About the BookThis perceptive study of Shakespeare by Dowden remains unsurpassed. It is not an isolated work but an important landmark in scholarly criticism on Shakespeare. Dowden makes a judicious use of Shakespeare’s intellectual biography and connects the study of Shakespeare’s works with an inquiry about the personality of the writer and growth of his mind and character. The critic is careful in keeping the identities of Shakespeare and his characters distinct though he skillfully traces the proclivities of Shakespeare’s characters in the “spiritual tendencies or Rabits” of their creator. In view of the range of Shakespeare’s characters, from John Falstaff to Hamlet, from Lady Macbeth to Cordelia, it is an achievement far beyond the scope of an extraordinary intellectual exercise.
By and large, Dowden adheres to the chronological method of studying Shakespeare’s Writings. This makes the task of the student and reader easier. References can be made to the individual plays and to their group affiliations as tragedies, comedies and historics readily.
Dowden is free from modern day tendency to overuse academic jargon. There is no rigid theoretical framework to which Shakespeare has been made to bend and bow. On the other hand, we notice an interesting pattern of what the author himself describes as “the struggle between ‘blood’ and ‘judgement’ through his study of Shakespeare’s plays which was also a great affair of Shakespeare’s life.”
Dowden shows us decisively that Shakespeare’s creative response to life rested upon a purely human basis and he refused to render into art the dogmas of either Catholicism or Protestantism even though he lived in an age marked with religious controversies and his personal sympathies were with Protestantism.
The chapter “Growth of Shakespeare’s Mind and Art” is an unmatched contribution to the critical understanding of Shakespeare’s personality as the greatest dramatist and playwright of the world.
Dowden’s critical commentary on Shakespeare is comprehensive and wide-ranging and full of insights. No important aspect of his dramatic art has remained untouched as is evident from his treatment of Shakespeare’s humour. He insightfully observes that “the character and spiritual history of a man who is endowed with a capacity for humorous appreciation of the world must differ throughout and in every particular from that of the man whose moral nature has never rippled over with gerid laughter.” And in this distinctive endowment Dowden seeks the source of Shakespeare’s unique genius.
Abandoning metaphysics and abstractions, Dowden turns to actual life of the world as viewed and depicted by Shakespeare, to the ‘real’ men and women of his plays and explores the sources of their emotion, thought and action.
Shakespeare-His Mind and Art has carved for itself a permanent niche in the Shakespearean critical canon.