Daily Archives: May 30, 2010

Frye in Court


Frye is called on in a 2009 amicus curiae brief in a case against Frederik Coulting by J.D. Salinger, who had asserted that Coulting’s book, 60 Years Later, “infringes [his] copyright rights in . . . the character Holden Caulfield.”  (Frye’s remarks on Salinger in an earlier post here.)

In the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit


J.D. SALINGER, individually and as trustee of the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v. FREDRIK COLTING, writing under the name John David California, WINDUPBIRD PUBLISHING LTD., NICOTEXT A.B. and ABP, INC., doing business as SCB Distributors, Inc.,


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York


“That ability to “build freely upon the ideas” in others’ work is essential to First Amendment protection because even the most creative or artistic activity depends on the ability to borrow from what has gone before.  “Poetry can only be made out of other poems; novels out of other novels.” Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism 97 (1957). As Frye put it, we have inherited “a literature which includes Chaucer, much of whose poetry is translated or paraphrased from others; Shakespeare, whose plays sometimes

follow their sources almost verbatim; and Milton, who asked for nothing better than to steal as much as possible out of the Bible” (p. 16 of the brief).

Christopher Marlowe


Rupert Everett as Marlowe in Shakespeare in Love

On this date Christopher Marlowe was murdered (1564 – 1593).

Frye on the relation of Marlowe, Shakespeare and Webster in Notebook 9:

In my young days I said that Marlowe’s characters were demigods moving in a social ether, that Webster’s were “cases” of a sick society, & that Shakespeare was the transition from one to the other.  Well, it’s true that in DM [The Duchess of Malfi], for example, there is no order-figure because there is no genuine society: there is a Dionysiac health-figure instead, the Duchess herself, & society itself, personated by Ferdinand & the Cardinal, is the action-figure.  I think that this is the kind of tragedy adumbrated by Chapman in B d’A [Bussy D’Ambois].  Yet even Tamburlaine is a scourge of God, the destructive nature let loose in a society that has no God.  I suppose Shakespeare’s nearest approach to a social tragedy of the Webster kind is really Coriolanus rather than TC [Troilus and Cressida]: Co has no de jure magic because he can’t crystallize any kind of society, as Antony can. (CW 20, 254-5)