Monday, March 17, 2014

Shakespeare's Language

Shakespeare’s Language by Frank Kermode. 2000. Read in August 2011.

                      I started reading this book just a few days after having visited Stratford upon Avon for the first (and so far only) time.
                      Kermode goes against the attitude that Shakespeare’s works, having been meant for the stage, can only be thoroughly appreciated on the stage. He emphasizes the importance of Shakespeare as a writer and has written a detailed and fascinating book in which he really explores about as many aspects of Shakespeare’s language as you can think of, giving many examples from the plays.
                      Part One is a general discussion of various plays. Part Two chooses a specific play for each chapter, not only the major plays but some of the lesser known like Pericles, Troilus and Cressida and Coriolanus. For example, in his chapter about Pericles, Kermode points out that Marina’s “indignation summons the Shakespearian fondness for the abrupt, violent, usually monosyllabic verb” (page 259). In Troilus and Cressida he makes the claim that “the language is almost everywhere concerned with questions relating to value” (page 129).
                      He also looks at specific words, for example “brow” and tells us that this word or its plural “brows” occurs in the plays 129 times. This is in the chapter about Hamlet and it is shown that some scholars think brows can mean lunacies but Kermode doesn’t think it’s that simple: “Much might be deduced from the condition of the brows” (page 117).
                      Some of his reasoning is a bit convoluted and it’s not always explained. Towards the end of the book he mentions “the muscle-bound contortions of the late Shakespeare’s language” (page 304) and while I like the sound of it, I don’t really know what he means.
                      When starting to write analyses of the plays for Shakespeare Calling I thought I would be referring often to this book, but I don’t remember having done so even once. That still might come however.  It really is an interesting book.


  1. Am currently reading this. Mightily disappointing Part One. One third quotations, one third paraphrase of the quotations, one third description of plots - all pedestrian beyond belief. I expected a lot more from such a big name. Am planning to read eight chapters from Part Two, but I think I'll need a break first.

  2. It's been so long since I read this that I scarcely remember it. Mostly a lot of details I think. I did think it was interesting though, evidently.