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    It is safe to say that at the time he wrote Titus Andronicus he simply lacked the means to do, or even
    to envisage, what he achieved later, and his treatment of silences is an illustration of this. Impossible
    on the printed page (in the sense that a blank space can stand in no relation to the absence of speech
    in a context of talk), silence can be a feature of oral rhetoric, and was proverbially valuable. 'In
    plentiful speech there is always something to be censured,' says a proverb. Loquacity was deplored,
    but held to be quite different from eloquence, which was praised, though perhaps not in women,
    where it could be a sign of unchastity. And silence itself could be eloquent. When nothing is said,
    runs another proverb, silence speaks. That silence could make a contribution to eloquence, that in the
    theatre you didn't have to lay everything out with the utmost explicitness and could treat silence
    itself as requiring many words..., was evidently a discovery Shakespeare made in the course of time.

    ...

    What happened in the fifteen years or so between Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus is the main
    subject of this book.  There were great changes in both dramatist and audience.  Shakespeare
    became, between 1594 and 1608, a different sort of poet; as in the study of all artists, connections
    between early and late remain detectable, but the manner and purpose of his activities are
    transformed...

    What should be said about this transformation?  That it occurred, substantially, in the course of the
    greatest decade of English drama; that it happened in the writing of Shakespeare and in the ears of
    an audience he had, as it were, trained to receive it.  We register the pace of the speech, its sudden
    turns, its backtrackings, its metaphors flashing before us and disappearing before we can consider
    them.  This is new: the representation of excited, anxious thought; the weighing of confused
    possibilities and dubious motives; the proposing of a theory or explanation followed at once by its
    abandonment or qualification, as in the meditation of a person under stress to whom all that he is
    considering can be a prelude to vital choices ... Shakespeare['s] later language, and so his theatre,
    does not lose all contact with the eloquence of his early work, but moves deliberately in the direction
    of a kind of reticence that might ... be thought close to silence.
           -Frank Kermode, Introduction to Shakespeare's Language

It is no surprise that when you run an Internet search on "William Shakespeare" you produce literally thousands of hits.  Though many extravagant claims are made for the Bard (for example, Harold Bloom's recent study was subtitled "The Invention of the Human", an act for which he allots Shakespeare responsibility), it is surely no exaggeration to say that he is the greatest author of all time and that he had a greater influence on the English language than any other single person.  It is impossible to imagine what our language and literature would be like today had he never written.  But it is also true that much of the language of his plays simply defies our comprehension.  The fact that the plays are 400 years old now and that the Elizabethan theater was a popular medium, and so lent itself to slang terminology and vernacular speech, have obviously contributed to the difficulty.  It's just not reasonable to suppose that modern readers would be equipped to pick up on all of the archaic usages, topical allusions and colloquialisms that he employs.  However, most Shakespeare criticism tends to focus not on the language of the plays but on their plots, on the themes developed within, and on the psyches of the characters.

Now comes the renowned literary critic and Shakespeare scholar, Frank Kermode, with a book devoted exclusively to trying to penetrate those thickets of language and to returning Shakespeare's actual words to a central place in our examination of his work.  He makes a couple of interesting arguments--not wholly his own--that in the less literate times when Shakespeare wrote, his audience's had been trained to listen better than we and to process what they heard more efficiently; that even then Shakespeare intentionally crafted much of the obscure language and the difficult grammatical constructs in order to reflect a new complexity in the thought processes of his characters; and that, as Samuel Johnson believed, the author may not always have been able to sort out what he was saying himself, but retained what he had written both for it's intrinsic beauty and because even his own confusion served his purposes of complexification. In essence, he was transforming theater, such that the drama of the play became not just the action on stage but also the conflict and chaos within the minds of the characters.

After an Introduction, where he lays out his case, Kermode then briefly surveys all of Shakespeare's
work prior to 1594, the point at which he feels the change in styles really takes off.  Then in Part Two of the book he goes play-by-play into the language of all 16 of Shakespeare's later works.  He examines the playwright's technique in detail, his uses of repetition, of contradiction, of doubling (the play within a play or two stories in the same play which closely parallel one another), even of silence.  Without ever losing site of the plot, the characters and the themes developed, Kermode demonstrates time and again the shear genius of Shakespeare's wordplay.

In all honesty, there can't be many people, certainly not me, who can follow everything that Kermode's talking about here.  Who, after all, has actually read or seen all of the plays?  He has made an earnest effort to keep the book geared towards the non-expert, but the casual assumption that we'll recognize speeches and lines from dozens of different plays gives us a little too much credit.  However, I happen to have recently read Julius Caesar, Richard III, King Lear and Othello, and I found his chapters on each to be a tremendous help in deciphering the language of the text.  Plus, it's comforting to know that for 400 hundred years scholars have been baffled by the same passages that you are.

This is a book to be read first in one fell swoop, just to marvel at Kermode's mastery of his subject, but then to be kept on a shelf nearby, so that you can dip in to individual chapters on the various plays as you see or read them.  I assure you, reading the book will give you a fresh appreciation for the grandeur of Shakespeare's body of work and will send you scurrying to the original texts.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A-)

  

Websites:

Frank Kermode Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Frank Kermode
    -Sir Frank Kermode Papers, 1919-2006: Finding Aid Princeton University)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Shakespeare's Language by Frank Kermode
    -OBIT: Frank Kermode, 1919-2010 (Jonathan Derbyshire, 18 August 2010, New Statesman)
    -OBIT: British literary critic Frank Kermode dies at age 90 (T. Rees Shapiro, August 19, 2010, Washington Post)
    -OBIT: Frank Kermode, 90, a Critic Who Wrote With Style, Is Dead (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, August 18, 2010, NY Times)
    (VERLYN KLINKENBORG, August 19, 2010, NY Times)
   
-OBIT: Sir Frank Kermode (Daily Telegraph, 8/22/10)
    -TRIBUTE: Frank Kermode (David Warren, 8/22/10, Ottawa Citizen)
    -OBIT: Celebrated critic Frank Kermode dies aged 90 : Prominent for more than half-a-century, he combined an eminent scholarly career with popular success (Alison Flood, 8/18/10, guardian.co.uk)
    -TRIBUTE: Frank Kermode remembered: Frank Kermode, who died on Tuesday, was a brilliant, utterly umpompous scholar who wore his learning lightly, writes a friend and fellow writer (John Naughton, 8/22/10, The Observer)
    -TRIBUTE: Fierce reading: Frank Kermode, Britain's most influential literary critic, died this week. John Sutherland salutes an outsider, a brilliant essayist and an enthusiast for the difficult, who instructed generations in new ways of thinking (John Sutherland, 8/21/10, The Guardian)
    -TRIBUTE: Remembering Frank Kermode (Lee Siegel, August 19, 2010, NY Observer)
    -TRIBUTE: The Sense of an Ending: Remembering Frank Kermode (Robert Alter, August 21, 2010, New Republic)
    -PROFILE: The wonder of Frank Kermode: At the age of ninety, his learning and insight seem indestructible (Dinah Birch , 2/21/10, TLS)
    -INTERVIEW: The Books Interview: Christopher Ricks (Leo Robson, 02 August 2010, New Statesman)
    -INTERVIEW: The Books Interview: Frank Kermode (Jonathan Derbyshire, 05 February 2010, New Statesman)
    -ARCHIVES: "frank kermode" (New Statesman)
    -ARCHIVES: kermode (NY Times)
    -ARCHIVES: "frank kermode" (The Guardian)
    -ARCHIVES: Frank Kermode (NY Review of Books)
    -EXCERPTS: “A New Era of Shakespeare Criticism” in The New York Review of Books
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Heroic Milton: Happy Birthday (Frank Kermode, 2/26/09, NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: Wilson and McCarthy: Still Entangled (Frank Kermode, November 23, 1997, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Heaven, They're in Heaven (Frank Kermode, April 23, 2000, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Avon Calling (Frank Kermode, January 11, 2004, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of FROM BONDAGE Volume 3 of "Mercy of a Rude Stream." By Henry Roth (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of SWEET VIOLENCE: The Idea of the Tragic By Terry Eagleton (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of BEYOND BELIEF: The Secret Gospel of Thomas by Elaine Pagels (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE Talmud and the Internet: A Journey Between Worlds by Jonathan Rosen (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture, and History by Lawrence W. Levine (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A CENTURY OF ARTS & LETTERS: The History of the National Institute of Arts & Letters and the American Academy of Arts & Letters as Told, Decade by Decade by Eleven Members (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of OSBERT SITWELL by Philip Ziegler (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of HOW MILTON WORKS by Stanley Fish (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Walking in the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949-1962 by Doris Lessing (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of QUARANTINE by Jim Crace (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of DIANA: In Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess By Sally Bedell Smith (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of A PELICAN IN THE WILDERNESS: Hermits, Solitaries and Recluses by Isabel Colegate (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of LITERATURE LOST: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities by John M. Ellis. (Frank Kermode, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: NIGHT TRAIN by Martin Amis (Frank Kermode, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: Lectures on Shakespeare by W.H. Auden, edited by Arthur Kirsch (Frank Kermode, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Concerning E M Forster by Frank Kermode (Leo Robson, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: Concerning E.M. Forster (Nicholas Delbanco, LA Times)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: The Age of Shakespeare by Frank Kermode (Metacritic)
    -REVIEW: of The Age of Shakespeare Frank Kermode (David Crystal, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: of THE AGE OF SHAKESPEARE by Frank Kermode (Joy Connolly, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Pleasing Myself. Frank Kermode (Clive James)
    -REVIEW:
   
