Cover image for Shakespeare's language
Shakespeare's language
Kermode, Frank, 1919-2010.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 324 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
PR3072 .K47 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In this landmark of Shakespearean studies, Britain's most distinguished scholar of 16th-century and 17th-century literature offers a distillation of his thinking on the Bard.

Author Notes

Sir John Frank Kermode, November 29, 1919 - August 17, 2010 John Kermode was a British literary critic best known for his work The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction, published in 1967 (revised 2000), and for his extensive book-reviewing and editing. He was the Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London and the King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge University.

Kermode served during World War II with the Royal Navy. After the war, Kermode held positions at Manchester University, Bristol University, University College of London, and Cambridge University, all in England, and at Columbia University in New York City. He was Charles E. Norton Professor at Harvard University in 1977-78 and Henry Luce Professor at Yale University in 1994.

Kermode wrote several books on literary figures, including D.H. Lawrence and Wallace Stevens. His works of criticism include An Appetite for Poetry and The Art of Telling. Kermode was also the editor of the cultural journal, Encounter and his memoir, Not Entitled, was published in 1995. Kermode serves on the editorial board of the London Review of Books and Common Knowledge and has acted as judge for the Booker Prize. He was knighted for his service to English literature and he was named a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1999.

He died in Cambridge on August 17, 2010. (Bowker Author Biography) Frank Kermode has written & edited many works, among them "Forms of Attention" & a memoir, "Not Entitled" (FSG, 1995). He lives in Cambridge, England, & has frequently taught in the United States.

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Reviews 4

Booklist Review

At a time when many critics are busy slicing Shakespeare up to fit into their historical and political case studies, it falls to senior scholar Kermode to restore a sense of wholeness by reminding us of the Bard's unmatched achievement as a dramatic poet. Kermode's analysis authenticates the genius that outgrew not only the classical tropes of Shakespeare's early nondramatic poetry but even--in the later plays--the constraints of logic and grammar. In adumbrating the metamorphosis of Shakespeare's poetic style, Kermode carefully guides the nonspecialist through the plays, highlighting the impulses that transformed the lucid rhetoric of early works into the baffling yet rich obscurities of the post-Hamlet works. In such obscurities, we behold a remarkable new departure for dramatic verse, one capable of representing the dark intensity of minds in crisis. We also see a great artist's willingness to take risks, challenging his audience to follow him into an enlarged perspective on a perplexing world. In his perceptive response to the later poetry, Kermode demonstrates why the best readers continue to vindicate Shakespeare's risks by accepting his challenge. --Bryce Christensen

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Kermode's analysis of the development of language in Shakespeare's drama focuses on the plays from Hamlet through Coriolanus (although the initial section treats briefly dramas prior to 1599). Uncertainties of text and chronology pose formidable challenges, but Kermode (Cambridge Univ.) provides convincing readings to illustrate his argument that Shakespeare's language becomes increasingly complex and obscure as his dramatic art matures. Like another senior scholar, Robert Scholes (The Rise and Fall of English CH, Jun'98), Kermode desires a return to the language of the text as the basis for useful criticism and so eschews both Shakespearean "idolatry" and political contextualizing. Aiming, he says, at the general reader rather than the scholar, he writes elegantly and gives sophisticated and rewarding readings of the plays. The book will be most useful for students of Shakespeare at the upper-division undergraduate level and above, but it is accessible to a general audience. Highly recommended. ; Our Lady of the Lake University of San Antonio