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The Tragedy of Arthur

3.45  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,555 Ratings  ·  476 Reviews
The Tragedy of Arthur is an emotional and elaborately constructed tour de force from “one of the best writers in America” (The Washington Post). Its doomed hero is Arthur Phillips, a young novelist struggling with a con artist father who works wonders of deception. Imprisoned for decades and nearing the end of his life, Arthur’s father reveals a treasure he’s kept secret f ...more
Kindle Edition, 380 pages
Published (first published 2011)
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Oct 30, 2011 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, novel
Arthur Phillips is our most reliable creator of unreliable narrators. And in the case of this book, it is "Arthur Phillips" himself who narrates. That is the "Arthur Phillips" who is the author of Prague, The Egyptologist, Angelica, The Song Is You, as well as the discoverer of what may be a newly discovered Shakespeare play: The Tragedy of Arthur.

The book begins with a short preface from "Random House", followed by an Introduction to the newly discovered play by "Arthur Phillips," and then the
Apr 08, 2011 Jill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2011
The very first thing I did after finishing The Tragedy of Author - Arthur Phillips's ingenious faux-memoir - was to Google to see what was true and what wasn't...only to find that much of Phillips's traceable past has been erased.

Did he really have a gay twin sister named Dana, a scam artist father who spent his adult life in prison, a Czech wife and twin sons of his own? Methinks not. What I do know is that Arthur Phillips shares his birthday with the Bard himself, that he was born in Minnesota
May 27, 2013 Pamela rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
When I’ve described this novel to friends, it’s always sounded interesting. That’s strange because I actually struggled to finish it, and only did so out of a sense of duty and respect to the person who enthusiastically bestowed it on me. It’s another in that line of novels that masquerades as a memoir of the protagonist who shares the same name as the author - Arthur Phillips. The memoirist Arthur Philips has a twin sister Dana whom he claims to love above all others despite the fact that he ca ...more
Jun 11, 2012 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best book I've read this year, and well worth a review: I shall write one when this damn essay is finished. In the meantime, read this book.

*Time Passes*

I found The Tragedy of Arthur in the ‘classics’ section of my local bookshop. This, possibly, is a bit presumptuous. Arthur is a play by William Shakespeare that may not have been written by William Shakespeare. All the tests, all the critics, all the academics say that this lost work, now found, is a miracle. They attest that something so
Oct 27, 2011 Beesley rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-group
Good book, well written, enjoyable, and thought provoking. Shakespeare pervades this book, so it is probably mostly of interest to those who like Shakespeare or are at least interested in Shakespeare.

There were some things about this book I did not like: 1) I found the first chunk of it very rough going because I hated the narrator and thought he was whiney. In fact, the narrator uses that word, "whine," more than once about himself, possibly three times or more. Telling. Around the time the na
Victor Carson
Feb 09, 2012 Victor Carson rated it it was ok
I see that I am in the small minority of readers who dislikes this novel. I also admit that I did not read the play itself after suffering through the author's Introduction. The pace of the book is very slow, endlessly repetitive, and self-absorbed, like the fictional author who shares his name with the actual author of this book. The idea of writing a fictional memoir, using your own name and some real facts about your own life is bizarre, bordering on ridiculous. No publisher would have put up ...more
May 27, 2011 Simon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I reviewed Arthur Phillips's last novel The Song Is You, I faulted Phillips for filtering the central relationship (a love affair that never quite happens) through a series of moments that felt a little more sentimentalized than actually lived. In the new The Tragedy of Arthur Phillips takes a sharp left turn into the personal by way of metafiction. What we are reading is supposedly Phillips's introduction to the first publication of a newly discovered Shakespeare play about King Arthur. Th ...more
Feb 23, 2013 Kurt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Shakespeare, and people who hate Shakespeare, and people who love Arthur Phillips
I love everything about this book. The official setup of the book is that Random House is publishing a recently discovered Shakespeare play about King Arthur (fully authenticated by all legitimate scholars and forensic tests), and the man who found it has died, so they ask his son (Arthur Phillips, a famous-enough novelist) to write an introduction. The problem is that Arthur Phillips knows that his dad was a spectacular con artist, and he's convinced that this play is his father's greatest con, ...more
Emily Leathers
Jan 02, 2012 Emily Leathers rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers who have enjoyed other Arthur Phillips novels
Recommended to Emily by: First Reads
Shelves: first-reads
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 31, 2012 Keith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, ebooks, 2012
The Tragedy of Arthur is a title with a double meaning. In one sense it refers to a lost Shakespearean play of that name and in the other it refers to the narrator of the tale, someone who may or may not be the novelist Arthur Phillips. Like the real Arthur Phillips, the fictional Arthur Phillips grew up in Minnesota, has lived in Prague, has written a novel named after that city. The fictional Arthur has a father was was a con man possessed of wild and grandiose schemes who spends much of his l ...more
Too clever by half. A supposed lost early play of the Bard is discovered--by Arthur's father, a con man, who has spent most of his life in jail, for, among other forgeries, faking lottery tickets, making crop circles. The play is given to Arthur, his son and narrator of the Introduction. Is this drama really by Shakespeare, or is it a fake? To me the play itself was a pastiche of the history plays and of Macbeth, thrown together in a jumble. Random House, Arthur's publisher, insists on its publi ...more
Roger Brunyate
May 13, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Clever, clever… maybe too clever

