Talking about Shakespeare

Frank Kermode

  • Young Hamlet: Essays on Shakespeare’s Tragedies by Barbara Everett
    Oxford, 232 pp, £22.50, June 1989, ISBN 0 19 812993 9
  • ‘Timon of Athens’ by A.D. Nuttall
    Harvester, 164 pp, £25.00, March 1989, ISBN 0 7108 1006 7

Barbara Everett’s book consists of her four Northcliffe Lectures, given at University College London in 1988, on Hamlet and the other ‘major’ tragedies, together with a number of shorter pieces on Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Cressida, Othello, Twelfth Night, and quite a lot more about Hamlet. This account may make the book sound scrappy, but it holds together. Its chief hero Hamlet keeps returning to the scene like a reassuring leitmotif, and there are other compensating virtues. Ms Everett is, as always, discursive, and as always ready to take any promising detour – a habit which, though occasionally exasperating, reinforces one’s sense of her independence and her confidence. We are told that the whole business of criticism, not excluding Shakespearian criticism, has been changed utterly in the last few years, but you would never guess it from Everett’s writing, which is distinctive without excessive straining for novelty: this presumably goes to show that it is more interesting to do criticism than to argue about what criticism ought to do, and to what. She will worry away at a word – for example, ‘success’ in Macbeth – with as much determination as a deconstructor in search of an aporia, but she is always trying for solutions, however complex, rather than merely detecting problems, and although success, in the old sense of what’s going to come next, is frequently in doubt, there is no doubt that this is, in a more modern sense, a highly successful performance.

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