188. (William Shakespeare)

Many of Shakespeare’s plays involve a recurring movement or transformation, which I will describe in terms that are broadly metaphysical and mostly instinctive. Backing them up, explaining them, might happen in some later posts. For now, I’ll set out the nature of the shift. The transformation happens in the plays when the superfluous is recognized to be irreplaceable. Or rather, that recognition happens in the … Continue reading 188. (William Shakespeare)

187. (Charles Williams)

When anyone remembers Charles Williams these days, it is probably for one of two reasons. Either they know of Williams through his association with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. He was a brief but dazzling member of the Inklings and features centrally in the enjoyable recent biography of that group, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip and Carol Zaleski. Otherwise, they know of Williams … Continue reading 187. (Charles Williams)

177. (William Shakespeare)

A second in a series of what seem a “redundant discoveries of obvious value,” this post can claim nothing novel about Shakespeare’s sonnets, but will instead serve as a memorandum of the summer’s gradual realization of just how they tower. They had always, in my encounters with critics and devotees, either excuses for ingenious but tiresome exercises in dextrous ambiguity hunting expeditions, or else as the province … Continue reading 177. (William Shakespeare)

171. (T.S. Eliot)

  Among Eliot’s staunchest and nimblest readers, Christopher Ricks was unrelenting in his 1978 attack on Eliot’s late essay, “What is Minor Poetry?”  I offer first a series of quotations from Ricks’ piece, published in Ploughshares: Eliot is probably the only important critic who has bent himself to—or on—the distinction between major and minor, and yet even this master of elusiveness found himself out-eluded. For his … Continue reading 171. (T.S. Eliot)

103. (Anthony Hecht)

They are almost “conversation” poems, but they offer too many explanations, the sorts of explanations of who the speaker is, of what they speaker refers to and knows; a conversation poem assumes familiarity with an audience. What makes Hecht’s poems seem so nearly conversation pieces is the fact of their being lyric expositions and narrations, rather than lyric dramatizations. The showing and telling, hearing and … Continue reading 103. (Anthony Hecht)

55. (William Shakespeare)

The crisis for Richard II, and the crisis of Richard II, comes in Act 3, Scene 2: landing from Ireland, he assumes a conqueror’s pose on the shores of his own kingdom upon learning of Bolingbroke’s return from exile; hearing of further turns of fortune, each a turn of the screw in his fate, his responses veer wildly from defiant to triumphant to despairing to … Continue reading 55. (William Shakespeare)