Saturday, 12 June 2010

Coriolanus and Hazlitt again

This follows my last but one posting. Uttara Natarajan has kindly let me see her paper, which is part of a chapter that will appear in July in a Continuum volume in their Great Shakespearean series.

It seems Hazlitt published the same argument only one week later and in that version it’s quite clear that it’s a specific attack, on the ‘Modern Poets’, namely Coleridge, Wordworth and Southey, and Wordsworth in particular for his shameful commemoration ode celebrating the reactionary ruling power and the slaughter at Waterloo. In this case poetry clearly is siding with tyranny, but while imagination is certainly drawn to the fearful, vast and awesome, so it can be to the good, and there is no reason why poetry should always make the oppressor the more impressive and sympathetic. In King Lear, indeed, the good is as potent as the evil.

That’s the argument and Uttara’s case seems convincing.

The point that’s of educational relevance, however, remains-- and it’s not Uttara’s purpose in her chapter to address it. If Imagination is so drawn to what impresses the emotions, and poetry is the faculty of imagination, then isn’t the other faculty, that of understanding, left at a serious disadvantage? And isn’t this a worry for education?

What is there to animate the activity of the head and understanding that is comparable to that poetry that sets the heart on fire?

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