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This review is taken from PN Review 86, Volume 18 Number 6, July - August 1992.

VENERABLE ELDER! Ted Hughes, Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (Faber and Faber) £18.99

This defiantly unorthodox piece of Shakespeare criticism climaxes with a description of 'The Tempest as a keyboard for playing the Complete Works'. The poet laureate sits at this keyboard long enough to play only a chord or two and this reflects an impatience he has with the general activity of criticism: 'After all I am addressing the whole thing to the stage, not to anybody's study'.

Though he writes with great energy of purpose (polemicizing a peculiarly Hughesian reading of Shakespeare which draws upon myth and finds animals in unexpected places), his book suffers from the punishing over-elaboration of a central thesis which will nonetheless defeat all but the most dogged of intellectual readers.

Hughes identifies in Shakespeare's mature plays a 'Shakespearean moment' which he also describes as 'the glimpse of the Boar'. The boar is a symbol of animal lust, and when a tragic hero experiences such a moment he is apt to be made unrecognizable by a potentially homicidal madness.

The prototype of this moment occurs in the erotic poem 'Venus and Adonis'. Shakespeare's Adonis, in defiance of all classical tradition, recoils from the amorous Venus and subjects her to (of all things) a sermon against the bestiality of lust. He is subsequently killed by a charging boar.

Hughes regards this Puritanism of Adonis as a point of entry into Shakespeare's work of the wider conflict between the two great religious forces dominating Europe after the Reformation. He sees ...


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