-REVIEW: of PIECES OF MY MIND: Essays and Criticism 1958-2002 By Frank Kermode (James Shapiro, NY Times Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Pleasing Myself Frank Kermode (DJ Taylor, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: of Shakespeare's Language by Frank Kermode (Brad Leithauser, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Shakespeare's Language Frank Kermode (Terence Hawkes, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: Shakespeare's Language By Frank Kermode (Wen Stephenson, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: of Shakespeare's Language (Gregor Milne, Richmond Review)

Book-related and General Links:
    -FEATURED AUTHOR : Frank Kermode (NY Times Book Review)
    -ARCHIVES : "frank kermode" (NY Review of Books)
    -KERMODE, SIR FRANK. The Columbia Encyclopedia: Sixth Edition. 2000
    -BOOK SITE : Shakespeare's Language by Frank Kermode (FSB Associates)
    -EXCERPT : First Chapter of Shakespeare's Language
    -EXCERPT: Excerpt from "A Reply to Joseph Frank" by Frank Kermode (Critical Inquiry)
    -INTERVIEW : Marshall McLuhan (Frank Kermode, BBC, 1964)
    -INTERVIEW: With a lifetime of illuminating literary criticism behind him, Frank Kermode has a new book about Shakespeare's language. Katie Donovan talks to him in his Cambridge home (Irish Times)
    -ESSAY : Joseph Conrad Never Jumped  (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Writing about Shakespeare (Frank Kermode, London Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: "The Academy vs. the Humanities," (Frank Kermode, August 1997, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : Heaven, their in Heaven (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : Wilson and McCarthy: Still Entangled  (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of How Milton Works  By STANLEY FISH (FRANK KERMODE, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  The War against Cliché: Essays and Reviews 1971-2000 by Martin Amis (Frank Kermode, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of Words Alone: The Poet T.S. Eliot. By Denis Donoghue (Frank Kermode, Irish Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Opening of the American Mind Canons, Culture, and History. By Lawrence W. Levine (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities by John M. Ellis The Academy vs. the Humanities (Frank Kermode, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: of T S Eliot by Peter Ackroyd (Frank Kermode, Books Unlimited)
    -REVIEW : Jul 20, 2000 Frank Kermode: The Geat of Geats, NY Review of Books
               Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney
               Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by R.M. Liuzza
    -REVIEW : Apr 23, 1998 Frank Kermode: The Midrash Mishmash, NY Review of Books
               The Bible As It Was by James L. Kugel
    -REVIEW : May 15, 1997 Frank Kermode: Advertisement for Himself, NY Review of Books
               The Gospel According to the Son by Norman Mailer
    -REVIEW : Feb 6, 1997 Frank Kermode: The World Turned Upside Down, NY Review of Books
               The Dictionary of Global Culture edited by Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
    -REVIEW : Nov 28, 1996 Frank Kermode: Getting Even, NY Review of Books
               Revenge Tragedy: Aeschylus to Armageddon by John Kerrigan
    -REVIEW: of Night Train by Martin Amis It tends to get lost in discussions of his teeth, but Martin Amis is teetering on the edge of profundity (Frank Kermode, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: of Darwin's Worms by Adam Phillips.  Complicated Detours (Frank Kermode, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Heaven' edited by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Selected Letters of Rebecca West Edited, Annotated, and Introduced by Bonnie Kime Scott (FRANK KERMODE, The New Republic)
    -REVIEW: of The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore (Frank Kermode, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of The Enigma of Arrival by V. S. Naipaul (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of HABITATIONS OF THE WORD Essays. By William H. Gass (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of DIANA In Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess. By Sally Bedell Smith (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of VICE VERSA Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life. By Marjorie Garber (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of OSBERT SITWELL By Philip Ziegler (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of MY GERMAN QUESTION Growing Up in Nazi Berlin. By Peter Gay (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of QUARANTINE By Jim Crace (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Walking in the Shade Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949-1962. By Doris