'The clue of Shakespearian power over me': Ruskin, Shakespeare, and influence

Francis O'Gorman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Ruskin read Shakespeare throughout his life. He began as a child by hearing the comedies and history plays read aloud by John James, his father.1 In Praeterita (1885–89), he remembered listening to Shakespeare and Scott, the writer who was to exert more influence than any novelist on his later life, and Miguel de Cervantes. ‘After tea,’ he wrote, ‘my father read to my mother what pleased themselves, I picking up what I could, or reading what I liked better instead. Thus I heard all the Shakespeare comedies and historical plays again and again, — all Scott, and all Don Quixote, a favourite book of my father’s, and at which I could then laugh to ecstasy; now, it is one of the saddest, and, in some things, the most offensive of books to me.’2 Praeterita linked Shakespeare and the once loved, now distasteful Cervantes in its account of childhood literary experience because Ruskin was faithfully memorialising John James’s taste, but also because the deeper pattern of his own changes of heart, which I explore in this essay, underlay the memory.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLiterature and Culture
EditorsGail Marshall, Adrian Poole
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780230504141
ISBN (Print)9781403911179
Publication statusPublished - 9 Oct 2003

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