Sunday, June 29, 2008

On the intensity of Marlowe's plays: a question for Samuel Blumenfeld, author of The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection

Q: Sam, I've always found King Lear to be the most powerful (and most overwhelming) Shakespearean tragedy. For example, Lear's rage and suffering are utterly cosmic in magnitude, Goneril and Regan show a mythic disrespect towards Lear, the Edgar-Gloucester scenes are some of the most poignant scenes ever written for the stage. As a play, it's a stroke of genius, yet I'm reminded of A.C. Bradley's line that "King Lear is too huge for the stage." But don't many of the plays we traditionally attribute to Marlowe bear this incredible theatrical intensity and force, as well? For example, in re-reading Marlowe's Edward II recently, there are some very stirring, dynamic scenes where I'm saying to myself, "Hey, it feels like Lear."

Sam: Carlo, you are right about the intensity in Marlowe's plays that preceded what came later in the plays he wrote under Shakespeare's name. The dramatic genius of Marlowe is that he was willing to create emotional scenes that few human beings can endure. Remember, those were the days when people were burned at the stake or drawn and quartered. And that is what his audiences liked: emotional intensity.

You're right that Edward II feels like Lear in that it is non-stop emotional conflict from the very opening lines to the murder of Edward and the execution of Mortimer at the end. The same with Lear, nonstop emotional tour-de-force. Putting out the eyes of Gloucester! Unbearable!

I tend to agree with A.C. Bradley that King Lear is too huge for the stage. I believe that Harold Bloom says he has never seen a production of Lear that he liked. It is a play to be read rather than staged. And since I believe that it was written by Marlowe, I can see how Marlowe would have written it with little consideration for how it was to be performed. For example, the scenes in the storm would be difficult to stage. Yet, the Elizabethan theatre was quite inventive, and the audience was required to use its imagination.

King Lear was written during the author's dark period, one of pessimism. We wonder what Marlowe was drawn to write about, living in a state of exile, unable to collaborate with others. He had just lost his parents, and the story about Lear may have appealed to him because it was really a story about family. There is no doubt that he loved his parents and grieved greatly when he lost them. Is that why he chose to write about Lear?

And that is why the authorship question is so important. If we know who wrote the plays, we can better understand them.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Literary Sojourns: A Glimpse of the Far East

Need a brief hiatus from the world of Western literature? Consider making room on your nightstand for A Late Chrysanthemum: Twenty-one Stories from the Japanese. Translated by Lane Dunlop and accompanied by etchings from Tanaka Ryohei, this small volume is an oriental gem. Within it you will find a collection of short stories from some of Japan’s most influential writers of the early- to mid-twentieth century. While embracing the influence of modern Western writing, these stories retain the elegant minimalism so characteristic of Japan’s literary canon. The style is simple and direct; the content is purely psychology (think Hemingway). Ranging from the provincial countryside of “At Kinosaki” to the bourgeois geisha parlor of “A Late Chrysanthemum," each story offers a lucid snapshot of the mind. Nature is a vital presence within the stories, poignantly throwing into relief the inner silence of the characters. Those who enjoy the classic art of haiku will certainly appreciate the lyrical resonance of Yasunari Kawabata: “A child walked by, rolling a metal hoop that made a sound of autumn.” Or for fans of contemporary fantasy, the musing surrealism of Kobo Abé: “ . . . if you could have looked at the street corners and under the trees of the villages at the bottom of the now-peaceful waters, you would have seen a glittering substance starting to crystallize.” Whether you are a long-time disciple of Asian literature or a curious newcomer, A Late Chrysanthemum will captivate you.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On Marlowe's genius: a question for Samuel Blumenfeld, author of The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection

Q: Sam, in your many years of research for your latest book, what one thing about Marlowe surprised or fascinated you?

Sam: The one thing that fascinated me about Marlowe was his genius. And that is why I have spent seven years gathering the evidence that he wrote the 36 plays in the First Folio, plus the works under his own name, and everything else under Shakespeare's name.

All the world acknowledges that the plays in the First Folio represent the very highest achievement in literary power, and thus it seemed to me absolutely necessary to know who that genius was and to give credit where credit was due.

No other Elizabethan writer but Marlowe had that genius which was very well exhibited by what he wrote before he was compelled to change his identity. And the fact that he had to suffer in exile for the rest of his life after Deptford made it imperative for me to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was he who was the author of these great works. I never thought I would rise to the occasion of being the one person to set history straight. But I accepted the challenge and believe I succeeded in the task. And now we shall see what the rest of the world has to say about it.

