This article begins by addressing a persistent question about creativity in literary criticism: can literary criticism ever be a creative industry or is it condemned to be an uncreative one, locked in a repetitious secondary place in relation to the texts that it writes about? As a way out of this problem, this article proposes that literary criticism can be best understood as a form of imitative writing, in the specific terms used by Sir Philip Sidney in his Defence of Poesy. It is argued that Sidney’s definition of poesy can be used to describe important aspects of the forms and purposes of literary criticism today. This argument is illustrated by a recent instance of “imitative literary criticism,” Stephen Greenblatt’s Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power (2018), which intervenes in North-American politics through an analysis of tyrants and their enablers in Shakespeare. In a dramatic tour-de-force, Greenblatt’s book focuses indirectly on the figure of Donald Trump without ever naming the then President of the United States. This article discusses why this is done and focuses on issues of imitation, exemplarity, and emulation in his book, while taking into account the history of Greenblatt’s engagement with Shakespeare’s “oblique angles.”
Literary criticism; imitation; creativity; emulation; Sir Philip Sidney; William Shakespeare; Stephen Greenblatt; Donald Trump
Alexander, Gavin. “Introduction.” In Sidney’s “The Defence of Poesy” and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism. Edited by Gavin Alexander. xvii-lxxix. London and New York: Penguin, 2004.
Beyer, Susanne. “We’re Fascinated by the Tyrant. Merkel’s Summer Reading.” Spiegel International, 26 August 2019. https://www.spiegel.de/international/angelamerkel-s-summer-reading-we-re-fascinated-by-the-tyrant-a-1283007.html.
Eliot, T.S. Selected Essays. London: Faber and Faber, 1999.
Gomes, Miguel Ramalhete. “Presentist Studies.” In The Arden Research Handbook of Contemporary Shakespeare Criticism. Edited by Evelyn Gajowski. 233-46. London: Bloomsbury, 2020.
Greenblatt, Stephen. Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (1980). Chicago, IL, and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2005.
Greenblatt, Stephen. Shakespearean Negotiations. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988.
Greenblatt, Stephen. Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics. New York: Norton, 2018.
Hawkes, Terence. Shakespeare in the Present. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.
Kizelbach, Urszula. “Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare the Biography and Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World, or Facts and Fiction about William Shakespeare.” In Reinventing the Renaissance: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries in Adaptation and Performance. Edited by Sarah Annes Brown, Robert I. Lublin and Lynsey McCulloch. 92-103. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
Kott, Jan. Shakespeare Our Contemporary. Translated by Boleslaw Taborski. New York: Norton, 1974.
More, Thomas. Utopia. In Three Early Modern Utopias. Thomas More, Utopia; Francis Bacon, New Atlantis; Henry Neville, The Isle of Pines. Edited by Susan Bruce. 1-148. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Edited by Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor. The Arden Shakespeare, Third Series. London: Thomson Learning, 2006.
Sidney, Sir Philip. “The Defence of Poesy.” In Sidney’s “The Defence of Poesy” and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism. Edited by Gavin Alexander. 1-54. London and New York: Penguin, 2004.
Wilde, Oscar. The Major Works. Edited by Isobel Murray. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Wilson, Jeffrey R. Shakespeare and Trump. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2020.