Frank Kermode is among our greatest contemporary critics. He has written and edited many works, among them The Sense of Ending and Shakespeare’s Language.
Many of us find Shakespeare’s language difficult to understand today, but you suggest that his contemporaries would have had similar problems, especially when watching a complex play like Coriolanus. At the same time, we’re told that he was a popular playwright. Can you explain this?A hard one. I suggested people were better trained to be listeners, the society [then] being more oral than ours. And of course by the time of Coriolanus Shakespeare had been educating his audiences for almost two decades. Then again it is generally possible to follow without anything like total understanding.
Do you have a favourite Shakespeare play? Or could you pick out one play which especially inspires you?Various choices at different times: currently I think The Winter’s Tale, but Hamlet is always in one’s head.
You have been a scholar and literary critic for over 50 years, how do you see the role of the critic?Too vast to answer. One part of the job is to help make available the great works to non-specialists. Of course there are also scholarly duties.
Many people say they are put off Shakespeare at school, do you think he should be taught in school? Are there particular plays which are more suitable than others?I’d be happy if he dropped out of the earlier exams but I think school productions are a good thing and intensive sixth form study, not of plays that look easy, but hard ones.
What are you currently writing?Some talks I have to give in California.
What are you currently reading for pleasure?Ave Atque Vale [by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)] and Matthew Kneale.