George Lyman Kittredge  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

George Lyman Kittredge (February 28, 1860July 23, 1941) was a scholar of English literature and a professor at Harvard University. Between his position at Harvard and his editions of major literary figures, notably William Shakespeare, he was one of the most influential American literary critics of the early 20th century.

Kittredge was born in Boston and studied at The Roxbury Latin School and later Harvard with Francis James Child, whose work on ballads and folk poems Kittredge took over and expanded into American folklore. After teaching Latin at Phillips Exeter Academy, he returned to Harvard to teach Renaissance literature and particularly Shakespeare. His teaching methods were controversial; attempting to renew interest in philology, Kittredge taught Shakespeare's plays to undergraduate students extremely slowly and with great attention to detail. Many outside Harvard considered him something of a pedant; an infamous profile in The Nation in 1913 reinforced that conception. His students and colleagues defended him vigorously, however. One former student, Elizabeth Jackson, writes of Kittredge's sheer enthusiasm for the texts:

Kittredge taught Shakespeare as though every single human being could go on reading Shakespeare through time and eternity, going from strength to strength and rejoicing as a strong man to join a race. (486)

He was named Gurney Professor of English at Harvard in 1917. His students include the folklorist James Madison Carpenter.

Kittredge's edition of Shakespeare was the standard well beyond his death, and continues to be cited occasionally by critics. He was also perhaps the leading critic of Geoffrey Chaucer of his time, and the central idea of the "marriage group" in the Canterbury Tales originated with him. He is considered largely responsible for the introduction of Chaucer as a standard part of the college English curriculum. His work on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was influential as well. As a critic he was prolific and versatile; he continued Child's work gathering folk tales and songs, wrote on New England witch trials and witches in folklore, and also wrote or edited introductory texts in English grammar and Latin.

It is said that Kittredge never got a doctorate, and when asked why not, he replied, "But who would examine me?" However, according to Clifton Fadiman, "Kittredge always maintained that the question was never asked, and if it had been he would never have dreamed of answering in such a manner." Burdened with no illusions about his erudition, or the lack of it in others, he famously remarked, "There are three persons who know what the word 'Victorian' means, and the other two are dead."

Major works

  • Observations on the Language of Chaucer’s Troilus, 1894.
  • Professor Child, 1897.
  • Chaucer and Some of his Friends, 1903.
  • Arthur and Gorlagon, 1903.
  • Notes on Witchcraft, 1907.
  • An Advanced English Grammar, with Exercises, 1913.
  • Chaucer and his Poetry, 1915.
  • A Study of Gawain and the Green Knight, 1916.
  • Witchcraft in Old and New England, 1929.
  • The Complete Works of Shakespeare, 1936.
  • The Old Teutonic Idea of the Future Life (the Ingersoll Lecture, 1937)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "George Lyman Kittredge" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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