Last week, I was discussing Northrop Frye’s The Educated Imagination with the seniors in my capstone course, a process that continues this week. Things got a little lively when we ran into Frye’s comment in the first chapter that literature doesn’t progress in the way that science and technology do; Frye says that while there may be a play as good as King Lear at some point, it will be a very different kind of a play, and it will not be better. He then goes on to observe that the same may be said of Oedipus Rex, and the chapter continues.
One of my students, a very bright young man, disagrees, arguing that because modern writers are not subject to the same censorial limitations regarding subject matter that faced older writers, that better works may be written. I would contend that this is more a function of what may be published, rather than written — an important difference. But it makes for an interesting morning.
And speaking of Lear and interesting mornings, my friend Anne Brannen (formerly of Duquesne U, now happily engaged in a new career) alerted me to a serious takedown of Sir Brian Vickers‘s The One King Lear, released by Harvard UP this April. Holger Syme (of the U of Toronto) swings a really big hammer in this review, wielding it against Vickers’s critical approach, bibliographic knowledge, and even his editors and peer reviewers at the press. Syme’s review (from the LA Review of Books) may be found here (although it may rely a bit much on inside baseball for the lay reader), and it provides us with our QotD, which made me laugh:
A newly edited, ideally realized King Lear will be one that lives up to the play as Vickers understands it, and leaves out all the lines and textual differences that complicate the picture. As literary critical methods go, this is an unusually creative approach.
Well struck, Professor Syme. And a tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to Anne as well.