This has been a year of many losses in the field of the Arts and just today an email reached my inbox sharing the news of the passing of Prof Russ McDonald. This is really saddening in itself but it has particularly affected me since for a very strange coincidence my intention this morning was to post some brief notes on his book Shakespeare & the Arts of Language. Perhaps the best tribute I can pay to him is to go ahead with my plan.
Shakespeare & the Arts of Language was first published in 2001 and it was also in my list for the Seminal Papers Series blog entries I have been posting as a way of revisiting some key texts and perhaps help those who would like some guidance in their reading in the field. McDonald introduces his own work defining it ‘as an introduction to [Shakespeare’s] unparalleled command of his verbal medium’ (p. 1). In the first chapter he guides his readers through the developments of the English language in the 16th and 17th century and how such changes have created a fertile environment where Shakespeare’s linguistic creativity could flourish. This is followed by a chapter on the importance of understanding the rhetoric tradition for our understanding of the organizational principles of the Shakespeare’s work. The remaining chapters deal with more specific features of Shakespeare’s use of figurative language, imagery, metaphors, poetry and prose. This is followed by a very interesting chapter on the enormous significance of wordplay, where McDonald examines Shakespeare’s use of puns and the functions of double talk.
The book culminates with a discussion of Shakespeare’s attitudes to language: his enthusiasm for the virtue of language to create imaginary worlds but also his distrust in words and his acute awareness of the perils of the misuse of language for its very same ability to create such illusions. At times where we have been led into political chaos by irresponsible politicians and unethical media outlets that used language to promote their own vested interest and foment division, such examination could not be more relevant and topical.
Read the Shakespeare’s Blog entry on the passing away of Russ McDonald here
- McDonald, R. (2001) Shakespeare & the Arts of Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.