Lessing (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of FROM BONDAGE Volume 3 of 'Mercy of a Rude Stream.' By Henry Roth (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE NAKED HEART The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud. Volume 4. By Peter Gay (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE SIXTIES The Last Journal, 1960-1972. By Edmund Wilson  (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of LITERARY REFLECTIONS A Shoring of Images, 1960-1993. By R. W. B. Lewis (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE DISUNITING OF AMERICA By Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of COMPLETE COLLECTED STORIES By V.S. Pritchett (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  THE BOOK OF J Translated by David Rosenberg. Interpreted by Harold Bloom(Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of READING RUSSELL Essays 1941-1988. On Ideas, Literature, Art, Theater, Music, Places, and Persons. By John Russell (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  STORIES IN AN ALMOST CLASSICAL MODE By Harold Brodkey (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  PUSHKIN HOUSE By Andrei Bitov (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  PRODIGAL SONS The New York Intellectuals & Their World. By Alexander Bloom (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  DECADENT SOCIETIES, By Robert M. Adams (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  FREUD AND MAN'S SOUL By Bruno Bettelheim (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  THE ART OF BIBLICAL NARRATIVE By Robert Alter (Frank Kermode, NY Times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW: of Marshall McLuhan (BBC Interview by Frank Kermode, 1964)
    -DISCUSSION: The Man in the Back Row Has a Question VI (Paris Review)
    -ARTICLE : Lasky Will Stay With Encounter (NY Times, 1967)
    -ESSAY: Minds wide shut : A new book makes the CIA's Cold War skulduggery look upright compared with the self-deceptions of the intellectuals who were on the agency's payroll. (Robert S. Boynton, Salon)
    -ESSAY : The Play's the Thing, Again (Ron Rosenbaum , NY Times Book Review)
    -ARCHIVES : "frank kermode" (Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Shakespeare's Language By Frank Kermode (Brad Leithauser, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of   Shakespeare's Language by Frank Kermode  (JAMES WOOD, New Republic)
    -REVIEW : John Bayley: The Greatest!, NY Review of Books
               William Shakespeare: The Man Behind the Genius by Anthony Holden
               Shakespeare's Language by Frank Kermode
    -REVIEW : of Shakespeare's Language (James Wood, The Guardian UK)
    -REVIEW: of Shakespeare's Language (John F. Andrews, Wahington Post Book World)
    -REVIEW: of Shakespeare's Language (Hermione Lee, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Shakespeare's Language by Frank Kermode Wild and whirling words  (Colin MacCabe, Independent UK)
    -REVIEW : of Shakespeare's Language by Frank Kermode The Rest Is Silence : Michael Almereyda's Hamlet, Frank Kermode's Shakespeare, and the Prince of Denmark in the age of digital reproduction. (Wen Stephenson, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of Shakespeare's Language  (James Shapiro, Civilization Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of Shakespeare's Language The Shadow and the Myth (A.R. BRAUNMULLER, L. A. Times)
    -REVIEW: of Shakespeare's Language ( MICHAEL SIMS, Book Page)
    -REVIEW : of Shakespeare's Language  (New Statesman, Terence Hawke)
    -REVIEW : of SHAKESPEARE'S LANGUAGE, by Frank Kermode (James Morris, Wilson Quarterly)
    -REVIEW: of NOT ENTITLED A Memoir. By Frank Kermode (David Bromwich, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of NOT ENTITLED A Memoir. By Frank Kermode (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Not Entitled : A Memoir by Frank Kermode (Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World)
    -REVIEW : Dec 4, 1997 Helen Vendler: 'Ice and Fire and Solitude', NY Review of Books
               Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose by Frank Kermode
    -REVIEW : of FORMS OF ATTENTION By Frank Kermode (O. B. Hardison, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of HISTORY AND VALUE By Frank Kermode (William H. Pritchard, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE USES OF ERROR By Frank Kermode (Walter Kendrick, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of AN APPETITE FOR POETRY By Frank Kermode (Nina Auerbach, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Pleasing Myself by Frank Kermode (John Carey, Times of London)
    -REVIEW : of Pleasing Myself by Frank Kermode (Andrew Marr, booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of Pleasing Myself by Frank Kermode (Michael Glover, Independent uk)

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