Shakespeare the Thinker

Paperback | April 1, 2008

byA. D. Nuttall

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A. D. Nuttall’s study of Shakespeare’s intellectual preoccupations is a literary tour de force and comes to crown the distinguished career of a Shakespeare scholar. Certain questions engross Shakespeare from his early plays to the late romances: the nature of motive, cause, personal identity and relation, the proper status of imagination, ethics and subjectivity, language and its capacity to occlude and to communicate. Yet Shakespeare’s thought, Nuttall demonstrates, is anything but static. The plays keep returning to, modifying, and complicating his creative preoccupations. Nuttall allows us to hear and appreciate the emergent cathedral choir of play speaking to play. By the later stages of Nuttall’s book this choir is nearly overwhelming in its power and dimensions. The author does not limit discussion to moments of crucial intellection but gives himself ample space in which to get at the distinctive essence of each work.
Much recent historicist criticism has tended to “flatten” Shakespeare by confining him to the thought-clichés of his time, and this in its turn has led to an implicitly patronizing view of him as unthinkingly racist, sexist, and so on. Nuttall shows us that, on the contrary, Shakespeare proves again and again to be more intelligent and perceptive than his 21st-century readers. This book challenges us to reconsider the relation of great literature to its social and historical matrix. It is also, perhaps, the best guide to Shakespeare’s plays available in English.

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A. D. Nuttall’s study of Shakespeare’s intellectual preoccupations is a literary tour de force and comes to crown the distinguished career of a Shakespeare scholar. Certain questions engross Shakespeare from his early plays to the late romances: the nature of motive, cause, personal identity and relation, the proper status of imaginati...

A. D. Nuttall was professor of English at Oxford University and the author of numerous books, including A Common Sky: Philosophy and the Literary Imagination and Why Does Tragedy Give Pleasure? His books Two Concepts of Allegory and A New Mimesis: Shakespeare and the Representation of Reality are published by Yale University Press.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:448 pages, 9.25 × 6.13 × 1.17 inPublished:April 1, 2008Publisher:Yale University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0300136293

ISBN - 13:9780300136296

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From the Author

Q: In recent years there has been a trend of very senior scholars writing big, ambitious books about Shakespeare for the general reader—Stephen Greenblatt's and James Shapiro's biographies, and Harold Bloom's and Sir Frank Kermode's studies. And now A. D. Nuttall of Oxford enters the fray. What more can be said about Shakespeare that hasn't already been said?  How is this book different? A: First, this isn't a biography—of the titles mentioned, the Bloom and the Kermode come closest. But my book is more intently engaged with ideas and with (dramatically conducted) argument than any of these. Everyone knows that Shakespeare excels in imagination and rhetorical power. This book argues that he was also very intelligent—both philosophically and psychologically. There are certain questions that fascinate Shakespeare, and he returns to them repeatedly, but in always new and different ways.  Q: In pursuit of Shakespeare's thought and particular preoccupations, you follow the plays in chronological order, is that right? A: Yes, but only roughly in chronological order. I broke with chronology if, say, a certain play was closely linked in argument with another but was written some time before. In a sense, though, it was Shakespeare himself who determined the exact sequence in which I took up the plays for consideration.  Q: Shakespeare the Thinker seems to me an extremely personal book, more personal than any of your previous books. Do you think that's a fair statement? A: Well, this book comes after a lifetime of thinking about, and teaching, Shakespeare. You wondered, earlier, whether it's possible to say anything new about Shakespeare. I'm quite sure it is. I have taught Shakespeare for many years--and each year was completely different from the one before. With Shakespeare, one always finds more. Among other things I hope the book demonstrates something of the distinctive essence of each play. I wanted to provide an introduction to the plays—and to do it without compromising—without ever pretending that Shakespeare is simpler or shallower than he really is.