Questions of Prose. To the Editor of The Times Literary Supplement
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[ 495 Questions of Prose To the Editor of The Times Literary Supplement The Times Literary Supplement, 1391 (27 Sept 1928) 687 Sir,–InyourinterestingleadingarticleofSeptember13yourreviewermakes one point which seems to me of some importance, and which may easily be overlooked. He quotes the well-known passage from North’s Plutarch (Coriolanus’s speech to Aufidius), and follows it with the equally famous version of Shakespeare, which he prints as prose. He observes that the version of Shakespeare is “a far better piece of prose than the original.”1 I make precisely the opposite observation. The prose of North is fine prose, the verse of Shakespeare is great poetry. And printed as prose, the verse of Shakespeare seems to me to be bad prose. As prose, it is difficult to grasp; as prose, it is badly constructed. North’s I find much superior – as prose. What I think your reviewer, like many other people, has overlooked is this: that verse, whatever else it may or may not be, is itself a system of punctuation ;theusualmarksofpunctuationthemselvesaredifferentlyemployed. If your reviewer were right, the method ought to be reversible; so that some passagesofgreatprosecouldbeconvertedintofineverse;andIdonotbelieve he can find an example. Yours, 24, Russell Square, W.C.I. T. S. Eliot Notes 1. In “Questions of Prose” (TLS, 13 Sept, 637-38), the reviewer (John Middleton Murry) of four prose collections compares a passage from Plutarch’s Life of Coriolanus, in the English translation by Sir Thomas North (1535-1601) of The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (1579), to Shakespeare’s close adaptation of the passage in Coriolanus, IV.5.71-90, when Coriolanus goes to Antium to help Tullus Aufidius in the war against Rome (printed by Murry in prose): “My name is Caius Marcius, who hath done to thee particularly and to all the Volsces great hurt and mischief; thereto witness may my surname Coriolanus . . . Now this extremity hath brought me to thy hearth; not out of hope – mistake me not – to save my life . . . but in mere spite, to be full quit of those my banishers, stand I before thee.” Murry states that Shakespeare’s rewriting of the passage “is manifestly superior: it is more vivid and concise; the dramatic emphasis is more 1928 496 ] precise and certain . . . It is, in brief, a far better piece of prose than the original” (638). TSE discusses the two passages again in “The Tudor Translators” (1929), stating that “The verse of Shakespeare is more mature than the prose of North; but it proves how very fine the prose of North is; and indicates one way in which the prose of the translators contributed to the development of the English language” (3.630-31). TSE had drawn upon the passage from Coriolanus for the epigraph to “Ode” in Ara Vus Prec (1919): “To you particularly, and to all the Volscians / Great hurt and mischief.” ...