Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
H. J. Ferns
The literary relationship between Tennyson and Shakespeare is a subject at which many critics have hinted but which few have explored, even though Tennyson was uncharacteristically open about his many borrowings from Shakespeare.
This thesis examines Tennyson's debt by looking at many of the passages in which syntax or theme are taken from Shakespeare -- even if not consciously -- and it discusses what, if anything, Tennyson's poetry gains from awakening a reader's recollection of a Shakespearean passage or piece. The order of works discussed is approximately chronological: it begins with an unfinished play written when Tennyson was an adolescent, and then it moves on to some major and minor early publications and to the two best-known writings of Tennyson's middle years. It concludes with a consideration of Tennyson's late effort to switch careers and become a dramatist.
All through Tennyson's long life, Shakespeare was never far from his mind, but as his career advanced he gradually reduced his tendency to draw upon his knowledge of Shakespeare's works themselves and focused more on cultivating a non-literary relationship to supplement the literary. Tennyson worked hard to be considered, in his own mind as well as in the mind of his audience, a successor, of sorts, to Shakespeare. The thesis ends with a consideration of the death of Tennyson, which in some ways was a feat of calculated image construction. When Tennyson died with a copy of Cymbeline practically in his hand, the symbolic display perhaps was designed to ensure that the Laureate's name and that of the bard remained linked together for posterity.
Throughout, the thesis considers Harold Bloom's theory of literary influence and argues that when it is applied to Tennyson and Shakespeare, it does not hold up. Despite all that is attractive about Bloom's model, a special case needs to be made to account for the inspiration that Tennyson drew from Shakespeare.
Lofthouse, Paul, "Tennyson's Debt to Shakespeare" (1993). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 7029.
McMaster University Library