As for surprise, what amazed me was how Marlowe dropped so many clues in the plays which were noticed by many scholars who simply could not put two and two together. It took Calvin Hoffman to state the impossible, that Marlowe was not killed at Deptford. Once you overcome the impossible scenario, the plays open up like flowers. That's the great delight in reading Shakespeare with that whole new perspective. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008

Samuel Blumenfeld, a World War II veteran of the Italian campaign, has authored more than ten books. His latest, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, was published by McFarland. He is a former editor in the New York book publishing industry and has lectured widely. His writings have appeared in such diverse publications as Esquire, Reason, Education Digest, Vital Speeches of the Day, Boston, and many others. He is a regular contributor to MSC.

See Sam on YouTube addressing the authorship controversy.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

More of Marlowe's Friends in High Places: The Cecils, En Breve

William Cecil (also known as Lord Burghley) was Queen Elizabeth's chief advisor and the most powerful man in her government. According to Samuel Blumenfeld in The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, the beginning of the relationship between Burghley and Marlowe is not clear, "but it may well have begun when Marlowe was a mere boy of eight and recruited as a page for Philip Sidney, in whom Burghley had taken great interest." Given Burghley's close ties with Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's spymaster, we should not be surprised by Burghley's further interest in Marlowe as an intelligence asset. In fact, writes Blumenfeld, when Cambridge was denying Marlowe his MA degree due to excessive absences and because it was suspected that he may have converted to Catholicism, Burghley intervened. His signature appears on a letter from the Privy Council to the university, stating that Marlowe had been in loyal service to Elizabeth and should be granted his degree. According to Blumenfeld, "That letter from the Privy Council with Burghley's signature on it, is evidence of what was certainly a close working relationship between the young poet and the most powerful man in the realm." We should also consider that Burghley's son Robert (the future secretary of state for Elizabeth) was at Cambridge with Marlowe and was also a protege of spymaster Francis Walsingham. As Blumenfeld writes, "[T]he friendship between Marlowe and Robert Cecil would be crucial in the events that would take place in 1593 . . . Whose idea it was to stage a phony death for Marlowe, we do not know. But it may have been the inventive Marlowe himself or perhaps Robert Cecil who had become adept in the spy business with its phony identities and passports." Fascinating.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Marlowe's Friends in High Places: The Walsinghams, En Breve

Christopher Marlowe's patron and benefactor was Thomas Walsingham, the younger cousin of Sir Francis Walsingham, the powerful creator of Queen Elizabeth's spy network. Thomas was also an agent in Her Majesty's Secret Service. According to Samuel Blumenfeld, in his The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, "It is very likely that when Marlowe was recruited into the service [in 1584, at the age of 20] he fell under the guidance of a control, that is, a seasoned and experienced member who would teach him the ropes and give him instructions from Sir Francis. Who was that control? It could have been Thomas Walsingham, cousin of Sir Francis, who since 1581 had been a courier, conveying letters from the English ambassador in Paris to the Queen in London." Of course, Francis Walsingham's espionage network was vital to Elizabeth's survival because of the continuing Catholic threat to the throne, and Marlowe was the ideal candidate to penetrate the English Catholic seminary of Rheims, for example, given that he had trained for a career in the Holy Orders while at Cambridge. It should also be noted that when Marlowe was set to be indicted by the Privy Council on a host of questionable charges--atheism, blasphemy, etc--in May 1593, he was staying at the home of Thomas Walsingham, as the arrest warrant shows.

Marlowe traveled in circles of intrigue. His membership in the Queen's espionage ring and close friendship with the well-connected Thomas Walsingham may certainly help explain how his phony murder, identity change, etc. could have been pulled off in the first place.

Simply put, because Marlowe was a valuable spy, his handlers had to protect him and send him underground before things spiraled out of control with a conviction and possible execution.

Coming next: more of Marlowe's friends in high places!

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

That Curious "Shake-scene"

Elizabethan playwright Robert Greene's 1592 deathbed pamphlet entitled Greene's Groatsworth of Wit is largely famous for the appearance of one hyphenated word: "Shake-scene":

Is it not strange, that I, to whom they all have been beholding: is it not like that you, to whom they all have been beholding, shall (were ye in that case as I am now) be both at once of them forsaken? Yes trust them not: for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country. O that I might entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses: & let those Apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions.

