2016 | 13 | 28 | 35-50
Article title

National Poets, the Status of the Epic and the Strange Case of Master William Shakespeare

Title variants
Languages of publication
This essay contextualises Shakespeare as product of a field of forces encapsulating national identity and relative cultural status. It begins by historicising the production of national poets in Romantic and Nationalist terms. Lefevere’s conceptual grid is then used to characterise the system that underpins the production of Shakespeare as British national poet, and his place within the canon of world literature. The article defines this context first before moving onto the figure of Shakespeare, by referring to various high status texts such as the Kalevala, the Aeneid, The Faerie Queene and Paradise Lost. The position accorded Shakespeare at the apex is therefore contingent upon a series of prior operations on other texts, and their writers. Shakespeare is not conceived as attaining pre-eminence because of his own innate literary qualities. Rather, a process of elimination occurs by which the common ascription of the position of national poet to a writer of epic is shown to be a cultural impossibility for the British. Instead, via Aristotle’s privileging of tragedy over epic, the rise of Shakespeare is seen as almost a second choice because of the inappropriateness of Spenser and Milton for the position.
Physical description
  • University of Gloucestershire
  • Aristotle. “On the Art of Poetry.” Aristotle, Horace, Longinus: Classical Literary Criticism. Trans. T.S. Dorsch. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1983.
  • Bate, Jonathan, ed. The Romantics on Shakespeare. London: Penguin Books, 1997. 128-163.
  • Belsey, Catherine. Why Shakespeare? Basinsgtoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 1-20.
  • Bush, Douglas, ed. Milton: Poetical Works. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • Goldsworthy, Adrian. Antony and Cleopatra. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2010.
  • Hawkes, Terence. Meaning by Shakespeare. London: Routledge, 1992. 141-153
  • Holderness, Graham. “An Arabian in My Room: Shakespeare and the Canon.” Critical Survey 26.2 (2014): 73-89.
  • Innes, Paul. Epic. London and New York: Routledge, 2013.
  • Lefevere, André. “The Gates of Analogy: The Kalevala in English.” Constructing Cultures: Essays on Literary Translation. Eds. Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd, 1998. 76-89.
  • Le Guin, Usula K. Lavinia. London: Orion, 2010.
  • Nemoianu, Virgil. “National Poets in the Romantic Age: Emergence and Importance.” Romantic Poetry. Vol. 7. Ed. Angela Esterhammer. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2002. 249-256.
  • Roche, P., ed. Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Queene. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984.
  • Vickers, Brian. Appropriating Shakespeare: Contemporary Critical Quarrels. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.
  • Virgil. “Aeneid.” Epic and Empire: Politics and Generic Form From Virgil to Milton. Trans. David Quint. Princeton: Princeton University Press, Princeton 1993.
Document Type
Publication order reference
YADDA identifier
JavaScript is turned off in your web browser. Turn it on to take full advantage of this site, then refresh the page.