I hope my gracious hosts, who have invited me back for a return engagement at this select conference in pleasant Waterloo, won’t account me ungrateful or, worse, discourteous, if I preface my remarks with a few frank comments on anniversary rites for the renowned dead. I expect I am not alone in being of two minds about such occasions. We all know what an orgy of celebration — a weariness to the Gordon Ross Smiths of this world — 1964 produced. Such rifling of bottom desk-drawers! Such laborious efforts to restate for the occasion what one had already said, more freshly, without artificial pressure. Suddenly, for a year, Shakespearian scholarship became, as it were, one massive Festschrift. “Much of the book is fluffed out with the author’s comments on all the individual plays,” remarked the Times Literary Supplement reviewer of an anniversary biography. “He has to say something, but he has nothing to say.” Now, it seems, in 1972 we are confronted with the same phenomenon on a smaller scale. But fortunately there is another side to the picture; I am not thinking merely of the small rewards of conferences — the renewals of friendships, the chance to meet colleagues for the first time, the transitory pleasures of a booze-up.
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