Shakespeare as Currency

John Dover Wilson’s Correspondence

John Dover Wilson was one of the best known, and most influential, Shakespearean scholars of the 20th century. His greatest achievement was the complete edition of the works that he edited and oversaw for Cambridge University Press between 1921 and 1966; yet he is perhaps best known to generations of readers as the author of What Happens in Hamlet, first published in 1935, with which – in the words of Harold Jenkins – ‘he captured the imagination of the general public to a degree probably unequalled by any other Shakespearian scholar’. In doing so – and this is a point to which I’ll return – he demonstrated the particular currency of a specifically literary critical engagement with the Shakespearian text and its dramatic and readerly possibilities that differs from more recent biographical or historical handlings of the playwright and his plays. Continue reading

Undiscovered Countries: Shakespeare’s Britain

‘He was not of an age, but for all time!’ That’s what Shakespeare’s friend Ben Jonson wrote in memory of him, a mere seven years after he died, and long before some kind of posterity had had a chance to show its hand. Such claims were not that uncommonly made for poets of the period; but in Shakespeare’s case, almost uniquely, they’ve so far proved true.

What kind of stature is this? For Jonson it’s the capacity to transcend the narrow interests of an era, of a particular time and place – to have the more universal appeal of the great classical authors. We take all this as read, of course, now, in Shakespeare’s case. Yet we’re often reminded, too, that Shakespeare also has a more local habitation.

Continue reading