine love as opposed to infatuation.

When someone innocently asks, “What difference does it make who Shakespeare really was? So what if we don't really know who he was?” he or she should be shown Bate's desperate effort depicted above.

The misidentification of the rightful author of the work we refer to as “Shakespeare's” leads to all kinds of confusion and error concerning the author's meanings, his motives and intentions, the sources of his inspiration and the import of his texts. Bate, like other orthodox proponents of the Stratfordian view, is forced to sacrifice common sense and everything else to the cause of defending William Shaksper as the true author. This sacrifice leads to a failure to grasp that the author of “Shakespeare,” as a high ranking nobleman—as, in fact, Edward, Earl of Oxford—was a peer of the realm, outranking in precedence all other nobles below the rank of Dukes and Duchesses and those above them, princes and sovereigns and, as such, was fully entitled to address Henry Wriothesley in the otherwise scandalously familiar terms which “Shakespeare” used in the sonnets and the dedications of Venus and Adonis.

Because, unless one is prepared to question and reject the accuracy of assigning the authorship of “Shakespeare” to Shaksper of Stratford, one is forced into a bind of logic and common sense: if Shakespeare's writing in general is taken as the sincere portrayal of his own feelings in, by and through his characters—in the plays and in the depictions of real or fictitious people in the poems and sonnets—then he's a person whose worldly experiences and whose intellectual capacities dwarf what our common sense tells us it is reasonable to expect to have found in the fellow from Stratford. Bate, wittingly or not, seems to sense this on some level. He shrinks from a frank declaration that the author of Shakespeare's works was quite capable of sincerely feeling and exposing character traits and personalities which seem quite opposed, quite contrary, quite irreconcilable in their features.

We don't and we're not to account for Shakespeare's genius in either his originality or his sincerity since, according to Bate's view of it, he was not particularly original and, as for sincerity, the “key” not just to his but, especially to his, dramatic art and, we must suppose, his genius in that art, was rather his formidable power to pretend to be sincere when he was not at all. Instead of actually knowing and feeling what all his characters' are portrayed to feel—Lear and Leontes, Othello, Iago, Cassio, Goneril, Hermione, Gloucester, Edmond, Edgar, etc.—he excells in not really feeling and that excellence, unlike the very sincere teenager's love-poetry, is what makes Shakespeare's work “genius” (certain passages excepted) rather than “bad.”

Again and again, the lens through which Bate sees and interprets the evidence misleads him. He writes,

“Shakespearean comedy grew from—and eventually outgrew—Lyly, just as Shakespearean tragedy and history grew from and outgrew Marlowe. A description of the world of Lyly's best plays, Gallathea and Endymion, will sound uncannily* like a prescription for that of Shakespeare's pastorale comedies....”

There is a good reason for it sounding “uncannily” like that of Shakespeare but Bate's prescriptive lens distorts his vision and forbids his seeing it these reasons.

Bate cites Tolstoy again,

“However unnatural the positions may be in which he places his characters, however improper to them the language which he makes them speak, however features they are, the very play of emotion, its increase and alteration and the combination of many contrary feelings expressed correctly and powerfully in some of Shakespeare's scenes, and in the play of good actors, evokes, even if only for a time, sympathy with the persons represented. Shakespeare, himself an actor, and an intelligent man, knew how to express by the means not only of speech, but of exclamation, gesture, and the repetition of words, states of mind and developments or changes of feeling taking place in the persons represented.”

“This,” Bate tells us, “is a wonderful insight.” “ Shakespeare's characters are not the fixed entities they tend to be in his sources. Rather, they are the embodiments of the fluidity, the play°, of emotion.”

After what Bate has told us about the “key to dramatic art,” we have a right to ask, “What difference does it make how his characters express themselves—by exclamation, by gesture, by tears, or groans or gasps—provided the author is faithful in his total absence of sincerity?” Tolstoy's is not a “wonderful insight.” It's rank nonsense and spectacular failure to grasp the essential importance in Shakespeare and his work.

But the appreciation of this has grown over the past forty years. More readers have come to question and doubt or reject the Stratford case. That is why Bate was motivated to write this text in the first place. It amounts to his quite ineffective and lamentable attempt to rebutt the Oxford case. But his effort fails at every point because the Stratford Shaksper cannot, by feat of shaping and forcing of his historical self, be made to fit the person revealed in the works commonly accepted as those going by the name of “Shakespeare.” Like the Titanic, which never made it to port, William Shaksper of Stratford simply never arrived. The whole edifice which tries to present him as the factual author of “Shakespeare's” work is much, much more absurd and grandiose than that according to which the Titanic ended her maiden voyage by coming safely into New York harbor.


(1) Ann Lage, p. 794 "An Interview with Lawrence W. Levine" The Journal of American History December 2006

(2) Ibid p. 795

“uncanny” Webster's Third New International Dictionary : (a) “Arousing feelings of dread or inexplicable strangeness; seeming to have a supernatural characteristics, cause or origin. Eerie, mysterious, weird (b) extending to a degree beyond what is normal or expected; suggesting super-human or supernatural powers or qualities.”