Stratfordians have long maintained that "Shake-scene" is the first mention of Shakespeare as a writer as early as 1591. Hmmm. I understand their desire to show that Shakespeare was already established in London circa 1591. They need to establish this, after all, since they maintain that Shakespeare wrote the very intricate (and dare I say very Marlovian) Henry VI, Part I--his first play--circa 1589. Pretty impressive work by a novice. Yet is this the best Stratfordians can do? No "other" mention of a theatrical Shakespeare exists at this time, and so all we have to go with is Robert Greene's "Shake-scene" amid a bitter rant about how theatre owners and actor-managers exploited him and other writers? (Greene was debt-ridden, by the way.)

Samuel Blumenfeld, in his new book The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, follows the path of A.D. Wraight (Christopher Marlowe and Edward Alleyn, 1993) in maintaining that "Shake-scene" was the popular and scene-stealing actor Edward Alleyn, who was joined at the hip with the most influential theatre owner of the day, Philip Henslowe (see earlier post). Blumenfeld writes: "It is obvious that the Shake-scene is the actor Alleyn, the 26-year-old upstart superstar, who had achieved great notoriety as Tamburlaine, Barabas, and Faustus. He could indeed shake a scene with his bombast and at the same time become wealthy as part owner of a theatre. If we refer to Henslowe's Diary, which begins in 1591, we can see why Greene had reason to fulminate . . . In 1591, two of Greene's plays . . . were performed by Lord Strange's Men of whom Alleyn played all or most of the heroes."

And what of the "Tygers hart wrapt" line which echoes a line from act one, scene four of the Shakespeare-attributed Henry VI, Part III? Well, the quote establishes that Henry VI, Part III had to be written before Greene died in 1592. But where is the mention of Shakespeare's authorship of any plays prior to Love's Labour's Lost in 1598? Does it all hinge upon "Shake-scene"? Sorry, fellas, but that's rather flimsy. To further make the case that "Shake-scene" is Alleyn, Blumenfeld reminds us that Alleyn did play York in Henry VI, Part III and did certainly recite the "Tyger" line. And by the way, Henry VI, Part I was performed at Henslowe's Rose Theatre in 1591 by Lord Strange's Men, a group with whom Shakespeare never had any affiliation.

The under-educated Shakespeare would have been a novice playwright circa 1589, the time we think the masterful and complex Henry VI, Part I was composed (again, some novice!). And then we're supposed to believe that the under-educated Shakespeare--who had no record as a writer in the early to mid 1590s--went on to complete the highly ambitious and intricate Henry trilogy, which as a whole required an incredibly detailed, sophisticated knowledge of British history. It's all a tough sell.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008

Click here for Daryl Pinksen and Samuel Blumenfeld's joint commentary on "Shake-scene," November 08.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mirabile Visu: Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare

One of the most impressive contributions to Shakespearean scholarship that I have ever come across is Isaac Asimov’s Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare. Originally published in 1970 in two separate volumes, I have the two-volumes-in-one edition by Wings Books. How anyone could have composed this 800-page monster exegesis is beyond me, but we’re talking about the genius biochemist/science-fiction writer Asimov, who published more than 400 books (did you catch that number?). This is a scene-by-scene (and at times, it seems like a line-by-line) analysis of the 38-plays in the canon, plus the poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. Most informative is the historical context in which he places each work ("In Shakespeare's time Austria was a great power, but in the time of the play it was still a rather minor German duchy"), and most humorous is his penchant for pointing out the dizzying amount of historical inaccuracies and anachronisms that exist in the oeuvre (“But in actual history, Richard III was always on good terms with his old mother . . .” ; “It may well have been a Danish rather than a Norwegian invasion of Scotland that Macbeth had to deal with at that time . . .” ; “The title ‘Duke of Ephesus’ is as anachronistic as ‘Duke of Athens’ and with even less excuse, since there never was a Duchy of Ephesus in medieval times as there was, at least, a Duchy of Athens”). Geographical and topographical details abound (“If we imagine a French setting, the Forest of Arden would be the wooded region of Ardennes, straddling the modern boundary between France and southern Belgium”), as well as hundreds upon hundreds of explanations of allusions (and allusions within allusions!), etymological nuances, and historical sources for the plays. The maps are also invaluable (“The Mediterranean in the Time of Julius Caesar,” for example), and the thematic analysis is brilliant. One gets the sense in reading this prodigious text that Asimov wrote it all from memory. Of course not, but he makes it look really easy.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hey! Where's Shakespeare in Henslowe's Diary?

