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Undecidability

Alastair Fowler, 2 March 1989

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

Slants

Alastair Fowler, 9 November 1989

Melodious Guile: Fictive Pattern in Poetic Language 
by John Hollander.
Yale, 262 pp., £20, January 1989, 0 300 04293 0
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Second World and Green World: Studies in Renaissance Fiction-Making 
by Harry Berger.
California, 519 pp., $54, November 1988, 0 520 05826 7
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... Eliot may not have been wrong in valuing ‘workshop criticism’, or criticism by poets. True, criticism as we know it consists largely of interpretation and evaluation, activities in which writer-critics have no special advantage over critics pure and simple (if the latter description will quite do for Post-Structuralists). But writers have a manifest advantage in criticism that addresses the craft of literature ...

A New Theory of Communication

Alastair Fowler, 30 March 1989

Relevance: Communication and Cognition 
by Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson.
Blackwell, 279 pp., £8.95, March 1986, 0 631 13756 4
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Human Agency: Language, Duty and Value 
edited by Jonathan Dancy, J.M.E. Moravcsik and C.C.W. Taylor.
Stanford, 308 pp., $35, September 1988, 0 8047 1474 6
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... Collaborative writing is necessarily less common in the humanities than in science and medicine. And it seems rather less common now than in the Forties, when I was making a false start in medicine (the decade when Wimsatt and Beardsley collaborated on The Verbal Icon). Is it that we have become more competitive, more serious? ‘Not on your life, boy,’ my colleague John Hay in the anatomy lab used to say, but he would be helpfully turning a cadaver’s hand in response to my ‘Give me some palm, Olive’ and didn’t have to say he meant quite the opposite ...

I, Lowborn Cur

Colin Burrow: Literary Names, 22 November 2012

Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature 
by Alastair Fowler.
Oxford, 283 pp., £19.99, September 2012, 978 0 19 959222 7
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... so extensive that instance and rule are always pulling against each other. One of the many things Alastair Fowler shows in the course of this fantastically learned and occasionally perverse book is that to think about literary names you have to think about more or less the whole literary system; and when you do so, individual instances of literary names ...

A la mode

Graham Hough, 18 October 1984

Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes 
by Alastair Fowler.
Oxford, 357 pp., £15, December 1982, 0 19 812812 6
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... to decide that we have known it all along. It would be difficult to follow this convention with Alastair Fowler’s book. Kinds of Literature contains nothing subversive of public order or contrary to revealed truth: indeed it is a celebration of order and aims to illuminate neglected truths. And its traditional material is handled in such a way ...

Return to the Totem

Frank Kermode, 21 April 1988

William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion 
by Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, John Jowett and William Montgomery.
Oxford, 671 pp., £60, February 1988, 0 19 812914 9
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Disowning Knowledge in Six Plays of Shakespeare 
by Stanley Cavell.
Cambridge, 226 pp., £25, January 1988, 0 521 33032 7
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A History of English Literature 
by Alastair Fowler.
Blackwell, 395 pp., £17.50, November 1987, 0 631 12731 3
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... of philosophical collaboration always assume it. So it is interesting to observe that in Alastair Fowler’s one-man History of English Literature, a terrifically professional job, Shakespeare has to share thirty pages with the whole of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. Fowler, an expert in genre, divides his ...

Gesture as Language

David Trotter, 30 January 1992

A Cultural History of Gestures: From Antiquity to the Present 
edited by Jan Bremmer and Herman Roodenburg.
Polity, 220 pp., £35, December 1991, 0 7456 0786 1
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The New Oxford Book of 17th-Century Verse 
by Alastair Fowler.
Oxford, 830 pp., £25, November 1991, 0 19 214164 3
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... a spirit of enquiry impatient of traditional, conventional sentiment’. Their successor, Alistair Fowler, prefers not to think in terms of a root-and-branch reform of poetic tradition. He points, instead, to a recovery of Classical genres such as elegy, satire, epigram and georgic, and to a new freedom in the choice of subject-matter. And although his ...

Hard Labour

Frank Kermode: Marvell beneath the Notes, 23 October 2003

The Poems of Andrew Marvell 
edited by Nigel Smith.
Longman, 468 pp., £50, January 2003, 0 582 07770 2
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... from the Trinity MS, still under ban at the time of the first edition; the Milton volumes of Alastair Fowler and John Carey; and a good many others, including, more recently, multi-volume editions of Shelley, Browning and Dryden. The editors are expert and the poets are major poets, so that it seems surprising, but only at first glance, that these ...

Public Works

David Norbrook, 5 June 1986

The Faber Book of Political Verse 
edited by Tom Paulin.
Faber, 481 pp., £17.50, May 1986, 0 571 13947 7
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... for concealing its politics behind apparently ‘natural’ images. But there is some force in Alastair Fowler’s counter-argument that Jonson’s poem, far from excluding labour, helped to pioneer in England a Georgic tradition that gave it a renewed dignity; some of the mystifications have come, not from the poem, but from 20th-century critics ...

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