Frank Kermode has been Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English at University College London, King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge, and Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard. His previous books include THE GENESIS OF SECRECY, AN APPETITE FOR POETRY, THE SENSE OF AN ENDING and his autobiography, NOT ENTITLED. He was knighted in 1991.
Pleasure is not usually associated with reading literary criticism, but this work of beauty and grace by one of our most distinguished critics is in no way typical textual analysis. Aiming less at specialists than at "a non-professional audience with an interest in Shakespeare that has not... been well served by modern critics," Kermode writes from a conviction that "every other aspect of Shakespeare is studied almost to death, but the fact that he was a poet has somehow dropped out of consideration." Kermode's thesis is both basic and subtle: around 1600, he argues, the Bard's already masterful works "moved up to a new level of achievement and difficulty"; Kermode associates a "turning point" with Hamlet and the poem "The Phoenix and the Turtle." In proof of this, he demonstrates certain linguistic "matrices" that become "fundamental to Shakespeare's procedures" and identifies passages that represent a new linguistic "suppleness" and "muscularity." He devotes particular attention to the four great tragedies written at the height of Shakespeare's powers: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. While Kermode's concern is with the Bard's verse, he betrays no simplistic notions about literary language operating in a vacuum. A careful, close analysis of passages in each play is informed by a breathtaking knowledge of Elizabethan history and culture, as well as by the entire history of Shakespeare criticism from Coleridge to Eliot and the new historicists. Kermode's volume succeeds in doing the two things a great work of literary criticism should: it makes us want to read and reread the original texts in light of the critic's findings, and it makes us wonder how the literary world has been getting along without this work for so long. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kermode, one of the foremost British scholars of 16th- and 17th-century literature, has written a host of highly regarded studies. Here he turns his finely tuned literary ear to Shakespeare's linguistic development by concentrating on the poetic evolution of the Bard from 1594 to 1608. Kermode maintains that between the creation of Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus Shakespeare grew into a different kind of poet, developing a more complex and more ambiguous poetics. Kermode explores this development by diving into Shakespeare's language, pulling and pushing at the verse to reveal its secrets and illustrate his thesis. He revels in the wonder of Shakespeare's words and constructions as he works his way through play by play, explaining what is going on, explicating the verse, showing how the change, both subtle and powerful, affects the heart of the work. His take on Shakespeare, view of the plays, and summation of the Shakespearean world are all explained with finely crafted prose. This long-awaited work is an essential purchase for all large public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/99.]--Neal Wyatt, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.