Keats and Negative Capability (Continuum Literary Studies)

Keats and Negative Capability (Continuum Literary Studies)

Li Ou

Language: English

Pages: 224

ISBN: 1441147241

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

"Negative capability", the term John Keats used only once in a letter to his brothers, is a well-known but surprisingly unexplored concept in literary criticism and aesthetics. This book is the first book-length study of this central concept in seventy years. As well as clarifying the meaning of the term and giving an anatomy of its key components, the book gives a full account of the history of this idea. It traces the narrative of how the phrase first became known and gradually gained currency, and explores its primary sources in earlier writers, principally Shakespeare and William Hazlitt, and its chief Modernist successors, W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot. Meanwhile, the term is also applied to Keats's own poetry, which manifests the evolution of the idea in Keats's poetic practice. Many of the comparative readings of the relevant texts, including King Lear, illuminate the interconnections between these major writers. The book is an original and significant piece of scholarship on this celebrated concept.


















the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury or the author. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: HB: 978-1-4411-4724-0 PB: 978-1-4411-8790-1 ePUB: 978-1-4411-0103-7 ePDF: 978-1-4411-7091-0 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress To My Parents Contents Preface Acknowledgements List of Illustrations

dramatic intensity manifests itself in Lear’s curses on Cordelia and Kent, which is the first chunk of continuous marking in Keats’s copy. But as Coleridge rightly points out in his pioneer analysis of the opening scene, the conflicting elements leading to the intensity ‘on which the whole tragedy is founded, are all prepared for, and will to the retrospect be found implied in’ (I:50) the preceding part of the opening. Hazlitt notes on the first appearance of Cordelia to the similar effect: ‘the

occasionally lends him to pity and forgiveness, even though his conspiracy with the sisters leads to the irredeemable consequences of his father’s blinding and Cordelia’s death. In his entangled relationship with the two sisters, for instance, he is the one going along while Goneril and Regan are the ones making the initial advances. He sounds almost innocent when he asks himself, ‘Which of them shall I take?/Both? one? or neither?’ (V.i.57–8), and his dismissal of it, ‘my state/Stands on me to

experience, and the experience is that of love, the most intense form of ‘fellowship’ with the other, for which the shepherds are invoking him now. The invocation implies a similar fellowship of Pan with the world they reside in, for the humanized lover of Syrinx is at the same time the benign god of the natural world of diverse beings and the human realm. So his ultimate role is ‘Dread opener of the mysterious doors / Leading to universal knowledge’ (I:288–9), a bearer of the ‘burden of the

the flow of time, but also ironically reminiscent of the stone in ‘Easter, 1916’ that ‘[troubles] the living stream’ (44). The speaker then continues in a ‘Tintern Abbey’ elegiac tone: ‘The nineteenth autumn has come upon me / Since I first made my count; / I saw, before I had well finished, / All suddenly mount / And scatter wheeling in great broken rings / Upon their clamorous wings’ (7–12). The immortal birds only bring the human spectator a keener awareness of time, as Keats’s speaker is

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