Coleridge's notes on Shakespeare


Coleridge's notes on Shakespeare


  • Intro

    Though Coleridge is known mainly for his poetry he was also a major literary critic, who combined logical analysis of texts, from Shakespeare to his own contemporaries, with emotional response to the works. Previously literary criticism had been much concerned with the biography of the writer; Coleridge’s criticism is more directed to his own response to the works, and to analysis of ideas of imagination and the relationship between the form and the content of poetry. This text shows Coleridge writing his responses to Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, including the words, ‘this play which is Shakespeare’s throughout, is to me the most painful, say rather the only painful part of his genuine works’.


    Following the Restoration the performed scripts of Shakespeare’s plays were often altered from the available texts – Nahum Tate’s version of King Lear in 1681 gave it a happy ending, this version of the story being much in use throughout the 18th century. Over the same period, however, the study of the text of Shakespeare’s plays grew more rigorous, providing us with the basis of the texts currently studied and performed.


    Shelfmark: RB.23.a.2169.

  • Transcript

    Coleridge's notes on Measure for Measure

    Original text:


    This Play, which is Shakespeare’s throughout, is to me the most painful, say rather the only painful part of his genuine works. The comic and tragic parts equally border on the wanteov, the one disgusting, the other horrible; and the pardon and marriage of Angelo not merely baffles the strong indignant claim of Justice (for cruelty, with lust and damnable Baseness, cannot be forgiven, because we cannot conceive them as being morally repented of) but it is likewise degrading to the character of Woman. Beaumont and Fletcher, who can follow Shakespeare in his errors only, have presented a still worse, because more loathsome and contradictory instance of the same kind in his Night-Walker, in the marriage of Alathe to Algripe. Of the counterbalancing Beauties of to Measure for Measure, I need say nothing; for I have already said, that it is Shakespeare’s throughout.

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