AC asks, "I recently read a polemic of tolstoy's that detailed his many criticisms of Shakespear, particularly his (in tolstoys view) plagiarism (tolstoy accused shakespear of making them worse, where others said he made them better) of earlier authors. With the majority of people who sing shakespears praises, in the literary world, I was a little shocked that tolstoy criticsed shakespear.
"What do you think of this polemic and of Tolstoy?"
Well, I haven't read Tolstoy on Shakespeare.
Works of art seem to me like wells. I know I've gotten water from some wells - I've read some books and enjoyed them. I've heard good things about other wells but haven't yet enjoyed drinking from them - others I respect have said they enjoyed some books although I haven't yet enjoyed them much. For instance, James Joyce, Robert Anton Wilson, and Michael Johnson have all gotten more from the well of Vico's work than I have.
T. S. Eliot said immature poets borrow, mature poet steal. I have very little first hand knowledge of Shakespeare's sources, but I do enjoy what Shakespeare did with them. Shakespeare has a such a vast reputation, I don't think Tolsoy's criticism will keep too many people from experimenting with reading Shakespeare.
I love Tolstoy. I'd never finished any of his books until 2006. I had become friends with Rafi Zabor the previous fall, and he encouraged me to read War and Peace. I remember reading an interview with him online where the interviewer said he'd gotten her to read War and Peace as well. I just searched for that interview and found this letter to The New York Times instead:
"If, Mr. Keller, you have read only the new translation, you may be mistaking characteristics of Tolstoy for those of his translators—he is never, well hardly ever, even in the Rosemary Edmonds translation I am startled fo find myself having read five times through, the smoothest and most fluent of writers. Often, when returning to him after long absence, I am amazed to find how clunky and foursquare he can be—and then, hardly noticing the transition, I fall under his spell—his curious spell that appears to dispell, with its overwhelmingly observed and constant realism, one’s own suggestibility to spells: suggestible, ensorcelled, moi? Why, sir, I am looking at reality unmediated and complete!