Think, for a moment, of a novel as a painting. You have the central subject: a picture of human beings living their rich, messy, and often complicated lives. You have the means by which the artist puts this across: his choice of medium, his style, his handling of paint or language. And then you have the frame: the structure that holds everything together, that comes between the artifact and the real world. For a long time in my reading, I thought I was dealing wit
The Tragedy of Arthur by William Shakespeare: The First Modern Edition of His Lost Play, with an Introduction and Notes by Arthur Phillips by Arthur Phillips was not at all what I expected. Which is funny since I love Phillips' work and know enough to not set up any expectations. He works in his own way and it is rarely the way anyone else works. It's better.

The synopsis of the story presents the protagonist as (naturally) Arthur Phillips the narrator (as separate from? Or supposedly identical t
switterbug (Betsey)
You don't have to be a Shakespeare scholar to feast on this book. To wit, whether you love, like, devour, admire, or even scorn Shakespeare, you can easily negotiate your way through this accessible "problem play" and trundle along with page-turning merriment. By the final pages of this faux memoir/novel/play, you will have also amassed a literate and impressive font of Bardology.

You'll acquaint with the big hits and the B side of the Bard. You'll learn facts about his peerage, his years, the s
Jul 16, 2012 Bruce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The structure of this novel is odd and intriguing. It begins with a preface allegedly provided by the publisher, Random House, but which is clearly part of the narrative and the conceit that the author is using. The book’s very title is, of course, part of the imaginative content, the first person unreliable narrator having the same name as the true author, and “The Tragedy of Arthur” being the title of a recently discovered Shakespearean play, that very title having several possible interpretat ...more
Marjorie Hakala
Feb 03, 2011 Marjorie Hakala rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So here is a novel in a shape I've never seen before:

1. A brief preface from Random House stating how excited they are to publish this brand new Shakespeare play, alluding to the role of the Phillips family in bringing the text to light, and suggesting that maybe we should go straight to the play and come back to Arthur Phillips' introduction later.

2. A 256-page "Introduction" about Arthur Phillips and his family and how his father came to leave him a quarto of The Tragedy of Arthur by William S
Feb 02, 2015 Miles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
The Tragedy of Arthur is a Comedy of Lies. I recommend it very highly. It takes Shakespeare as its context, and forgery and truth-telling as its subject, and bends the reader's mind around an infinite regress of fictions purporting to be realities. How so? Read on if you want the semi-spoiled version - I don't think it will take anything away from your pleasure in reading the book.

Arthur Phillips, the author, writes in the first person of a character named Arthur Phillips, who is the son of a no
Lee (Rocky)
Feb 14, 2014 Lee (Rocky) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2014
I liked this more than I expected to. The main plot line of the discovery of a new Shakespeare play that may or may not be real isn't all that it interesting on its face, but this one is put together well and with some good characters (I especially liked Arthur Sr. and Dana). The protagonist/author got a little annoying near the end of the main text but not enough to ruin it. It was sort of cool to have the entire play at the end, though it also was a bit tedious to read after finishing the nove ...more
To call a novel "clever" is usually to damn it with faint praise. In the case of this novel, I feel inordinately compelled to have "clever" be the first adjective I use: the imagination that goes into this epitome of the postmodern novel simply boggles the mind.

