Manifestations of politeness in Shakespeares dramatic works

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If an artist acts contrary to the practice of all other artists, the result is either that he produces no art-effect at all, in which case there is nothing for criticism to register and analyse, or else he produces a new effect, and is thus extending, not breaking, the laws of art. The great clash of horns in Beethoven's Heroic Symphony was at first denounced as a gross fault, a violation of the plainest laws of harmony; now, instead of a 'fault,' it is spoken of as a 'unique effect,' and in the difference between the two descriptions lies the whole difference between the conceptions of judicial and inductive criticism.

Again and again in the past this notion of faults has led criticism on to wrong tracks, from which it has had to retrace its steps on finding the supposed faults to be in reality new laws. Immense energy was wasted in denouncing Shakespeare's 'fault' of uniting serious with light matter in the same play as a violation of fundamental dramatic laws; experience showed this mixture of passions to be the source of powerful art-effects hitherto shut out of the Drama, and the 'fault' became one of the distinguishing 'laws' in the most famous branch of modern literature.

It is necessary then to insist upon the strict scientific sense of the term 'law' as used of literature and art; and the purging of criticism from the confusion attaching to this word is an essential step in its elevation to the inductive standard. It is a step, moreover, in which it has been preceded by other branches of thought.

At one time the practice of commerce and the science of economy suffered under the same confusion: the battle of 35 'free trade' has been fought, the battle of 'free art' is still going on.

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In time it will be recognised that the practice of artists, like the operations of business, must be left to its natural working, and the attempt to impose external canons of taste on artists will appear as futile as the attempt to effect by legislation the regulation of prices. Objections may possibly be taken to this train of argument on very high grounds, as if the protest against the notion of law-obeying in art were a sort of antinomianism.

Literature, it may be said, has a moral purpose, to elevate and refine, and no duty can be higher than that of pointing out what in it is elevating and refining, and jealously watching against any lowering of its standard. Such contention may readily be granted, and yet may amount to no more than this: that there are ways of dealing with literature which are more important than inductive criticism, but which are none the less outside it.

Jeremy Collier did infinite service to our Restoration Drama, but his was not the service of a scientific critic. The same things take different ranks as they are tried by the standards of science or morals. An enervating climate may have the effect of enfeebling the moral character, but this does not make the geographer's interest in the tropical zone one whit the less.

Economy concerns itself simply with the fact that a certain subsidence of profits in a particular trade will drive away capital to other trades.

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But the details of human experience that are latent in such a proposition: the chilling effects of unsuccess and the dim colour it gives to the outlook into the universe, the sifting of character and separation between the enterprising and the simple, the hard thoughts as to the mysterious dispensations of human prosperity, the sheer misery of a wage-class looking on plenty and feeling starvation—this human drama of failing profits may be vastly more important than the whole science of economy, but economy none the less entirely and rightly ignores it.

To some, I know, it appears that literature is a sphere in 36 which the strict sense of the word 'law' has no application: that such laws belong to nature, not to art. The essence, it is contended, of the natural sciences is the certainty of the facts with which they deal. Art, on the contrary, is creative; it does not come into the category of objective phenomena at all, but is the product of some artist's will, and therefore purely arbitrary. If in a compilation of observations in natural history for scientific use it became known that the compiler had at times drawn upon his imagination for his details, the whole compilation would become useless; and any scientific theories based upon it would be discredited.

But the artist bases his work wholly on imagination, and caprice is a leading art-beauty: how, it is asked, can so arbitrary a subject-matter be reduced to the form of positive laws? In view of any such objections, it may be well to set up a third axiom of inductive criticism: That art is a part of nature. Nature, it is true, is the vaguest of words: but this is a vagueness common to the objection and the answer.

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The objection rests really on a false antithesis, of which one term is 'nature,' while it is not clear what is the other term; the axiom set up in answer implies that there is no real distinction between 'nature' and the other phenomena which are the subject of human enquiry. The distinction is supposed to rest upon the degree to which arbitrary elements of the mind, such as imagination, will, caprice, enter into such a thing as art-production.

Other arbitrary products subject to inductive treatment. But there are other things in which the human will plays as much part as it does in art, and which have nevertheless proved compatible with inductive treatment. Those who hold that 'thought is free' do not reject psychology as an inductive science; actual politics are made up of struggles of will, exercises of arbitrary power, and the like, and yet there is a political science.

If there is an inductive science of politics, men's voluntary actions in the pursuit of public life, and an inductive science of economy, men's voluntary actions in pursuit of wealth, why should 37 there not be an inductive science of art, men's voluntary actions in pursuit of the beautiful? The whole of human action, as well as the whole of external nature, comes within the jurisdiction of science; so far from the productions of the will and imagination being exempted from scientific treatment, will and imagination themselves form chapters in psychology, and caprice has been analysed.

It remains to notice the third of the three ideas in relation to which the two kinds of criticism are in complete contrast with one another.

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It is a vague notion, which no objector would formulate, but which as a fact does underlie judicial criticism, and insensibly accompanies its testing and assaying. It is the idea that the foundations of literary form have reached their final settlement, the past being tacitly taken as a standard for the present and future, or the present as a standard for the past. Thus in the treatment of new literature the idea manifests itself in a secret antagonism to variations from received models; at the very least, new forms are called upon to justify themselves, and so the judicial critic brings his least receptive attitude to the new effects which need receptiveness most.

In opposition to this tacit assumption, inductive criticism starts with a distinct counter-axiom of the utmost importance: That literature is a thing of development.


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Fourth axiom of inductive criticism: literature a thing of development. This axiom implies that the critic must come to literature as to that in which he is expecting to find unlimited change and variety; he must keep before him the fact that production must always be far ahead of criticism and analysis, and must have carried its conquering invention into fresh regions before science, like settled government in the wake of the pioneer, follows to explain the new effects by new principles. Ignoring of development in new literature: Such systems are apt to begin by laying down that 'the object of literature is so and 38 so,' or that 'the purpose of the Drama is to pourtray human nature'; they then proceed to test actual literature and dramas by the degree in which they carry out these fundamental principles.

Such procedure is the opposite of the inductive method, and is a practical denial of development in literature. Assuming that the object of existing literature were correctly described, such a formula could not bind the literature of the future. Assuming that there was ever a branch of art which could be reduced to one simple purpose, yet the inherent tendency of the human mind and its productions to develop would bring it about that what were at first means towards this purpose would in time become ends in themselves side by side with the main purpose, giving us in addition to the simple species a modified variety of it; external influences, again, would mingle with the native characteristics of the original species, and produce new species compound in their purposes and effects.

The real literature would be ever obeying the first principle of development and changing from simple to complex, while the criticism that tried it by the original standard would be at each step removed one degree further from the only standard by which the literature could be explained. Development in past literature confused with improvement. And if judicial criticism fails in providing for development in the future and present, it is equally unfortunate in giving a false twist to development when looked for in the past.

The critic of comparative standards is apt to treat early stages of literature as elementary, tacitly assuming his own age as a standard up to which previous periods have developed. Thus his treatment of the past becomes often an assessment of the degrees in which past periods have approximated to his own, advancing from literary pot-hooks to his own running facility.

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The clearness of an ancient writer he values at fifty per cent. But what if a certain degree of mistiness be an essential element in the 39 phase of literary development to which the particular writer belongs, so that in him modern clearness would become, in judicial phrase, a fault? What if Plato's concatenation of sentences would simply spoil the flavour of Herodotus's story-telling, if Jeremy Taylor's prolixity and Milton's bi-lingual prose be simply the fittest of all dresses for the thought of their age and individual genius?

In fact, the critic of fixed standards confuses development with improvement : a parallel mistake in natural history would be to understand the statement that man is higher in the scale of development than the butterfly as implying that a butterfly was God's failure in the attempt to make man. The inductive critic will accord to the early forms of his art the same independence he accords to later forms.

