William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare My rating: 3 of 5 stars Like many modern readers and viewers, I am not shocked or outraged but rather fascinated by Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare's earliest tragedy and most notorious play. Wikipedia assembles a good collection of critical sputtering at this revenge drama's sensationalist logic of rape, mutilation and murder, … Continue reading William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus

Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe My rating: 4 of 5 stars I am neither a Marlowe scholar in particular nor an early modernist in general, but as far as I can determine—with the aid of the contextual and critical materials collected in this Signet Classics edition edited by the late Sylvan Barnet—there are three main … Continue reading Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus

Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey into Night

Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill My rating: 4 of 5 stars Long Day's Journey into Night, often considered one of the finest American dramas and as its author's masterpiece, was first published posthumously in 1955. The sources of its plot and characters in the Nobel-winning author's autobiography, his tortured family life marked … Continue reading Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey into Night

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Hamlet by William Shakespeare My rating: 5 of 5 stars Why is this bizarre, disorderly, long, and poorly transmitted tragedy from the turn of the seventeenth century the central work of the western literary tradition, its hero the keystone in the arch of modern literature? Because the distance he created between himself and the world … Continue reading William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Herman Melville, Pierre; or, The Ambiguities

Pierre; or, The Ambiguities by Herman Melville My rating: 4 of 5 stars What was left of Melville's early audience was killed off by the dreadful Pierre, a year after Moby-Dick, and despite various modern salvage attempts, Pierre certainly is unreadable, in the old-fashioned sense of that now critically abused word. You just cannot get … Continue reading Herman Melville, Pierre; or, The Ambiguities

William Shakespeare, King Lear

King Lear by William Shakespeare My rating: 5 of 5 stars What is King Lear about? "[T]he fierce dispute, / Betwixt damnation and impassion'd clay," wrote Keats, but both terms seem inapt: "clay"—as in the moist earth from which the Creator molded us—suggests a different image from the acid, sandy soil of the heathland where … Continue reading William Shakespeare, King Lear

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville My rating: 5 of 5 stars [Note: all quotations from essays, letters, and reviews below come from documents included in this Norton Critical Edition.] In his 1850 manifesto-essay in praise of Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Hawthorne and His Mosses," Herman Melville scorns the Anglophile polish and traditionalism of Washington Irving, then considered the … Continue reading Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat

The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark My rating: 4 of 5 stars Murlel Spark's 1970 short novel The Driver's Seat, recommended to me by a friend and former student, reminds me of a phrase from another short novel, César Aira's An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, wherein the protagonist's life is described … Continue reading Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat

William Shakespeare, Timon of Athens

The Life of Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare My rating: 4 of 5 stars [For Shakespeare's birth/death day. Also a good day to revisit my essay on Shakespeare's detractors and what they miss about the meaning and worth of his nihilism.] When I was reading this—a late quasi-tragedy of about the same period as … Continue reading William Shakespeare, Timon of Athens

T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral

Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot My rating: 5 of 5 stars I should not like to close without attempting to set before you, though only in dim outline, the ideal towards which poetic drama should strive. It is an unattainable ideal: and that is why it interests me, for it provides an incentive … Continue reading T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral