English Bards and APSR Reviewers

Sigurd Burckhardt, The American Political Science Review Vol. 54, No. 1 (March 1960).


Recently the Review has extended its hospitality to studies which are not, technically, within the discipline it serves. A new school of Shakespeare criticism may be in the making; and since everyone deplores departmentalization, one should like to welcome, without misgivings, APSR publication of two Shakespeare interpretations. But I, for one, do have misgivings. It may be that the views of the authors are useful and needful for political theory; of that I am no judge. But I am sure that to present these views as Shakespeare’s can serve neither political theory nor Shakespeare criticism. The study of Shakespeare can profit from a knowledge of the history of political theory; and we on the belletristic side of the quad like to think that we are not the sole beneficiaries of the exchange. But the two articles in question go beyond this simple form of barter; they are interpretations of dramatic poetry. They do not accept and retail what Shakespeare criticism has concluded about the poet’s political philosophy; they are ambitious attempts to discover this philosophy by taking a direct and novel look at some Shakespearean texts. That is a praiseworthy ambition; but it demands something the authors do not have nor even know they lack: an adequate concept of the specificity of literature as a mode of discourse different from other modes. They have a worthy aim: to give a great poet a voice in the great concerns of practical life. But they have not yet learned to distinguish between the poet’s voice and their own—so that, though I greet the aim, I must withhold the applause.