Robert Nye

We Could Do With A Few More, Monsieur

After Shakespeare: An Anthology

By

Oxford University Press 356pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

‘Fantastic!’ the movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn is said to have exclaimed, on first looking into the collected works of Shakespeare. ‘And it was all written with a feather!’

Greater minds have given birth to more subtle thoughts on the subject, though not all of them as memorable. Wittgenstein, that unacknowledged humorist, worried away at the question of whether people are really killed in tragedies or not, but then Wittgenstein did not really like Shakespeare anyway. Neither did Voltaire, who called Hamlet ‘a product of the imagination of a drunken savage’ (we could do with a few more, monsieur). D H Lawrence was less contemptuous, but wrote a poem called ‘When I Read Shakespeare’ in which he called the character Hamlet ‘boring … / so mean and self-conscious’, and referred to Lear as ‘the old buffer’, going on (not just for the sake of the rhymes), ‘you wonder his daughters / didn’t treat him rougher, / the old chough, the old chuffer!’ That same Lawrence poem neatly encapsulates in its jokey way, how some people still love Shakespeare even while finding his characters sometimes ridiculous:

How boring, how small Shakespeare’s people are!

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,
    • 'We read from left to right and from start to finish. Or do we?' Stuart Hannabus considers the merits of reading i… ,