Beer, John



Baker, Jeffrey.  John Keats and Symbolism.  New York: St. Martin’s P, 1986.  The title doesn’t adequately suggest the scope of this consistently interesting revisionary study of the poetry. .  Baker rejects any view of Keats’s development as a passage from Romantic escapism to tragic realism, arguing instead that the poet progressed from a simplistic aestheticism to a more mature and fully integrated sensibility involving a broadened if more puzzled awareness of the conflicting blessings and miseries of earthly experience.  The great odes in particular represent “sophisticated art springing from radical bewilderment”—an “aporetic” (157) vision of reality that is more comprehensive than tragic vision and finds expression in the kind of oxymoronic symbols that characterize Keats’s later poetry, symbols like Lamia and Autumn, presenting a vision of reality as a complex of pleasure and pain. 

                        This “perception that good and evil are permanently and inseparably present together in the world” undermined the (223) idiosyncratic religious faith the younger Keats had constructed for himself, but Baker detects in all his verse “the planetary tug exercised by orthodox religious tradition” (227).  His alertness to religious tension in the poetry bears surprisingly abundant fruit: Baker is very convincing on the religious significance of Hyperion, and his notion of the “Grecian Urn” as an agnostic’s icon is brilliantly suggestive—a surprisingly original reading of that well-read poem.

                        But Baker is almost always original, or trying to be.  He takes nothing for granted, reads every line as though for the first time, and will not allow his perceptions to be bullied by other critics, even the most prestigious.  He is secure enough to complain of the “expository muddle” of the Fall of Hyperion” and to insist that “Ode to Melancholy” is a seriously flawed poem.  The positive results—multiple fresh insights where one didn’t expect to find them again—more than compensate for the occasional lapse (e.g., his reading of  “To Autumn” as critique of a Godwinian order).  All this in clean and accurate prose of a kind that is not natural in an age like this.  (R.M.R.)

Beer, John. Coleridge’s Poetic Intelligence  London: Barnes, 1977.  Perhaps Coleridge’s poetic and intellectual ideas run closer together than most critics have previously acknowledged.  Coleridge’s theory of the organic did indeed distinguish it from theories held by his German counterparts.  Beer’s concept directly refutes some of Norman Fruman’s earlier findings regarding Coleridge’s borrowings.  Most rewarding of all in this complex study is a discussion of consistent metaphoric patterns throughout Coleridge’s poetry. "Shoots and Eddies," "Animated Nature," and "Light and Impulse" are chapters that point to some of Coleridge’s interest in psychological and poetic musings

Curran, Stuart.  Shelley’s Cenci: Scorpions Ringed With Fire.  Princeton: Princeton UP, 1970.  First, Curran locates the play within the context of England’s Regency theater and its subsequent stage history; then, Curran illustrates why many critics conclude that The Cenci is perhaps Shelley’s greatest work.  While Shelley’s own Preface suggests that he has avoided "mere poetry," Shelley has utilized many powerful images to suggest otherwise.  Modern critics must view The Cenci, "not at a tragedy in the usual Aristotelian sense," (258-59) but rather that it is a play, suggesting the Robert Graves’s notion of "the melodramatic sublime" (260), about good despairing its complete loss of power against evil. 

Delson, Abe.  "The Function of Geraldine in ‘Christabel’: A Critical Perspective and Interpretation."  English Studies 61 (1980): 130-41.  This is an excellent review of research on particularly the criticism of the sexual imagery of "Christabel"; Geraldine is the key figure here.  Christabel becomes a more "effective agent for the happiness" of others as a result of her encounter with Geraldine.  Though many would not completely agree with Delson [I do not] on all matters, he does make some valuable observations.

Greenblatt, Stephen.  Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare.  Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980.  A collection of essays, many of which have been published previously, which point to the concept of how literary and social identities mold and refigure themselves within a changing world.  The conflicts inherent within this struggle for meaning and social mobility are evident in literature.  The study of literature, Greenblatt insists, must take into consideration that literature functions in three basic ways: as "a manifestation of the concrete behavior of its particular author, as itself the expression of the codes by which behavior is shaped, and as a reflection upon those codes" (4).  Of particular interest are his chapters, "The Word of God in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," "Marlowe and the Will to Absolute Play," and "The Improvisation of Power."

Hazelton, Nancy J. Doran.  Historical Consciousness in Nineteenth-Century Shakespearean Staging.  Ann Arbor, MI: UMI, 1987.  This book is a fine place to  begin a study of various productions of Shakespeare’s works during the nineteenth century, for it contains an overview of changes within the period concerning matters of costuming, stage design, and production philosophies.  Sadly, her coverage of the Romantic period is the weakest section of her study.  From Garrick and Edmund Kean to John and Charles Kemble to Charles Kean runs a pattern of growing appreciation of Shakespeare, unadulterated.  Nevertheless, directors and actors contented with–and often promoted–elaborate scene design, peculiar lighting patterns, and a bastarization of the texts.  Excellent photos.

Richardson, Alan.  A Mental Theater: Poetic Drama and Consciousness in the Romantic Age.  University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 1988.  Taking his title from Byron’s comment on Romantic productions, specifically the rather poor rendering of Shakepearean productions in current theater, Richardson discusses thematics and problems of a number of Romantic dramas.  His study is by no means inclusive yet he does an adequate job of major dramas: Manfred, The Borderers, Cain, The Cenci, and Death’s Jest Book.  He includes the dramatic poem, "Prometheus Unbound" in his discussion, which is a fault rather than a credit.  Further, his analysis of The Cenci is limited: he mentions that Beatrice "internalizes" her psychic condition, but continues by speaking of Beatrice’s crime.  He mentions the abyss of the mind, and refers to Hazlitt’s discussion of the abyss in respect to Macbeth.  His opening chapter is particularly relevant to Shakespeare’s influence, both thematically and textually, on Romantic drama.