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A Beckett Canon

Ruby Cohn

Samuel Beckett is unique in literature. Born and educated in Ireland, he lived most of his life in Paris. His literary output was rendered in either English or French, and he often translated one to the other, but there is disagreement about the contents of his bilingual corpus. A Beckett Canon by renowned theater scholar Ruby Cohn offers an invaluable guide to the entire corpus, commenting on Beckett's work in its original language. Beginning in 1929 with Beckett's earliest work, the book examines the variety of genres in which he worked: poems, short stories, novels, plays, radio pieces, teleplays, reviews, and criticism. Cohn grapples with the difficulties in Beckett's work, including the opaque erudition of the early English verse and fiction, and the searching depths and syntactical ellipsis of the late works. Specialist and nonspecialist readers will find A Beckett Canon valuable for its remarkable inclusiveness. Cohn has examined the holdings of all of the major Beckett depositories, and is thus able to highlight neglected manuscripts and correct occasional errors in their listings. Intended as a resource to accompany the reading of Beckett's writing--in English or French, published or unpublished, in part or as a whole--the book offers context, information, and interpretation of the work of one of the last century's most important writers. Ruby Cohn is Professor Emerita of Comparative Drama, University of California, Davis. She is author or editor of many books, including Anglo-American Interplay in Recent Drama; Retreats from Realism in Recent English Drama; From Desire to Godot; and Just Play: Beckett's Theater.

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Before Daybreak

"After the Race" and the Origins of Joyce's Art

Cóilín Owens

Joyce's "After the Race" is a seemingly simple tale, historically unloved by critics. Yet when magnified and dismantled, the story yields astounding political, philosophic, and moral intricacy.

In Before Daybreak, Cóilín Owens shows that "After the Race" is much more than a story about Dublin at the time of the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup Race: in reality, it is a microcosm of some of the issues most central to Joycean scholarship.

These issues include large-scale historical concerns--in this case, radical nationalism and the centennial of Robert Emmet's rebellion. Owens also explains the temporary and local issues reflected in Joyce's language, organization, and silences. He traces Joyce's narrative technique to classical, French, and Irish traditions. Additionally, "After the Race" reflects Joyce's internal conflict between emotional allegiance to Christian orthodoxy and contemporary intellectual skepticism.

If the dawning of Joyce's singular power, range, subtlety, and learning can be identified in a seemingly elementary text like "After the Race," this study implicitly contends that any Dubliners story can be mined to reveal the intertextual richness, linguistic subtlety, parodic brilliance, and cultural poignancy of Joyce's art. Owens’s meticulous work will stimulate readers to explore Joyce's stories with the same scrutiny in order to comprehend and relish how Joyce writes.

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Ben Jonson's 'Dotages'

A Reconsideration of the Late Plays

Larry S. Champion

Although there has been a general revival of interest in Ben Jonson's dramatic work in the past twenty years, little critical effort has been directed to his late plays -- dismissed by John Dryden as the "dotages" of an aging mind. Through a close reading of The Devil Is an Ass, The Staple of News, The New Inn, and The Magnetic Lady in light of Jonson's own theories of comedy, author Larry S. Champion demonstrates that they reveal the same precise construction and dramatic control found in his acclaimed masterpieces. Furthermore, these works reflect Jonson's continued emphasis upon realism and satiric attack, though they may not be equal in quality or dramatic effectiveness.

The brief and undistinguished stage runs of the late plays are not an accurate gauge of their dramatic merit. Rather than indicating an enfeebled mind, these late plays reveal Jonson to be a continuing innovator -- adapting the forms of the pastoral, the romance, and the morality play to the purposes of comic satire. Previous critics have charged that Jonson was merely desirous of regaining public favor at the expense of his artistic integrity. The present study suggests, however, that Jonson in these plays was in reality burlesqueing the popular fad of exaggerated romantic comedy, which he considered a degradation of the dramatic art.

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Beowulf and the Celtic Tradition

Puhvel traces and evaluates the possible influences of Celtic tradition on the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf. He discusses theories of the origins of the poem, draws parallels between elements in Beowulf and in Celtic literary tradition, and suggests that the central plot of the poem, the conflict between Grendel and his mother, is “fundamentally indebted to Celtic folktale elements.” The study is well documented and rich in references to Celtic literature, legend, and folklore.

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Bernard Shaw as Artist-Fabian

Charles A. Carpenter

Charles Carpenter provides a new perspective on one of the most puzzling questions faced by Shaw scholars: how to reconcile the artist's individualist leanings with his socialist Fabian ideals. He does so by viewing Shaw as a maverick whose approach was impossible to duplicate and grew out of his unique artistic temperament, his outlook, and his vocation.

Shaw's activities in promoting the Fabians' goals of advancing social democracy were highly distinctive. He effectively used calculated irritation as an attention-getting tactic; he relied on devices that he had formulated as a creative rhetorician, rather than on the academic principles that were second nature to most of his fellow Fabians; and he devised and championed the use of indirect means to "persuade the world to take our ideas into account in reforming itself."