One of the most important documents of the Elizabethan theatre is Henslowe's Diary, which covers the years 1591-1609. Philip Henslowe, perhaps the most powerful theatre owner and impresario of his day, kept a detailed log of financial transactions with writers and actors, the dates of a play's performance, box office receipts, etc. (the full text of Henslowe's Diary is available on Google Book Search). In the diary, Christopher Marlowe's popularity as a playwright--even after his supposed death in 1593--is obvious, as we see records of his many plays that Henslowe produced, such as Tamburlaine I and II, Doctor Faustus, and The Jew of Malta. Yet an intriguing issue and omission, according to Samuel Blumenfeld in The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, is with the payouts Henslowe made to playwrights. As Blumenfeld states, "In those days, plays and all their rights were bought by the theater owners . . . writers were paid a single amount no matter how popular the play became, or how many performances were staged." Among the transactions (advances, IOU's, etc.) with the leading writers of the Elizabethan/Jacobean era--Jonson, Heywood, Middleton, et al.--there is no mention of any pay to William Shakespeare, despite the diary indicating that some plays we attribute to Shakespeare (Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew) were produced by Henslowe. As Blumenfeld succinctly puts it (and based on other evidence he lays out in his book), Shakespeare's name is not among the writers because "he was not one of them. He may have been an actor and part owner of a theatre, but he was clearly not a writer." In fact, the "prolific" Shakespeare has no mention of his name anywhere in the diary.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On Edward de Vere: a question for Samuel Blumenfeld, author of The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection

Q: Sam, what do you make of all the attention paid to Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the possible author of the Shakespeare plays?

Sam: The Oxford theory was started by J. Thomas Looney who wrote a book in 1920, "Shakespeare" Identified in Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford. He deduced that the author of the works of Shakespeare had to have 17 characteristics, and he searched among Elizabethans to find that individual. He came up with Edward de Vere. Apparently he never considered Marlowe because the latter was supposed to be dead (ed. note: see page 342 of The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection).

Looney's work spurred the writing of many books in support of his assertion. The latest, "Shakespeare" by Another Name, by Mark Anderson, was published in 2005.

Oxfordians accept the orthodox view that Marlowe was killed in 1593. But their theory has some notable flaws, the most obvious of which is that Oxford was not a literary genius, nor was he a professional writer, and he died before many of the great plays were written.

Oxfordians have had the authorship field all to themselves because Marlovians, until now, had not produced a book proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Marlowe wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare. Calvin Hoffman's book got the Marlovian movement going, but it had many flaws. The publication of my book should change the authorship scene dramatically.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008

Click here for Daryl Pinksen's December 2008 commentary on Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Hemingway's Very Digestible A Moveable Feast

For a beautiful and quick summer read, MSC highly recommends Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. Curiously billed as a work of fiction (it's really an autobiography loosely based on facts), it's Hemingway's memoir of Paris in the 1920s. And was Paris ever the place to be: Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Getrude Stein, et al. Wow! Written in the late 1950s prior to his entering the Mayo Clinic in 1960 and his subsequent suicide in 1961, this posthumous work proves that Hemingway still had it late in life. Anecdotal gems abound, from Hemingway's chats with Gertude Stein ("heavily built like a peasant woman") where "[i]f you brought up [James] Joyce twice, you would not be invited back," to the malodorous and annoying Ford Madox Ford, to the self-destructive relationship between the almost always boozing Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Hemingway's fascinating rules for writers can also be found here: "It was in that room . . . that I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it . . ." Funny, whiny, serious, opinionated, and simple, A Moveable Feast goes down easily.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Who Was Edward Blount?

One of the most fascinating items of Samuel Blumenfeld's The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question involves the London stationer Edward Blount, close friend and executor to playwright Christopher Marlowe. According to Blumenfeld, after Shakespeare died in 1616, "[h]is will did not mention a single play, or poem, or any unfinished literary work or manuscript of any kind. Yet, Blount was able to assemble thirty-six plays, twenty of which had never been published before." The result is Shakespeare's First Folio, printed in 1623, with Blount as the prime mover of the project. "If it wasn't for the First Folio," writes Blumenfeld, "Shakespeare's name would have probably fallen into total obscurity." As Blumenfeld astutely questions regarding the collection, where did Blount find all the plays? Also, who edited and rewrote them? And how did Blount know that all 36 plays were written by the same person when only nine of the plays prior to 1623 bore Shakespeare's name?

Blumenfeld's book raises other intriguing questions.

