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Tolstoy on Shakespeare

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  74 Ratings  ·  16 Reviews
According to Wikipedia: "William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564; died 23 April 1616)[a] was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist.[1] He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon".[2][b] His surviving works, including some collaborations, consist of 38 pl ...more
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Published March 1st 2010 by B&R Samizdat Express (first published November 1906)
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Ana Rînceanu
I. Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy believes that good art should shape morality of the public. And by moral, I mean it is the Christian way. So his essay may be a little disappointing because of that, but it is still a good essay.

He does have a point. Whether or not he thought about it when he wrote the plays, Shakespeare has had a huge influence on Western society, on the way it views itself. The characters explored here offer an interesting insight into madness, love, lust and so on, but no comfort or a
It was eye opening reading this. I tend to love books that take you in a completely different angle to things that you thought were previously irrefutable. I didn’t know that anyone had challenged the legend of Shakespeare before reading this. The book is essentially Tolstoy’s diatribe against what he believes to be the cultish sycophancy of Shakespeare that has been enjoyed and like a rolling ball of snow has been built up over the years by most of the English speaking and I dare say non-Englis ...more
Feb 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Great read for anyone interested in Shakespeare or literary criticism in general. George Orwell's subsequent essay and reponse was more memorable though, and such a short piece as well.
Alma Castro
Jul 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russian

Best argument ever written explaining the Shakespeare phenomena.
Jan 04, 2012 rated it did not like it
As an eBook, it was already a frustrating experience getting to the right page each time something happened to the screen, but what made reading what amounts to a thesis-length opinion-piece even more difficult were the rambling thoughts of Tolstoy himself. One of his last literary efforts undoes so much of what is considered literature. Even though it was written in the 20th century, so much his interpretation relies on outdated 19th century ideals of autobiography and the purpose of art. Takin ...more
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Generations of young people have had to study and read Shakespeare through the prism of their English teachers. I believe they are taught appreciation rather than encouraged to think for themselves. I certainly felt outcast as I never enjoyed Shakespeare-even when I got my A in English Literature. If there are any lost and befuddled young people out there, demoralised by Shakespeare then Take Heart! I wouldn't advise actually using Tolstoy's line of forceful argument - it's most likely your teac ...more
Ebaa Momani
Dec 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This argument totally makes sense to me!!! It was always hard for me to swallow the complexity of Shakespeare's characters, which ,what I suppose now, was nothing but the confusion between what the mind really sees as something ordinary and the propaganda surrounding it, bumping lies about its greatness that don't really exist.
Jul 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great essay, but I can't say that I agree with the majority of what he says. I still regard Shakespeare as one of the best poets in all of humanity
James F
Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book (I read the Kindle version) contains Tolstoy's famous essay on Shakespeare, the article by Ernest Crosby which inspired it, and a letter by George Bernard Shaw commenting on Shakespeare and Tolstoy. (I also read a short reply to Tolstoy's article by George Orwell, which is not in this book.) Apparently, Browning (I assume Robert, the poet) listed a group of famous writers whom he considered as politically liberal, and included Shakespeare; Crosby's article replied to this, giving quota ...more
Mina Soare
Jul 26, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mina by: Al Maki
Shelves: non-fiction
The authorship recommends itself and the topic is nicely controversial, more so for the respective gravitas of those in question.

How shallow of me.
I plead an appetite for pleasant prose.

Tolstoy here is so intransigent, that this reads like a diary entry. I believe that educated people would be able to find both fault and value with Shakespeare, were they not outraged, as Tolstoy seems to be, from being banned in sharing the pleasure of his... equals.

Consequently, the eponymous essay, the first
Al Maki
Jul 25, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I went to the book because I had found the word play in Love's Labour's Lost tedious and annoying and hoped that Tolstoy could articulate what I did not like. He does very well, pointing out how often Shakespeare digresses from the plot and the expression of feeling to frolic in word play. There are some other points in the book with which I agree. His attack on the many improbabilities of Lear, his assessment of Homer's virtues, his attack on the exalting of Shakespeare as the greatest of all a ...more
Oct 16, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It is amazing to me that an author as great as Tolstoy is so filled with envy that he cannot tolerate the accolade given to one greater than he. It is almost as if he is the evil queen standing in front of the mirror asking who is the greatest of them all, and when the answer comes back SHAKESPEARE he is compelled to destroy his nemesis. He gives the most ludicrous and superficial summary of King Lear thinking this will demonstrate Shakespeare's inferiority. Instead it shows Tolstoy's lack of cr ...more
Aasem Bakhshi
Of course, one can't always force himself to agree with subjective opinions of Tolstoy on Shakespeare but nevertheless, it was an interesting line of argument for us imbeciles who have always struggled while making sense of Shakespeare's greateness while interacting with the text at least. Experiencing Shakespeare on screen or theatre is perhaps an altogether different experience. But in my view, Tolstoy's essay on Shakespeare must be read in conjunction with Orwell's essay Lear, Tolstoy and the ...more
Sidney Weber
Apr 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Completely new oplnion

Although I have read the complete works of Shakespeare, I have never thought of them critically. I have been impressed by the word flows and I have enjoyed the straightforward plots. Reading Tolstoy's criticism has opened a new channel of thought about these plays. He makes very strong arguments for his views even if one does not agree with all of his basic premises. In total, this is an excellent essay.
totally makes sense to me as an argument. As for the truth of it, who knows. for all his love of truth, the count could miss it by huge stretches. but then he could hit it so hard that he in part gave us what we know as Gandhi (and in turn, mlk).
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Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (Russian: Лев Николаевич Толстой; commonly Leo Tolstoy in Anglophone countries) was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time and a pinnacle of realist fiction. Many consider To ...more
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“I remember the astonishment I felt when I first read Shakespeare. I expected to receive a powerful esthetic pleasure, but having read, one after the other, works regarded as his best: "King Lear," "Romeo and Juliet," "Hamlet" and "Macbeth," not only did I feel no delight, but I felt an irresistible repulsion and tedium . . . . Shakespeare can not be recognized either as a great genius, or even as an average author. . . . far from being the height of perfection, [King Lear] is a very bad, carelessly composed production, . . . can not evoke among us anything but aversion and weariness. . . . All his characters speak, not their own, but always one and the same Shakespearian, pretentious, and unnatural language . . . .” 1 likes
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