Could they by any chance be related?
This is possibly my last non-Poetry Parnassus-related post this week – and there will be posts! – but I want to get this very English talk onto your radar before we’re all subsumed in the biggest international gathering of poets London has ever seen.
One thing I’ve been very lucky in on Facebook is the wonderful people I’ve met there: friends, colleagues, rivals. It’s a world of writers. A few months ago, I went to a Sunday afternoon salon held by a wonderful photographer, and met a rather remarkable woman, a writer. I didn’t realise till after she left that she had only been discharged from hospital after very major surgery the previous day, and had been determined to come along for couscous and pavlova and conversation. I was full of admiration and since then we’ve had many exchanges on Facebook and through email.
As it happens, Dr Pauline Kiernan is (as well as a playwright) a scholar on Shakespeare, and the author of books like Staging Shakespeare at the New Globe, Love & Shakespeare (‘You have witchcraft in your lips, Kate’), and the bestselling Filthy Shakespeare (‘Shakespeare’s most outrageous sexual puns’; it had to be censored on US radio). She has held research fellowships and lectureships at the Universities of Oxford and Reading, gives talks on Shakespeare and Renaissance drama all over the world, and is currently working on a study of Keats and the influence of Shakespeare on his work.
Now, she is giving a talk on Keats and Shakespeare at Keats House, this Thursday.
Keats & Shakespeare! It’s like Oscar & Henry: a deliciously sweet pairing, like fruit or bonbons for the mind.
There is an instinctive connection between these two generous, human, dramatic poets. Here, to refresh your memory, is the origin of a phrase that gets bandied about rather carelessly in Poetry World, one of Keats’ chief legacies: two words. ‘Negative Capability‘. In fact, the whole edifice rests on this single utterance, in a letter to his brothers; and whole academic careers have been made in explaining what he meant. Turns out it’s kind of about Shakespeare.
And at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.
So there’s one clue. I asked Pauline for a little more detail on what she’ll be discussing, and she writes:
Shakespeare’s influence on Keats’ poetry goes well beyond simple, logical parallels and obvious allusions. There are deeper resonances that reveal a complex emotional web of affinities and the two most powerful are to do with Keats’ continuous quest to create poetry that can embrace both sorrow and joy, the chaos and contradiction of the world, and to become a poet that ‘has no self’.
Note how this is like Eliot’s ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, where he talks about the poet’s relationship to the personality:
Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.
But of course, as we see in so many writers, it is only in the escaping the tyranny of their own personality that they grow capable of encompassing other ones. (They achieve this in their writing, not so much in life maybe!) Pauline continues, and here we begin to see the personal amid the theoretical, and the cost to Keats (and Shakespeare; let’s not forget he was a person, just like us), for which this was the purchase:
And all of Keats’ most profound poetic responses to Shakespeare are closely bound up with his own intensely personal struggles against depression.
Of course we know Keats was depressed. We know why he was depressed; he certainly wasn’t wrong (except insofar as we are talking about him now; the saddest thing is that he died thinking he had failed). But in the absence of Prozac and all our other C21 panaceas, he sought and found other ways of understanding and dealing with it – of accepting it, maybe, as much as possible, of embracing it with all the force of his own Negative Capability.
Then he wrote the Odes.
And where does Shakespeare fit into this? I’m dying to find out. But I’m teaching on Thursday, so I might have to wait and read the book. But you, perhaps, can go. And you’ll also have to go if you want to find out about the sublunary legs. I looked it up, but I’m not telling.
The talk is on THURSDAY June 28th, 7-8pm
10 Keats Grove, Hampstead, NW3 2RR
£5.00, cons: £3.00 (gives you free entry to the House for a year)
If you’re going you need to BOOK IN ADVANCE: 0207 332 3868 or email.