Miltons & Shakespeares: a new direction


“We will yet have
Miltons and Shakespeares
of our own.”
Orson F. Whitney
Salt Lake City, Utah
June 3, 1888

“The Mormon Shakespeare
is Shakespeare.”
Terryl L. Givens
Oakland, California
March 29, 2014

Givens was speaking of the Mormon tradition of welcoming truth from all quarters, and specifically referencing something his wife had said earlier in the evening about the Lord recommending to the Saints the works of other wise men in the world. I imagine you can get the details and specific quotations I failed to jot down in their forthcoming book Crucible of Doubt.

Onto Shakespeare who, as Nick Hornby reminds me, wrote for money. Milton, meanwhile, held down a sequence of non-iambic jobs that kept him pretty busy.

Allow me now therefore to suggest a new way of looking at Whitney’s thought. He did, after all, preface his famous line by saying “They [the great writers of the past] cannot be reproduced.” So perhaps looking for a Mormon to “be” Milton or to “be” Shakespeare may be simply wrong wrong wrong.

Also, I’m a little tired of the Orson Scott Card model being promoted over the Darin Cozzens model, or the Angela Hallstrom model being promoted over the Heather B. Moore model. Why should writing that is designed to be commercial be valued greater or lesser than writing that exists without such concerns? Shakespeare and Milton were both great writers, both changed literature, both still matter today.

So maybe instead of stressing about the Whitney prophecy and instead of arguing over whose writing goals are more worthy, we can smile kindly and say, well, Shakespeare (or Milton), good luck out there. I’m glad someone’s writing Hamlet (or Paradise Lost) while I’m working on Lycidas (or Lear). Together we’re making a literature for our people. And it’s going to be awesome.

5 thoughts on “Miltons & Shakespeares: a new direction”

  1. .


    I you accept Stephen Greenblatt‘s argument that Shakespeare was a closet Catholic (which lends itself to a compelling reading of King Hamlet’s Ghost), then Shakespeare was subtly employing Catholic themes and ideas while producing work for a national audience that tended to execute its Catholics in exceedingly messy ways.

    Meanwhile, Milton’s religion and politics and public identity and writing are all inseparable.

  2. In the current publishing age, I’m starting to think that we may be swinging back to a model where more important art is produced on an amateur basis. Meanwhile, I agree that we sometimes tend to value either the professional writer or the uncommercial writer more highly, when in fact the evidence suggests that both can and have, throughout the history of letters, produced valuable work.

  3. I think part of the issue is that there are so few people actively involved in both the production of work and (more especially) the conversation about it that it means that edges get a little sharper and the voices a little louder. OTOH, I don’t a single cultural conversation that doesn’t run into battles over what directions the conversation should go in.

  4. .

    Maybe this is part of making a living. Not a lot of time left for theory. And a lot of us theorizers don’t save time to publish yearly books.

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