Appropriating Shakespeare

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Contemporary Critical Quarrels

Brian Vickers

View Inside Format: Paper
Price: $37.00
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Out of Print

During the last two decades, new critical schools of Shakespeare scholarship have emerged, each with its own ideology, each convinced that all other approaches are deficient. This controversial book argues that in attempting to appropriate Shakespeare for their own purposes, these schools omit and misrepresent Shakespeare's text—and thus distort it.
Brian Vickers describes the iconoclastic attitudes emerging in French criticism of the 1960s that continue to influence literary theory: that language cannot reliably represent reality; that literature cannot represent life; that since no definitive reading is possible, all interpretation is misinterpretation. Vickers shows that these positions have been refuted, and he brings together work in philosophy, linguistics, and literary theory to rehabilitate language and literature. He then surveys the main conflicting schools in Shakespearean and other current literary criticism—deconstructionism, feminism, new historicism, cultural materialism, and psychoanalytic, Marxist, and Christian interpretations—describing the theoretical basis of each school, both in its own words and in those of its critics. Evaluating the resulting interpretations of Shakespeare, he shows that each is biased and fragmentary in its own way. The epilogue considers two related issues: the attempt of current literary theory to present itself as a coherent system while at the same time wishing to evade accountability; and the way in which different schools "demonize" their rivals, thus adding an intolerant tone to much recent criticism.

Brian Vickers is professor of English literature and director of the Centre for Renaissance Studies at the ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology).

"The virtue of this book lies in the learning and polemical force with which it exposes so many faulty, self-serving or merely silly arguments."—Frank Kermode, The Independent on Sunday

"Vickers takes on the current intelligentsia and their probing analyses of everything Shakespearian . . . Anyone who loves the plays simply for what they are, good theatre with plots and characters written specifically to please late sixteenth and early seventeenth century audiences, may get a certain wry amusement from Professor Vickers energetic delving."—Christine Barker, The Birmingham Post

"A defence of traditional values in Shakespearean criticism and an attack on the nihilism of recent French philosophy, Appropriating Shakespeare is a pugnacious and timely polemic. It will not be easy for the followers of fashion to dismiss Vickers as an ignorant onlooker, for his criticism of their credulity is well informed."—Alan Bold, The Times Higher Education Supplement

"By clearing away some of the mystique that currently attaches to literary theory, Vickers's book is an important step in the right direction."—Rosalind King, Times Educational Supplement

"Thoroughly documented by analyses of textual matter, direct quotations, and references to the works of other scholars, this work merits the attention of students, scholars, and educators. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"A voice crying in the wilderness, calling the critical world to repent. . . . [Vickers] examines and exposes current critical trends . . . [and] demonstrates forcefully that their theories, which teach that literature cannot meaningfully communicate, do not work."—Michael P. Jensen, American Bookseller

"Professor Vickers' book is long and substantial, very detailed in its examination of the various approaches, interestingly eclectic in its choice of commended critics, and frequently persuasive in showing how appropriative theorists may reduce or misinterpret Shakespeare's plays."—Cedric Watts, The Review of English Studies

"A splendidly splenetic, intellectually swinging all-out attack on the perversion of current literary theory."—Caroline Moore, The Times (London)

"Vickers, a well-known authority on Shakespeare's critical fortunes, here surveys contemporary Bard biz while also trying to show that the author of Hamlet and the sonnets is more than what some of today's scholars might call an unweeded garden that has gone to seed."—Washington Post Book World

"A semester ago I assigned [Appropriating Shakespeare] when teaching a graduate Shakespeare seminar in a sister department where Current Literary Theory is wholly venerated. The students reacted first with shock, then with suspicion and hostility, then (happily) with argumentativeness; by the end of the semester some of them confessed that they felt liberated, and that they had begun to rethink their critical assumptions. This courageous and necessary book should be read by all Shakespeareans, and will profit anyone who cares about the present and future of literary studies."—Richard Knowles, English Language Notes

"This is a deeply learned and lucidly written study of the pernicious influence of current literary theory on the practice of Shakespearean criticism."—Richard Fly, Comparative Literature Studies

"[A] welcome account of recent critical skirmishes."—James Wood, Times Literary Supplement

"Vickers doesn't mince words when he minces critics."—The Chronicle of Higher Education
ISBN: 9780300061055
Publication Date: September 10, 1994
525 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4