But the praise is not faint, at least from me. As a faux memoir, the "introduction" is an entertaining, well-wrought if somewhat overwrought text. Phillips effectively manages the complex interplay of solipsism, unreliable narrator, (fake
Dec 15, 2011 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From the openning disclaimer from Random House to the point/counterpoint endnotes, this book was remarkable. Arthur Phillips wove themes throughout this book and the accompanying play that touched on the importance of reality and being right, the need for wonder and enchantment in our lives, and the importance of believing in someone. I have to admit that I was disappointed when the 'preface' ended and the play began, because I wanted to stay with the character of Arthur Phillips and his twin an ...more
John Pappas
Sep 04, 2011 John Pappas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Phillips' new novel, in which he himself is the protagonist, takes the form of a faux-introduction to a newly-discovered Shakespeare play, one that has either been stolen and hidden away or brilliantly forged by Phillips' con-man father. Complete with the entire text of the fake play, emails and legal letters to Random House, and other metafictional devices, Phillips creates a marvelous ruse in which the nature of a text's relationship to its author and audience is explored. What makes Shakespea ...more
Apr 28, 2011 Felice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are a whole lot of Arthurs in The Tragedy of Arthur. There's the author, Arthur Phillips, the main character, Arthur, his father Arthur, King Arthur and a long lost Arthur. That last one is the second of the two tragedies of Arthur. In that list there's the lost Shakespearean play about King Arthur and the tragedies of all the other Arthurs who appear in the novel. Got it? Good because it's worth getting.

For the moment let's concentrate on the character Arthur. He was raised by a forger, c
Apr 12, 2015 Christopher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, fiction
(Note: Customer review from the Amazon Vine Program)
Like Mr. Phillips, I have never been much of a Shakespeare fan even though I count "Macbeth" as one of my favorite works. But, in this utterly unique and engaging novel, Mr. Phillips rekindles a love of Shakespeare as well as deepens some of the mystery surrounding the Bard. The premise of the book, without giving too much of the story away, is that Mr. Phillips' father, a small-time con artist with a love of Shakespeare, "discovers" a long-lo
Dec 31, 2012 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
It's got all the right moving parts: an unknown play of Shakespeare's about the legendary King Arthur who shares a name with our author, who ostensibly is writing a memoir although we know it's a clever fictional send-up, but still there's enough that is clearly autobiographical in the book that trying to separate fact from fiction becomes a tantalizing (though maybe a bit too distracting?) sub-text to the novel. Arthur Phillips is playing with us. Again. Exploring powerful themes of identity an ...more
Aug 17, 2012 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very clever book. Arthur Phillips created a "Shakespearean play" and created a "Shakespeare scholar" to provide scholarly footnotes to the fake play. His introduction is actually a novella, the story of a writer named Arthur Phillips who was named after his father, a professional forger.

Reading the Shakespearean play is a hoot. Arthur Phillips -- who, in this situation, is difficult to refer to because he is the author, the main character and the forger -- is a bright man. In fact, whi
This book was a struggle to get through - and ultimately I couldn't get through it, finding myself flipping pages without a clue what had just happened because I had that much trouble focusing on it or, more importantly, caring. This is a fake memoir, with the author claiming he and his twin sister were gifted a copy of a previously unknown Shakespeare play but unsure whether it's the real deal or a fake by their noted con artist father. The book opens with a long "introduction" by Arthur (reall ...more
Rebecca H.
Apr 20, 2011 Rebecca H. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Arthur Phillips’s new novel The Tragedy of Arthur was great fun. I’ve seen comparisons of this book to Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and the comparison works to a certain extent — they have a similar structure, both made up of a primary text and a commentary on that text — but it’s a rather unfortunate comparison for Phillips’s sake because who can compare to the great Nabokov? This book doesn’t have the insane brilliance of Pale Fire, but there’s a charm and wit to it that are appealing.

The text in Phil
Jan 23, 2013 Cheryl rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kristin Strong
Nov 08, 2011 Kristin Strong rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The Tragedy of Arthur" loses a star because I had to read a "Shakespeare" play after finishing the book. I'm a complainer like that. Not that reading the play is essential to one's enjoyment or comprehension of the book, but I sort of felt a duty to carry the task out to its fullest extent.

The book is set up as the introduction to a new Shakespeare play discovered, preserved and passed down to the author by his con-artist father. The author moves through his childhood, early adulthood, family h
Jan 15, 2012 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own, fiction
In his funniest novel to date, Arthur Phillips ("Prague", "The Egyptologist", "Angelica", "The Song Is You"), pokes fun at the genre of memoir and of Shakespearean scholarship in his irresistible "The Tragedy of Arthur", which allegedly one William Shakespeare wrote as a play that was left out of the 1597 Folio edition of his plays; those recognizable to anyone familiar with Shakespeare's oeuvre. Pulling no punches, Phillips casts himself as the befuddled famous literary son of his father, the a ...more
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