restricted access A retrospective review of The Lion and the Fox: The Rôle of the Hero in the Plays of Shakespeare, by Wyndham Lewis
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[ 573 A retrospective review of The Lion and the Fox: The Rôle of the Hero in the Plays of Shakespeare, by Wyndham Lewis London: Grant Richards, 1927. Pp. 326 Twentieth Century Verse, No. 6/7 (Nov/Dec 1937) [6-9]1 The Lion and the Fox is a book which, like some other of Mr. Lewis’s works, deals with several subjects; and the fact that it is concerned nominally (or sub-nominally) with Shakespeare should not lead us to suppose that his purposes here can be understood wholly without reference to other writings – chiefly, of course, The Art of Being Ruled, and also Time and Western Man.2 Even, however, as “another book about Shakespeare,” the book says the best things that have been said about certain plays. Mr. Lewis points out that Shakespeare criticism, during the later nineteenth century and up to the present time, has been mostly carried on by admirable competent academic scholars – who, whether they agree or not, have carried on the same traditions and have pursued the game according to much the same rules; and who have been representative of a particular class and a particular background of culture.3 * This foray by an outsider is therefore useful in breaking up certain ideas, whether we accept those of Mr. Lewis or not. This is an exposition of one side of Shakespeare: not, I think, the whole story. When anybody writes a book about Shakespeare, one can gather something of its limitations by observing what plays the author gives most attention to, and what plays he overlooks. Like Mr. Middleton Murry, Mr. Lewis gives scant attention to the later plays. But he deals with several very important plays which had not hitherto received their due: Troilus and Cressida, Timon of Athens, and Coriolanus. When one knows the work of Mr. Lewis, one understands his particular interest in these plays; but it is also interesting to observe that since The Lion and the Fox was written (1927) these three plays, and also Measure for Measure, have proved themselves to have a special attraction for the more intelligent part of the contemporary public. The Lion and the Fox may be called a commentary on Timon; though to leave it at that would be misleading. In any case, it Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1937 574 ] contains the most revelatory criticism of Timon, Troilus, and Coriolanus, that I have read. Coriolanus, in fact, has a peculiar pertinence. For Mr. Lewis has seen (what the French public, a few years ago, seems to have missed)4 that Coriolanus is not a defence of aristocracy, or a mere attack on the mob. Shakespeare is, in fact, completely critical and detached from any partisanship : in this play his own emotion is very strong indeed, but cannot be associated with that of any character or group in the play – and it is this detachment which makes the ordinary reader find this most violent play rather frigid. It is never a popular point of view. The Lion and the Fox is also a book about politics; but instead of calling it a “political book” we should do better to call it an “anti-political” book. And for this reason it is very pertinently concerned with Machiavelli.5 Now in “politics” there are found two kinds of mind – though the two may sometimes be found in apparent combination. There is the ruler – the man of action, whose purpose is to gain power and keep it; and there is the ideologue, whose usual purpose is to dispose men’s minds for change. (The ideologue is, in another sense, also a kind of man of action). The ruler is never completely committed to any particular theory, but he must (in varying degrees, according to the importance of theory for the people he has to rule) always profess to be orthodox to the theory of the moment, even when he finds it expedient to act counter to it. It is perhaps worthwhile at this point to mention the difference between the aristocratic ruler (seldom quite so aristocratic as he is imagined to be) who is an extinct type, and the demagogue. Frederick the Great, to whom Mr. Lewis devotes a chapter of this book, was an aristocratic ruler: with the advantage of being an exceptionally intelligent tyrant over an exceptionally docile people.6 Frederick the Great was therefore able to be a kind of artist, playing a part for his own amusement and in conformity...