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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: March 2007

Virginia Woolf Reads Shakespeare: Or, her Silence on Master William


If [the] number 18 [bus] still runs, let us take it, when the owling time is at hand, down to London Bridge. There is a curious smell in this part of the world, of hops, it may be; & also a curious confraternity . . . The gulls are swooping; & some small boys paddle in the pebbles. Above the sky is huddled & crowded with purple streamers . . . because it was here that the Globe stood.

Near the end of her life, probably in January 1941, Virginia Woolf tried once again to make her way to the Globe theatre, to net Shakespeare in a web of words; yet even before she began, she experienced a sense of defeat:

One reason why Shakespeare is still read is simply the inadequacy of Shakespearian criticism . . . it is always autobiographical criticism. It is a commonplace to say that every critic finds his own features in Shakespeare. His variety is such that every one can find scattered here or there the development of some one of his own attributes. The critic then accents what he is responsive to, and so composes his own meaning, in Shakespeares words . . . But there always remains something further . . . that lures the reader. And it is this quality that finally eludes us, gives him his perpetual vitality, he excites perpetual curiosity. . . . One reading always supercedes another. Thus the truest account of reading Shakespeare would be not to write a book with beginning middle and end; but to collect notes, without trying to make them consistent.

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Shakespeare Survey
  • Online ISBN: 9781139052771
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