Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Shakespeare and the grand style

with 4 comments

I confess myself utterly ignorant what the Grand Style is. It comes sometimes, as it were, “promiscuously” in the vulgar sense of that term. It would, for instance, be exceedingly difficult for the most expert, or the most futile, ingenuity of the commentator to assign an exact reason for the occurrence, where it occurs, of what is perhaps the grandest example of the Grand Style in all literature—the words of Prospero to Ferdinand, when the revels are ended. An excuse is wanted to break off the pretty “vanity of his art”; to get rid of the lovers; and to punish, in defeating it, the intentionally murderous but practically idle plot of Caliban and his mates. Anything would do; and the actual pretext is anything or nothing. But Shakespeare chooses to accompany it with a “criticism of life”—and of more than life—so all-embracing, couched in expression of such magnificence, that one knows not where to look for its like as form and matter combined. An ordinary man, if, per impossible, he could have written it, would have put it at the end; an extraordinary one might have substituted it for, or added it to, the more definite announcement of abdication and change which now comes later with “Ye elves,” etc. Shakespeare puts it here.

George Saintsbury, Collected Essays

Written by nevalalee

April 15, 2012 at 9:50 am

4 Responses

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  1. I’m currently reading Harold Bloom’s The Anatomy of Influence and enjoying his equally inspired observations on Shakespeare.

    “How is it that Shakespeare, who had no designs upon us, surpasses any other writer–even Dante, Cervantes, and Tolstoy–in revealing the full burden of our mortality? The least tendentious of dramatists, he nevertheless teaches us the reality of our lives and the necessity of confronting our common limitations as humans.”

    Catherine McCallum

    April 15, 2012 at 11:00 pm

  2. I’ve been reading that as well! As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I do love me some Harold Bloom, who is consistently unreliable on books published in his own lifetime but right about almost everything else.

    nevalalee

    April 16, 2012 at 12:34 pm

  3. I haven’t caught up with your earlier blogs yet but I’m looking forward to doing so. Also looking forward to reading your book on kindle. It sounds terrific!

    Catherine McCallum

    April 16, 2012 at 7:14 pm

  4. Thanks! You’ll have to let me know what you think…

    nevalalee

    April 16, 2012 at 10:05 pm


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