Undecidability

Alastair Fowler

  • Shakespeare’s Scepticism by Graham Bradshaw
    Harvester, 269 pp, £32.50, June 1987, ISBN 0 7108 0604 3
  • The Elizabethan Hamlet by Arthur McGee
    Yale, 211 pp, £14.95, November 1987, ISBN 0 300 03988 3

We cannot let Shakespeare alone. He saw so deeply into life, and wrote so well, that we cannot bring ourselves to relegate him to his Elizabethan world, as we do, or used to do, with Jonson. Yet when Shakespeare is taken out of period, his works become problematic, since they are not referred to appropriate contexts, to the domains of assumption they address. So Shakespearean hermeneuts go round and round in wandering mazes lost. And now a new difficulty besets them, making it harder still to achieve perspective: the additional burden of ‘method’, of having to adopt a distinctive (and necessarily irrelevant) theoretic approach. Fortunately Graham Bradshaw, a lover of literature rather than criticism, is a robust simplifying writer in the Empsonian tradition, who knows that abstract theoretic discourse has had its day. He has the boldness, moreover, to cut hermeneutic knots by ignoring much recent work – including, unfortunately, some of the best American criticism and scholarship. On the whole, he confines the monster Monistic Theory to its cave: although the gapped hoof of deconstruction occasionally sticks indiscreetly out, and Nietzsche is invoked much oftener than Bradley.

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