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Bernard Shaw

Slaves of Duty and Tricks of the Governing Class

Bernard F. Dukore

"An original contribution to Shaw scholarship," says Michel Pharand, editor of SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies, who aptly summarizes Bernard Dukore’s book: This “systematic survey of how Shaw dramatizes slavery to and revolt against duty, and tricks of the governing class, has not previously been attempted. Proceeding chronologically and providing full historical context when needed (instructive also are the many parallels to contemporary history), Dukore pays scrupulous attention to detail and accuracy, and his language is fluid and jargon-free." The first part of the book’s subtitle derives from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, which describes its protagonist, and from Ibsen’s A Doll House, whose protagonist renounces slavery to duty and conventional morality. The subtitle’s second part is from Major Barbara, in which a powerful capitalist, a member of the governing class, refers to tricks designed to make people act in ways that profit it. The powerful instill slavery to duty and ensure that organizations aiming to alleviate the suffering of the poor act in ways that benefit the controlling class’s interests. With astonishing variety, Shaw dramatizes slavery to and revolt against duty and the tricks of the governing class in thirty-seven of his more than fifty plays from 1892 to 1948. Whereas some characters are bound by duty, others free themselves from the many different forms of trickery. Perhaps surprising is the twenty-first century pertinence of these themes, including the hypocrisy of capitalists who use phrases charged with the words “duty” and “morality” to justify their greed as well as their devious uses of education, religion, and the press.

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Betjeman

Writing the Public Life

Kevin J. Gardner

A household name in Great Britain, John Betjeman was a public literary figure who openly declared his Christian faith and championed the social and aesthetic joys of Anglicanism as unique to English identity. Through poetry in  newspapers and on radio and television broadcasts, Betjeman celebrated the cultural significance of the Church of England well beyond its religious role. Although a steadfast proponent for Christianity and the Church, Gardner explains, Betjeman nevertheless struggled mightily to believe the faith, and he was forthcoming with his own spiritual failures. In this master study of his writings, Gardner deems Betjeman to be the poet of the Church of England—and demonstrates his works to be a vital part of Anglicanism’s living traditions.

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Beyond a Common Joy

An Introduction to Shakespearean Comedy

Paul A. Olson

“Soul of the age!” Ben Jonson eulogized Shakespeare, and in the next breath, “He was not of an age but for all time.” That he was both “of the age” and “for all time” is, this book suggests, the key to Shakespeare’s comic genius. In this engaging introduction to the First Folio comedies, Paul A. Olson gives a persuasive and thoroughly engrossing account of the playwright’s comic transcendence, showing how Shakespeare, by taking on the great themes of his time, elevated comedy from a mere mid-level literary form to its own form of greatness—on par with epic and tragedy.

Like the best tragic or epic writers, Shakespeare in his comedies goes beyond private and domestic matters in order to draw on the whole of the commonwealth. He examines how a ruler’s or a court’s community at the household and local levels shapes the politics of empire—existing or nascent empires such as England, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Venice, and the Ottoman Empire or part empires such as Rome and Athens—where all their suffering and silliness play into how they govern. In Olson’s work we also see how Shakespeare’s appropriation of his age’s ideas about classical myth and biblical scriptures bring to his comic action a sort of sacral profundity in keeping with notions of poetry as “inspired” and comic endings as more than merely happy but as, in fact, uncommonly joyful.

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Beyond Tragedy

Structure and Experience in Shakespeare's Romances

Robert W. Uphaus

In this compact, yet comprehensive exploration of Shakespeare's romances, Robert W. Uphaus suggests that the romances bring us to a realm of human and dramatic experience that is "beyond tragedy." The inexorable movement of tragedy toward death and a final close is absorbed in romance by a further movement in which death can lead to renewed life, characters can experience a second time of joy and peace, and the audience's conventional expectations about reality and literature are challenged and enlarged.

In the late tragedies of King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra, Uphaus finds the tragic structure augmented by elements that will later contribute to the form of the romances. Turning then to the romances themselves, he sees these plays as forming a profession in which Pericles is a brilliant outline of the conventions of romance and Cymbeline is romance taken to its dramatic limits, in fact to the point of parody. Through his fresh and provocative readings of the plays we experience anew the delight of Shakespearean romance and glimpse the world of renewal at its heart.

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A Biocultural Approach to Literary Theory and Interpretation

Nancy Easterlin

Combining cognitive and evolutionary research with traditional humanist methods, Nancy Easterlin here demonstrates how a biocultural perspective in theory and criticism opens up new possibilities for literary interpretation. Easterlin maintains that the goal of literary interpretation is still of central intellectual and social value. Taking an open yet judicious approach, she argues, however, that literary interpretation stands to gain dramatically from a fair-minded and creative application of cognitive and evolutionary research. This work does just that, expounding a biocultural method that charts a middle course between overly reductive approaches to literature and traditionalists who see the sciences as a threat to the humanities. Easterlin applies her biocultural method to four major subfields within literary studies: new historicism, ecocriticism, cognitive approaches, and evolutionary approaches. After a thorough review of each subfield, she reconsiders it in light of relevant research in cognitive and evolutionary psychology and provides a textual analysis of literary works from the romantic era to the present, including William Wordsworth’s “Simon Lee” and the Lucy poems, Mary Robinson’s “Old Barnard,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode,” D. H. Lawrence’s The Fox, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, and Raymond Carver’s “I Could See the Smallest Things.” A Biocultural Approach to Literary Theory and Interpretation offers a fresh and reasoned approach to literary studies that at once preserves the central importance that interpretation plays in the humanities and embraces the exciting developments of the cognitive sciences.

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