“canny” (ibid) : (1) (a) foresighted, knowing, wise. (b) cautious, prudent, wary (c) clever, cunning, sly, (d) frugal, thrifty (e) shrwed in worldly affairs, watchful for self-interest; (2) free from weird qualities or unnatural powers, (c) wise in supernatural affairs, having occult powers. (3) (Scot.) (a) Careful, gentle, steady; (b) comfortable, cozy, quiet, snug.

° : Emphasis in the original. ( )
1 stem proximity1 | Mar 9, 2017 |
¿En qué consiste el genio de Shakespeare? ¿Qué tuvode singular este dramaturgo inglés de fines del siglo XVI?
El autor busca en esta obar las respuestas a estas preguntas y nos muestra la imagen que nos hemos formado de él, donde se mezclan la realidad con las anécdotas sin separar los hechos documentados de las historias que comenzaron a circular sobre su vida.
Jonathan Bate consigue reinventar a Shakespeare una y otra vez, aportando nuevas ideas de forma sensata y significativa.
Un libro inteligente, con ingenio y totalmente accesible, cuya lectura se disfruta y a la vez impresiona. ( )
  BibliotecaUNED | Jun 9, 2012 |
Who was Shakespeare? Why has his writing endured? What makes it so endlessly adaptable to different times and cultures? And how has Shakespeare come to be such a powerful symbol of genius? The Genius of Shakespeare is a fascinating biography of the life – and afterlife – of the greatest English poet. Jonathan Bate, one of the world’s leading Shakespearean scholars, deftly shows how the legend of Shakespeare’s genius was created and sustained, and how it has become a truly global phenomenon.
  RKC-Drama | Mar 24, 2011 |

A jolly good look at various aspects of Shakespeare, trying to identofy what, if anything. The first half includes a chapter on the documents we have relating to Shakespeare, another on the Sonnets (where, against his will, Bate identifies his own candidate for the Dark Lady), a brilliant one on the authorship question, an analysis of Marlowe's inflience on Shakespeare, and a look at the way Shakespeare uses his other sources.

His line on the authorship question is entertainingly solid. Myself I have tended to find the sheer irrationality of the supporters of alternative candidates (the Earl of Oxford, Bacon, etc) a fairly strong strike against them. Bate points out that the Oxfordians, for instance, tend to regard every line of the plays as a work of sheer unassailable genius; while we who believe that the man from Stratford wrote them are also able to accept that he occasionally had an off day.

The second half of the book broadens out to consider Shakespeare's impact on subsequent literarature. I wondered a bit about this - it seemed to me a bit of a stretch to credit Shakespeare posthumously for the Romantic movement in England, France, Germany and Scotland; perhaps if I knew more about literature of that period generally I could assess to what extent Shakespeare's works really were central. I found a couple of the other stories told here more compelling - the claiming of Caliban as a heroic anti-colonial figure by Aimé Césaire, and William Empson's linkage of quantum mechanics with shades of meaning in the plays (I'm ashamed to say I hadn't heard of Empson before, and doubt I will read him in the future, but I'm glad he existed and made the argument). Bate also pours scorn on the likes of Kenneth Baker, the Bowdlers, and anyone else who idolises Shakespeare without really thinking.

Bate's explanation of why Shakespeare has been so successful is a) that he is simply very good at creating characters and situations which the audience / reader can relate to, b) that as an actor himself he was better at the technical aspects of writing for the stage than most of his more academic contemporaries, and c) that he was fortunate enough to be writing at a time and place where his works were preserved and propagated after his death. He finishes by wondering if, had the Spanish won in 1588, Lope de Vega might now be the set text for literature around the world rather than Shakespeare. A postscript takes the story forward over the last ten years, when Hollywood discovered Shakespeare (Shakespeare in Love, and Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, which like the rest of you he rates higher than I did).

Anyway, a good and thought-provoking book. He tends to bring in one play in each chapter to support his points, which has whetted my appetite for those I haven't reached yet. ( )
1 stem nwhyte | Dec 29, 2008 |
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Oprindelig udgivelsesdato
Vigtige steder
Vigtige begivenheder
Beslægtede film
Priser og hædersbevisninger
Første ord
Sidste ord
Oplysning om flertydighed
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This fascinating book by one of Britain's most acclaimed Shakespeare scholars explores the extraordinary staying-power of the world's most famous dramatist. Bate opens by taking up questions of authorship and then goes on to trace Shakespeare's canonization and near-deification, examining not only the uniqueness of his status among English-speaking readers but also his effect on literary cultures across the globe. Ambitious, wide-ranging, and historically rich, this book shapes a provocative inquiry into the nature of genius as it ponders the legacy of a talent unequalled in English letters. A bold and meticulous work of scholarship, The Genius of Shakespeare is also lively and accessibly written and will appeal to any reader who has marveled at the Bard and the enduring power of his work. This tenth anniversary edition has a new twenty-page afterword that addresses the renewed interest in Shakespeare and recent film adaptations of his most celebrated works.

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