restricted access Mr. Murry’s Shakespeare. A review of Shakespeare, by John Middleton Murry
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[ 387 —-1 —0 —+1 Mr. Murry’s Shakespeare1 A review of Shakespeare, by John Middleton Murry London: Jonathan Cape, 1936. Pp. 448. The Criterion: A Literary Review, 15 (July 1936) 708-10 Mr. Murry has written a book about Shakespeare which, for several reasons , is a very good book indeed. It was evidently a book that Mr. Murry wanted to write: one cannot read it without becoming convinced that he has worked on the subject for a long time, and has made himself perfectly familiar with the plays and poems of Shakespeare. It conveys an impression throughout of an easy command of the material; and Mr. Murry appears to have acquainted himself with Shakespeare literature so diligently and soberly that he neither parades his predecessors superfluously nor ignores them when their presence is desirable. Furthermore, his conjectures are always restrained by reason; and while scholars may perhaps be able to question some of his constructions, they cannot be allowed to deny that these constructions are illuminating, and valuable even if mistaken. Mr. Murry does not disguise conjecture as fact. And what one is more surprised to be able to make than any such commendations as the foregoing, is that Mr. Murry does not obtrude any views of his own about life and society, any more than we gladly consent to. The book is about Shakespeare and not about Mr. Murry.2 The author’s first advantage is that he has an understanding which is uncommon, of the nature of poetry: more penetrating than that of most scholars and men of letters, and more comprehensive and catholic than that of most poets. For poets, when they meditate about poetry at all, are liable to generalize either from their own accomplishment or from their own designs; and their purposes and interests, if more exact, may also be narrower than those of their readers, so that their pronouncements should usually be considered in relation to their own poems. What the poet has to say about poetry, will often be most valuable when it consists of introspective observation of his own processes. The chief exception, or the nearest to an exception, consists of remarks here and there in the letters of Keats, a poet whom Mr. Murry has studied deeply, and here, certainly with great 349-69068_081 eliot_c411_FINAL_4P.indd 387 6/30/17 11:46 AM Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1936 388 ] profit.3 For some of Keats’s sayings come with a Delphic assurance: they need not have been fully understood by the man who uttered them; no process of reasoning enters into them; and they require to be interpreted by those who have the wit and the patience to do so. Mr. Murry gives me the impression, in this matter, of having been “receptive” before he became “active.” And his understanding of the way in which a poet’s mind may work is here put, not to the invention of a metaphysic, but to practical purpose in dealing with Shakespeare’s early work and questions of attribution. I think that the author is right, to begin with (though I cannot prove it) when he says that “The probability is rather that the formative years of a poet of Shakespeare’s peculiar kind would have been not much more but much less strongly marked by idiosyncrasy than those of poets of a different kind” [29]. I do not think that Shakespeare quite fits into either the class of people who mature quickly or the class of those who mature late. Shakespeare arrived in a very short number of years at a maturity which seems complete: no one has ever gone further in a short time. We cannot explain that away by saying that he started ripe: the early works are there to disprove it. But unlike most of us, he wasted no time; and everything he wrote he turned to account for his further development. Like Mr. Murry, I regard his early skill in imitation and his rapid development – rapid considering the distance to which he went – as a sign of the greatest creative genius; and I am glad to find Mr. Murry positive in restoring to him a great deal which some scholars have attributed elsewhere. It is in the first half of the book that I find Mr. Murry’s most original and convincing theories. His discussion of the Sonnets is very valuable;4 and his understanding of the difference between Shakespeare’s attitude to the stage and to...


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