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This article is taken from PN Review 231, Volume 43 Number 1, September - October 2016.

Shakespeare’s Afterlives Andrew Hadfield
Theodore Leinwand, The Great William: Writers Reading Shakespeare (University of Chicago Press) £24.50


HOW DO POETS read other poets? Is it good for them to be strongly influenced by other writers; should they follow their own paths and eschew earlier role models; or is literature best served by misreading, produced by strong writers who are simply too powerful to be constrained by what has gone before? In his intelligent and insightful new study Theodore Leinwand explores seven major writers reading Shakespeare in order to see what effect Shakespeare had on their imaginative universe and their writing as well as what they made of Shakespeare. In paying such scrupulous attention to both issues The Great William stands out as a major work itself, one that is alert to the complicated and often contradictory traffic of reading.

As he explains in the introduction, a student whose essay reproduced abbreviated speech prefixes throughout (‘Ner.’ for ‘Nerissa’, ‘Por.’ for ‘Portia’) started Leinwand thinking about ‘the effects the editions from which we read Shakespeare’s plays have on our reading and comprehension, and on our pleasure, too’ (p. 1). From this humble origin the project soon developed into a study of major authors reading Shakespeare and he chose a series of diverse writers – Coleridge, Keats, Woolf, Olson, Berryman, Ginsberg and Hughes – to form his study. Louis Zukofsky would have been included but permission to quote from the poems was not granted – a familiar story, which has surely limited the impact of Zukofsky’s important writing (see Bottom: ...


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