I haven't finished the book yet, but it is a good read. Kermode's talking in a critical way about how Shakespeare's earlier plays were like declamations of poetic metaphor. During the 1590s they changed as English drama evolved into a more modern form, with more naturalistic acting, so that instead of declaiming, people spoke as individuals. Amazingly, this transformation happened during a decade in which England was swept by plague, and the theatres were closed for a couple of years.
Then in the early 1600's Shakespeare went even beyond psychological truthfulness, to strain language to breaking point.
Kermode also has an interesting article in the LRB this month about the literary theorist William Empson. I've never read any Empson but I think I'd like him.
- He was scruffy and disorganised
- He was expelled from Cambridge University and banned from entering the city of Cambridge for having a condom in his room
- Generous attitude to women and women's pleasure
- The importance of ambiguity in language, and personal honour in one's day to day life
- Vociferous critic of Christianity and what he called 'neo-Christianity' that is, people who have no religious belief but affect a religious type of moral demeanour
- Dislike of modern literary criticism
heh, here is Empson on Pascal's famous 'wager'
(Pascal) argued, while more or less inventing the mathematics of Probability, that since the penalties for disbelief in Christianity are infinitely horrible and enduring, therefore, if there is any probability, however tiny (but finite) that the assertions of religion are true, a reasonable man will endure any degree of pain and shame on earth (since this is known beforehand to be finite) on the mere chance that the assertions are true. The answer is political, not mathematical; this argument makes Pascal the slave of any person, professing any doctrine, who has the impudence to tell him a sufficiently extravagant lie. A man ought therefore to reject such a calculation; and I feel there has been a strange and unpleasant moral collapse during my own lifetime, because so many of our present literary mentors not only accept it but talk as if that was a moral thing to do. Clearly, if you have reduced morality to keeping the taboos imposed by an infinite malignity, you can have no sense of personal honour or of the public good.