The Ghost Behind the Masks: The Victorian Poets and Shakespeare
In The Ghost behind the Masks, W. David Shaw traces Shakespeare’s influence on nine Victorian poets: Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti, Thomas Hardy, Matthew Arnold, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Algernon Swinburne, Arthur Hugh Clough, and George Meredith. Often, he writes, the transparency of Shakespeare's influence on Victorian poets and the degree of their engagement with Shakespeare exist in inverse ratio. Instead of imitating a play by Shakespeare or merely quoting his lines, a Victorian poet may embrace more elusive elements of rhetoric and style, adapting them to his or her own ends.
Shaw argues that the most Shakespearean attribute of the Victorian poets is not their addiction to any particular trope or figure of speech but their reticence, the classical restraint of their great monologues, and their sudden descent from grandeur to simplicity. He explores such topics as man-made law versus natural right, Stoic fatalism versus self-reliance, and the sanity of lunatics, lovers, and poets versus the madness of commonplace minds.