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Adrian Poole. Shakespeare and the Victorians

Béatrice LAURENT
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Adrian POOLE. Shakespeare and the Victorians. Arden (The Arden Critical Companions Series), 2004, 296 pp., 20 black and white illustration plates, €24.21, ISBN 1-903436-71-0

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1Dr Adrian Poole of Trinity College, Cambridge offers in this new study a comprehensive panorama of Shakespeare’s influence on the Victorians. Dr Poole investigates the interpretation and appropriation of the plays and, to a lesser extent, of the poems by Shakespeare with a view to demonstrate that they provided a major source of inspiration to Victorian actors, novelists and visual artists.

2The point of view is that of a distinguished Victorianist, and the reader is supposed to have a sound knowledge of 19th century history, art and literature, on top of the predictable corpus of 25 Shakespeare plays, in order to enjoy reading the book. Thus, the study addresses the graduate student or researcher rather than the beginner, and readers will learn more about the Victorians than they will about Shakespeare. This is possibly one restriction regarding the editorial choice of including this study in the “Arden Critical Companions to Shakespeare” series, along with such titles as Shakespeare and Comedy, Shakespeare and Music or Shakespeare and Religion (forthcoming). While these titles promise help to the student of Shakespeare with contextualising elements whose importance can be identified within the texts themselves, Shakespeare and the Victorians does not enlighten our understanding of Shakespeare, and gives the impression that it could have been more aptly included in a “Companions to the Victorians” series.

3From the point of view of Victorian studies, we can only rejoice in the publication of such a portable, yet extensive and well-documented book. It focuses on the period in a macro- rather than microscopic way, brushing a wide panorama of intellectual England, and highlighting some of the tensions at work beneath the Victorians’ censorship, idolization and vulgarisation of Shakespeare. Possibly because of the long-distance observation chosen by its author, this study is descriptive (with the exception of one oddity – Poole’s personal anthology (39-40), rather than analytical. Yet, it regularly hints at various interpretative approaches and the reader is therefore left free to build up his/her own appreciation through extra readings from the 12-page select bibliography.

4In Shakespeare and the Victorians, the most patent literary and iconographic references to the bard of Avon are mentioned and assembled to illustrate Dr Poole’s assertion that “Shakespeare sometimes seemed the Victorians’ utterance, a language for expressing and explaining themselves and their world” (2) and to provide an accessible, yet erudite, overview of Victorian studies connected with Shakespeare.

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Béatrice LAURENT, « Adrian Poole. Shakespeare and the Victorians », E-rea [En ligne], 4.1 | 2006, document 10, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2006, consulté le 14 décembre 2017. URL :

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