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The Meaning of Shakespeare, Volume 2 [Paperback]

Harold C. Goddard
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 15 1960 Phoenix Books
In two magnificent and authoritative volumes, Harold C. Goddard takes readers on a tour through the works of William Shakespeare, celebrating his incomparable plays and unsurpassed literary genius.

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The Meaning of Shakespeare, Volume 2 + The Meaning of Shakespeare, Volume 1
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Product Description

From the Inside Flap

In two magnificent and authoritative volumes, Harold C. Goddard takes readers on a tour through the works of William Shakespeare, celebrating his incomparable plays and unsurpassed literary genius.

About the Author

Harold C. Goddard (1878-1950) was the head of the English Department at Swarthmore College from 1909 to 1946.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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How could Shakespeare produce one of the most unblushing glorifications of war ever written and then face right about and utter an equally extreme denunciation of it? Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most helpful customer reviews
By Neri
Format:Paperback
Goddard is a wonderful and insightful soul. His words and insights compliment Shakespeare beautifully. I would, however, recommend that one does not read his commentary on the play until after one has developed their own view of the play's meaning. So, I suggest reading Godddard after seeing the play because Goddard is mostly interested in analyzing the play, and one can see how closely their opinion matches Goddard's. I would, however, recommend reading Isaac Azimov's "Guide to Shakespeare" before seeing or reading a play. Azimov is more interested in explaining the internal concepts, historical relevence of peoples, places, things, Elizabethan terms etc... - his book acts as more of a key to better understanding what is being said. Goddard is a beautiful interpreter of the moral meaning and in attempting to grasp at the soul of Shakespeare - which one should obviously do on their own first, before consulting "expert" opinion. So read Azimov before the play and Goddard a few days after. Each has their books divided into 10-20 page discussions on each play. Although note that Goddard has two books, be sure to get the right book.
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Format:Paperback
The best book of Shakespeare criticism that I've ever read. Like a previous reviewer, I return to this "reference book" time and again. Unlike so-called "Shakespeare experts" that take the bard's writing too literally, Goddard analyzes the writing, and provides evidence that Shakespeare's underlying message is often diametrically opposed to the literal interpretation. A must-have for lovers of Shakepeare.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The absolute best book about Shakespeare Oct. 28 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
If I had to pick one book of criticism on Shakespeare, this would be it. It really helps you to see to the core of Shakespeare's work and to see the main themes that run through it's entirety. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
70 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, insightful, a good read after the play May 23 2001
By Neri - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Goddard is a wonderful and insightful soul. His words and insights compliment Shakespeare beautifully. I would, however, recommend that one does not read his commentary on the play until after one has developed their own view of the play's meaning. So, I suggest reading Goddard after seeing the play because Goddard is mostly interested in analyzing the play, and one can see how closely their opinion matches Goddard's. I would, however, recommend reading Isaac Azimov's "Guide to Shakespeare" before seeing or reading a play. Asimov is more interested in explaining the internal concepts, historical relevence of peoples, places, things, Elizabethan terms etc... - his book acts as more of a key to better understanding what is being said. Goddard is a beautiful interpreter of the moral meaning and in attempting to grasp at the soul of Shakespeare - which one should obviously do on their own first, before consulting "expert" opinion. So read Asimov before the play and Goddard a few days after. Each has their books divided into 10-20 page discussions on each play. Although note that Goddard has two books, be sure to get the right book.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare's Underlying Meaning Uncovered by Goddard Jan. 14 2000
By John D. Cameron - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The best book of Shakespeare criticism that I've ever read. Like a previous reviewer, I return to this "reference book" time and again. Unlike so-called "Shakespeare experts" that take the bard's writing too literally, Goddard analyzes the writing, and provides evidence that Shakespeare's underlying message is often diametrically opposed to the literal interpretation. A must-have for lovers of Shakepeare.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid Writing May 31 2009
By D. Spector - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Sometimes, the best writing that isn't by Shakespeare is writing ABOUT Shakespeare. Goddard proves this in both volumes of "The Meaning of Shakespeare." His writing is always very good and sometimes rather stunning.

I tend to disagree with folks who consider these volumes to be a good "introductions" to Shakespeare. Goddard is, like any critic, biased. As brilliant as his readings are, they are HIS readings. Although I want to agree with him at every possible turn because he renders his points so beautifully, his passions sometimes take the place of cooler criticism. I bring this up, however, only to underscore my point about these books not being great introductions to the plays. You should at least read a play once and form some of your own ideas before turning to Goddard's analysis. Once you do turn to him, though, I can't imagine you will be disappointed.

I think there is a third volume that could be extracted from these two: a book containing all of Goddard's general musings on literature, writing, theater, performance, and poetry. One of the many gifts of "The Meaning of Shakespeare" is that you are treated to Goddard's clear, concise, breathtaking observations on art and on humanity in general. He is so focused on positively exploring the plays, rather than negating other critical observations, that he allows himself ample room to wax philosophical without pontificating. Again, one could extract enough gems to create what I think could be a seminal work of art philosophy.

