Many years ago at a dinner party I proposed that Shakespeare got too much attention, that commentary on this Elizabethan writer was just so much bardolatry, that Shakespeare's contemporaries and other writers deserved generous critical attention. The honored guest at dinner happened to be a famous, very erudite Marxist. He fixed his bright dark eyes on me, saying "Young man, Shakespeare has been read and misread, but he can never be read too much nor sufficiently." The instructive arrow, shot by C. L. R. James, is still lodged in my memory. Bold superficiality is one of the banes of youth.
For James, as Aldon L. Nielsen intimates in C. L. R. James: An Introduction, reading Shakespeare included making challenging theses and discovering how form in great English language texts is not a mirror "but a metamorphosing lens revealing that which is invisible to the naked eye, and that which is yet to come "(39). Perhaps James chided my young Self for its want of transformative attention, and now my old Self profits from his spoken words and from his published criticism, especially of Herman Melville, just as it has gained much from Sterling Stuckey's enlightening commentaries on Melville. From both James and Stuckey, those remarkable historians, literary criticism ought to learn lessons about its own peculiar, dynamic functions. The seminal texts are Stuckey's African Culture and Melville's Art: The Creative Process in Benito Cereno and Moby-Dick and James's Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and The World We Live In.