In this penetrating study of the poetics of influence the indebtedness of Shakespeare, Milton, and Blake to a common source, namely the Bible, becomes a powerful tool for displaying three fundamentally different poetic options as well as three different ways of dealing with a conflict central to western culture. In fresh and original discussions of Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, and King Lear, Fisch discerns what he
terms the metagon: not the struggle between the characters on the stage but a struggle for the control of the play between biblical and non-biblical modes of imagining. Milton seems more single-minded in his reliance on biblical
sources, yet from his analysis of Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes Fisch concludes that there are unresolved contradictions, both aesthetic and theological, which threaten the coherence and balance of these poems as well. Blake in his turn perceived these contradictions in the work of his predecessors, condemning both Shakespeare and Milton for allowing their writing to be curbed by Greek and Latin models and claiming for himself a more authentic inspiration-that of 'the
Sublime of the Bible'. But Blake's marvellous achievements in the sublime mode, as for instance in his Illustrations to Job, often reverse the direction of his biblical source, replacing dialogue with monologue.
Harold Fisch's work combines an unremitting attention to the minutiae of the texts with a dazzling capacity for broad insights and judgements. He is equally at home in theological learning as in English literature.
`Perceptive ... Fisch's book provides an acute account of the struggle between biblical paradigms and non-biblical modes of imagining ... The subtlety of Fisch's readings of Shakespeare's tragedies and biblical materials alone make this book worth reading ... The sections on Milton and Blake are likewise often fresh and stimulating ... He has written a powerful study of biblical influence and poetic creativity'
David Loewenstein, Modern Language Review
`An individual and original study. The result is exhilarating ... something much more than a catalogue of reworkings ... the book has rare excitement... The conjunction of three such major poets allows for some rich comparisons, and it is admirable in its boldness. Such a brief summary does not do justice to a rich and absorbing book ... wonderful rollercoaster ride of this spendidly energetic study.'
The Expository Times
`Few scholar-critics, perhaps no other, could have written this treasure of a book, at once broadly sweeping in its wise though radical judgments of three major Western authors and their mileaux, and surgically incisive and startling in its readings of particualr works ... readers will enjoy throughout the pleasure of recognition and the excitement of discovery - always accompanied by an appropriate critical context. What a book!'
`An encyclopedic work that addresses three towering figures of English literature. The work is copiously researched and is an excellent bibliographic guide to the criticism on the three authors. The book achieves success as a history of ideas. The chief triumph of the section on Blake is the insightful account of such leading Romantic ideas as the sublime, the autonomy of the imagination, and the Bible as a primitive book. The work's strength is an
encyclopedic collection of excellent generalizations about how the three masters in distinctively different eras appropriated the Bible in their writing, as a helpful bibliographic guide to important scholarship
(older as well as recent) on the three authors, as a statement of important ideas in the intellectual history of the West, and as the play of a lively mind on many interesting topics.'
Leland Ryken, Christianity and Literature