“It Sounds Like a Quotation”: J. M. Coetzee and the Power oF Shakespearean Allusion

  • Peter Erickson


At first blush, the idea of J. M. Coetzee’s use of Shakespeare as a resource seems so unpromising as to be a nonstarter. In his autobiographical sequence, Boyhood and Youth,1 Coetzee documents a lack of engagement with Shakespeare that amounts to rejection. His first encounter, through his parents, begins with the assumption that “if his father likes Shakespeare then Shakespeare must be bad” (Boyhood 104). The effort “to discover why people say Shakespeare is great” (104) is soon abandoned. Subsequent contact with Julius Caesar in school in Mr. Whalen’s English class is equally uninspiring (138–39). Later, in England, Shakespeare is merely a source of income through tutoring (Youth 2). Ultimately arriving at point of active dislike—“he is in the process of losing his taste for Shakespeare” (21)—Coetzee records his criticism of Shakespeare’s “declamatory pitch”: “But Chaucer keeps a nice ironic distance from his authorities. And, unlike Shakespeare, he does not get into a froth about things and start ranting” (21).


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  1. 1.
    J. M. Coetzee, Boyhood: Scenes from Provincial Life (New York: Viking, 1997)Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Coetzee, The Master of Petersburg (New York: Viking, 1994).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello (New York: Viking, 2003).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Coetzee, “What Is a Classic?: A Lecture” (1991), in Stranger Shores: Literary Essays, 1986–1999 (New York: Viking, 2001), 1–16.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians (New York: Penguin, 1982)Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Coetzee, Age of Iron (New York: Random House, 1990).Google Scholar
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    Derek Attridge, J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004)Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Coetzee, Disgrace (New York: Viking, 1999).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Coetzee, “As a Woman Grows Older,” New York Review of Books 51, no. 1 (January 15, 2004): 11–14.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Peter Erickson 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Erickson

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