Was Edward Blount the middle man between genius playwright/secret agent/and supposedly dead Christopher Marlowe and the actor William Shakespeare? Did Shakespeare make a deal with Marlowe's handlers to be the authorial frontman of Marlowe's works after Marlowe's staged death? Did Christopher Marlowe, in fact, edit his own plays in the First Folio?

Funny how Marlowe's close friend and executor publishes Shakespeare's First Folio. Coincidence? And funny how Shakespeare's death in 1616, according to Blumenfeld, "was not acknowledged by anyone in the literary world."

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008

See Sam on YouTube discussing Edward Blount.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Best of Youth: Marlowe by 24

In The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection: A New Study of the Authorship Question, Samuel Blumenfeld lays out the genius of Christopher Marlowe at an early age. Get this. Between the ages of 8-14, Marlowe probably toured the European continent as a page to Philip Sidney, nephew of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester (a close advisor to Queen Elizabeth). At 14, Marlowe entered the King's School on scholarship. At 17, also on scholarship, he entered Cambridge's Corpus Christi College as a divinity student. At 20, he earned his BA degree and was recruited into Her Majesty's Secret Service, which stationed him at the English Catholic seminary of Rheims to gather intelligence on a possible plot against the protestant Queen Elizabeth. By 1585, at 21, he had already translated from the Latin Ovid's Elegies and the first book of Lucan's Pharsalia and had composed his first play, Dido, Queen of Carthage. He was awarded his MA degree at 23. In 1588, at 24, Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great and its sequel were produced on the London stage, both to great acclaim.

Not too shabby.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Lit. Flick! Eugene O’Neill: A Documentary Film

I can think of no better documentary on the father of the modern American theatre than Rick Burns’s exceptional 2006 PBS/American Experience presentation, Eugene O’Neill: A Documentary Film (available on Amazon). This is a balanced, meticulous portrait of the brilliant yet tortured dramatist who saved the American theatre from melodramatic mush in the early 1920s to create uncompromising plays that rival Oedipus or Lear in their (cosmically) tragic magnitude. It’s somberly narrated by Christopher Plummer (whose performance of a Long Day's Journey into Night scene as James Tyrone Sr. is stunning), and features readings from the likes of Al Pacino, Liam Neeson, and Robert Sean Leonard that are downright mesmerizing. Especially informative are the interviews with Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner and the late director and former dean of the Yale School of Drama, Lloyd Richards. For me, seeing the greatest O’Neill actor who ever lived, Jason Robards, obviously ailing and in one of his last interviews before his death, was very poignant.

Monday, June 2, 2008

T.S. Eliot’s Two Failures, En Breve

In 1944, while editor and director of the distinguished U.K. publishing company Faber & Faber, T.S. Eliot gave a stunning thumbs down to George Orwell’s Animal Farm manuscript. According to literary biographer Jeffrey Meyers, in his Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation (an MSC favorite!), Eliot’s rejection was based on “[h]is perverse misreading of the book.” Millions of copies later and it’s obvious this was not one of Eliot’s finest moments. One could make the case that his famous 1920 essay entitled “Hamlet and His Problems” does not represent some of Eliot’s best judgment, either. Let’s attribute this to youth—he was 32 when he wrote the piece. Well, perhaps not youth. “So far from being Shakespeare’s masterpiece, the play is most certainly an artistic failure,” he boldly proclaims regarding what many consider to be the greatest play ever written. He then proceeds to flog Hamlet for lacking “objective correlative,” which he rather insufficiently describes as “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that [a character’s] particular emotion.” Apparently, Eliot believes that Hamlet’s troubled emotions do not jive with the scenes and situations around him or, in other words, do not have an external equivalent—“Hamlet . . . is dominated by an emotion . . . in excess of the facts as they appear”—as opposed to the successful use of objective correlative in a Poe short story, we can presume, where a character’s nervous melancholia finds correlation and balance with a crumbling structure or a lack of sunlight (see “The Fall of the House of Usher,” for example); or in Macbeth, where Lady Macbeth’s somnambulism is justified by her guilt-ridden conscious. Although thought-provoking in its audacity, Eliot’s criticism is frustrating in its unevenness, obfuscation, and occasional pettiness. David L. Stevenson, in his 1954 article “An Objective Correlative for T.S. Eliot’s Hamlet” (The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism) does a far better job explaining Eliot’s logic than Eliot himself, while deftly and reverentially taking to task one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed poets and literary critics.

By the way, here at MSC, we love T.S. Eliot.

© The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, June 2008

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