Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Review of a Review filled with Reviews

Leithart, Peter J. “Bardus Absconditus: Shakespeare is the Rorschach Test of English Literature.” Books & Culture September / October 2008: 37+.

Peter J. Leithart's recent article in Books & Culture covers an enormous amount of Shakespearean ground, concluding . . . where else but "Why, here in Denmark." The article opens with a claim that is not unusual: that Shakespeare can be [almost] all things to [almost] all people. But, while reviewing and surveying several contemporary analyses of Shakespeare, the article goes deeper and deeper into the idea.

Finally, after a long section on the variety of Hamlets and Hamlets, Leithart concludes with these words:
If there is a "message" in Hamlet keyed to the historical moment of its first performances, it seems to me the same message of Shakespeare's other plays: It is a Christian humanist's prescient warning that fanaticism will lead to civil war, the killing of a king, and the triumph of amoral Realpolitik. This is the apocalypse whose outlines Shakespeare could already see at the beginning of a century of revolution, the tragic slather of blood he hoped England might become wise enough to avoid.
Even though it seems anit-climactic, his conclusion is level-headed, pertinent, and prescient itself. We could all do well to read Hamlet in this way.

Links: The Article in Books & Culture.

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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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