Development will not mean to him education for a future stage, but the perpetual branching out of literary activity into ever fresh varieties, different in kind from one another, and each to be studied by standards of its own: the 'individuality' of authors is the expression in literary parlance which corresponds to the perpetual 'differentiation' of new species in science.

Alike, then, in his attitude to the past and the future, the inductive critic will eschew the temptation to judgment by fixed standards, which in reality means opposing lifeless rules to the ever-living variety of nature.


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  8. He will leave a dead judicial criticism to bury its dead authors and to pen for them judicious epitaphs, and will himself approach literature filled equally with reverence for the unbroken vitality of its past and faith in its exhaustless future. To gather up our results. Induction, as the most universal of scientific methods, may be presumed to apply wherever there is a subject-matter reducible to the form of fact; such a subject-matter will be found in literature where its effects are interpreted, not arbitrarily, but with strict reference to the details of the literary works as they actually stand.

    There is thus an inductive literary criticism, akin in 40 spirit and methods to the other inductive sciences, and distinct from other branches of criticism, such as the criticism of taste. This inductive criticism will entirely free itself from the judicial spirit and its comparisons of merit, which is found to have been leading criticism during half its history on to false tracks from which it has taken the other half to retrace its steps.

    On the contrary, inductive criticism will examine literature in the spirit of pure investigation: looking for the laws of art in the practice of artists, and treating art, like the rest of nature, as a thing of continuous development, which may thus be expected to fall, with each author and school, into varieties distinct in kind from one another, and each of which can be fully grasped only when examined with an attitude of mind adapted to the special variety without interference from without. To illustrate the criticism thus described in its application to Shakespeare is the purpose of the present work.

    The scope of the book is limited to the consideration of Shakespeare in his character as the great master of the Romantic Drama; and its treatment of his dramatic art divides itself into two parts. The first applies the inductive method in a series of Studies devoted to particular plays, and to single important features of dramatic art which these plays illustrate. One of the purposes of this first part is to bring out how the inductive method, besides its scientific interest, has the further recommendation of assisting more than any other treatment to enlarge our appreciation of the author and of his achievements.

    The second part will use the materials collected in the first part to present, in the form of a brief survey, Dramatic Criticism as an inductive science: enumerating, so far as its materials admit, the leading topics which such a science would treat, and arranging these topics in the logical connection which scientific method requires. THE starting-point in the treatment of any work of literature is its position in literary history: the recognition of this gives the attitude of mind which is most favourable for extracting from the work its full effect.

    The division of the universal Drama to which Shakespeare belongs is known as the 'Romantic Drama,' one of its chief distinctions being that it uses the stories of Romance, together with histories treated as story-books, as the sources from which the matter of the plays is taken; Romances are the raw material out of which the Shakespearean Drama is manufactured.

    This very fact serves to illustrate the elevation of the Elizabethan Drama in the scale of literary development: just as the weaver uses as his raw material that which is the finished product of the spinner, so Shakespeare and his contemporaries start in their art of dramatising from Story which is already a form of art. In the exhibition, then, of Shakespeare as an Artist, it is natural to begin with the raw material which he worked up into finished masterpieces.

    For illustration of this no play could be more suitable than The Merchant of Venice , in which two tales, already familiar in the story form, have been woven together into a single plot: the Story of the Cruel Jew, who entered into a bond with his enemy of which the forfeit was to be a pound of this 44 enemy's own flesh, and the Story of the Heiress and the Caskets. The present study will deal with the stories themselves, considering them as if with the eye of a dramatic artist to catch the points in which they lend themselves to dramatic effect; the next will show how Shakespeare improves the stories in the telling, increasing their dramatic force by the very process of working them up; a third study will point out how, not content with two stories, he has added others in the development of his plot, making it more complex only in reality to make it more simple.

    In the Story of the Jew the main point is its special capability for bringing out the idea of Nemesis , one of the simplest and most universal of dramatic motives. Described broadly, Nemesis is retribution as it appears in the world of art.