So...yes...I recommend these books highly. The writing is truly magnificent, the analyses are attentive, and, by the way, if you're a theater-maker, it shouldn't take you long to figure out that Goddard appears to respect the fact that these plays were written for theatrical performance.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare Illuminated! April 5 2009
By Kirk Petersen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"Enthusiastic admiration is the first principle of knowledge, and the last."

That quotation from William Blake (as cited by Goddard) sums up the value of this book. Goddard himself possessed such admiration for Shakespeare, and admiration should be the foremost quality for any expert trying to explain Shakespeare. Unfortunately, most literary criticism lacks enthusiasm and is dry to the point of being unreadable. In fact, many professional academics churn our papers and books not for love of the subject matter but in the need to secure tenure. They write on topics that they happen to find themselves studying--whether due to departmental pressures or contemporary intellectual fashions. A monograph dedicated to an explanation of Macbeth, for example, often gives the impression that its author has as much enthusiasm for Macbeth as he would for the chemical reactive qualities of benzene. What's the point?

But this is not true of Goddard! He was a scholar who saw into the depths of Shakespeare's plays, appreciated what he saw, and then explained what he saw for the rest of us. His resulting book is well worth reading.

In brief, Goddard's philosophical approach to Shakespeare might best be understood through his contrast between 'intellect' and 'poetry.' As Goddard intends it, the term 'intellect' might be better understood in contemporary times as being scientific or technological. Being a scion of the humanities, Goddard of course favors poetry. In the opening chapter, some quotations provide the flavor of Goddard's approach:

"The aim of the intellect is not to wonder and love and grow wise about life, but to control it. ... We want the facts for the practical use we can make of them. ... When the intellect speaks, its instrument is rational prose. The more unmistakable the meaning the better. 'Two and two are four.' Everybody understands what that means, and it means the same to everybody. But 'Become who thou art'; 'Know thyself'; 'Ye must be born again'; 'I should never have sought thee if I had not already found thee'; 'The rest is silence': what do they mean? Will any two men ever exactly agree? Such sentences are poetry."

It should be clear where Goddard's interests lie. And for my own part, although I admit the questions of intellect deserve great respect, ultimately it is the questions of poetry that really matter to self, to life.

Goddard's approach to the plays is one of close reading. In other words, Goddard is no drama critic who routinely attends Shakespearean plays in performance and then reports on his emotional reaction to them. Rather, his book is the product of someone who has read the text multiple times, bringing his own imagination to bear upon its meaning--and not that of some director's or actor's. Goddard's results are often contrarian to the normal interpretations of the plays. And frankly his interpretations are at times on the verge of being outlandish, (especially with respect to Merchant of Venice, Hamlet and King Lear). Still, Goddard provides solid evidence and argument for his interpretations, and even if the reader disagrees in the end, it is still an expansive experience to learn of someone else's very different take on a play.

With regard to the Henriad, Goddard and I had different experiences in coming to an understanding of Falstaff. Previously, I had read the Henriad plays multiple times, but I could never understand Falstaff's appeal--he always seemed so petty and vile to me. Only when I saw Orson Welles playing Falstaff in "Chimes at Midnight" did I finally arrive at an appreciation of him. For me, it took a great actor to bring Falstaff to life, with his charisma and humor. But Goddard claims just the opposite: "We shall never see Falstaff on the stage. On the stage there the monster of flesh stands. ... It takes rare acting to rescue him from being physically repulsive. ... But in a book! On the stage of our imagination! That is another matter." For me, that drastic distinction between book and stage has happened for only one Shakespearean character, Falstaff. And I assume the same is true for Goddard. And yet our experiences were diametrically opposed to one another. Curious.

I feel I should comment on the book's title, "The Meaning of Shakespeare." After the book was accepted for publication yet before it had a title, Goddard died. So the title was given by the publisher. But Goddard would never have chosen a title like that! It carries the implication that its interpretations are somehow definitive, somehow final. But that is contrary to Goddard's overarching philosophy, which emphasizes ambiguity, poetry and imagination. As it stands, the book's title is horribly misleading. The best rebuttal to this title comes from Goddard himself: "I hope that I have myself given no impression of speaking 'the truth' about King Lear in this sense. ... If others do not see [these figures of interpretation], for them they are not there. Far be it from me in that case to assert that I am right and they are wrong."

I'll leave the final word to Goddard's book (quoting a student):

"'We were saying that other night,' a college girl wrote to her mother, 'that we probably know the members of our Shakespeare class, deep down, far better than we shall know any class again. You just can't discuss Shakespeare without putting a window in your very soul.'"
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The absolute best book about Shakespeare Oct. 28 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If I had to pick one book of criticism on Shakespeare, this would be it. It really helps you to see to the core of Shakespeare's work and to see the main themes that run through it's entirety. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up.
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