The Development of Shakespeare’s Verse. Two Lectures
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[ 531 The Development of Shakespeare’s Verse. Two Lectures1 These two unpublished lectures on Shakespeare were first delivered at Edinburgh University on 27-28 Oct 1937 and repeated as the Lewis Fry Lectures at Bristol University on 2-3 Oct 1941, with a new introduction, the insertion of three additional textual paragraphs, and several stylistic emendations. Following postponement of the lectures due to bombing damage at the University in 1940, TSE wrote to Vice-Chancellor J. F. Dobson on 6 Mar 1941 to reschedule for the autumn: “You may remember that the Lectures I offered were a set of two previously delivered at Edinburgh but which I was anxious to re-write and expand. With the various distractions presented by the war, I have done nothing about these Lectures and they remain in their original state. I should not like to give them again exactly as before. I have a great aversion to repeating myself and I should not consider that I was treating Bristol with sufficient respect.” TSE wrote to John Hayward on 10 Oct after returning from Bristol: “I gave my Shakespeare lectures in a scarlet gown, and of course chatted to various professors and their wives at teas and at dinner each night.” See the textual note at the end of the lectures for information on the typescripts. I Anyone who ventures to talk about Shakespeare to a University audience may feel called upon – not to present his credentials, for if they exist, they are already known – but to excuse his speaking without them. The credentials I have in mind are those of scholarship, which I do not pretend to possess; the excuse I have in mind is the example of a writer who has put us in his debt by his contributions to the understanding of Shakespeare from the point of view of a practical dramatic producer. Sir Harley Granville‑Barker, by producing Shakespeare plays, and bringing to the study of Shakespeare a knowledge of the permanent conditions of theatrical effect, has, I think everyone will agree, thrown a good deal of light on their meaning. Sir Harley is himself a successful dramatist.2 I cannot claim to have been that, except by accident; but I have given a good deal of study to the problems of dramatic versification: and perhaps I had better make plain, that I do not consider that one has to be wholly successful in the attempt to find a dramatic verse form for one’s own time, to get a little insight into its permanent conditions: for one learns by failure as well as by success, and perhaps best of all by having got somewhere between failure and success. If one is to hope to make any contribution, however slight, which will owe its Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1937 532 ] value to one’s own experience as a workman, it is desirable to forget everything that one has read about Shakespeare, and to read nothing but Shakespeare himself. That is not very difficult, because very few writers, even poets, have approached Shakespeare’s plays, in quite this way: though Imustpayanacknowledgement,beforeproceeding,toMr.Wilson Knight’s study of Shakespeare imagery, and his attention to the musical element in the dramatic effect.3 And for my starting point, it is convenient to make use of Granville-Barker’s Romanes Lecture of a few years ago. It is related to my subject, it is an admirable essay, and it presents the advantage of offering several statements for me to disagree with. In this lecture Sir Harley says: “Some poets may have proved poor dramatists enough” – that is a statement with which I can agree – “but what great dramatist has not been a poet? But, if poets are born, dramatists are made. For playwriting is a craft as well as an art, and a craft must be learnt.”4 I should like to believe that dramatists can be made, without having been born, but I am sure that poets are not merely born but made too, partly by circumstance and partly by hard work. The capacity for development may be innate – that is a tautology anyway. But of this I have no doubt: that Shakespeare was made a great poet by writing for the theatre. His greatest verse was arrived at by a slow process – or a process which seems slow merely because we can follow every stage of it; though considering the extent of the development, and the short number of years...


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