Marjorie Garber does what she is best at--creative close reading of Shakespeare. In her analysis of "Julius Caesar", for example, she shows how the de...moreMarjorie Garber does what she is best at--creative close reading of Shakespeare. In her analysis of "Julius Caesar", for example, she shows how the device divides the characters into two camps: those who attempt to control dreams and destiny and those who are controlled by it. Decius Brutus purposely misinterprets Calpurnia's dream that foretells disaster for Caesar, changing the meaning into one that is flattering to Caesar and with enough psychological acuity to deliver him for murder on the Ides of March.
Characters construe dreams throughout the play; some as they like for their own purposes, some misconstrue through error, while others do so in order to lure the unwary and fool the gullible.
This is very early Garber--1974 when she was an assistant prof at Yale--and lacks much of the polish of her more recent works. It is still well worth reading, particularly those chapters that cover plays with which one is most familiar. (less)
Like many indifferently educated people in the United States much of what I know (or think I know) about ancient Rome is through Shakespeare. “Julius...moreLike many indifferently educated people in the United States much of what I know (or think I know) about ancient Rome is through Shakespeare. “Julius Caesar” primarily although “Antony and Cleopatra” and “Coriolanus” add to the mix; Garry Wills in “Rome and Rhetoric” says that knowing first century Rome from the perspective of 16th century England is a pretty good approach. Wills, of course, has a very broad and deep knowledge and understanding of the Latin classics which he brings to bear in this textual analysis of the oratorical and conversational styles of Shakespeare’s Caesar, Antony, Brutus and Cassius. It is a wonderful close reading, laying bare the confusion regarding pride vs. honor, ambition vs. responsibility and civic duty vs. personal aggrandizement that involved each of these characters.
Wills looks at the individual linguistic devices of each of the four showing how the attitudes of each of them toward the others and towards the Roman people were both hidden (or so the characters thought) and revealed to the attentive reader or playgoer. He thinks—and demonstrates—that Shakespeare knew classical Latin rhetoric particularly as used by Cicero a minor but key character in “Julius Caesar” and as taught to schoolboys in the late 1500s, even in rural Stratford.
Wills contrasts Brutus’ speech at Caesar’s funeral to that of Antony in terms of their structures based on the initial principles laid down by Aristotle. Both begin their arguments with logos, an appeal to reason and a straightforward attempt to convince the audience—a very restive and volatile audience, confused and upset with the assassination of Caesar and looking for leadership or at least someone to tell them what to think—that the conspirators had the best interests of the Republic at heart. This is followed by ethos to show that the speaker is trustworthy. According to Aristotle (quoted by Wills) ethos “affects the response, especially in political but also in judicial forums, that the speaker seem of a certain sort, and that the hearers understand how he feels about them and, more to the point, how they feel about him”.
Brutus’ speech is simple ethos—trust me because I am noble and honorable—but goes no further. Antony shows that he is a plain lover of Caesar and using the device known aporia, which is speech interrupted by silence and hesitation, gets the crowd on his side when they fill in the blanks by saying that “There’s not a nobler man in Rome than Antony”. He then goes beyond Brutus and into pathos, directly into the emotions of the audience to change the way they think and feel about the Ides of March: “If you have tears, prepare to shed them.”
This is just a quick summation of a few pages from “Rome and Rhetoric”. The book is full of learning but wears it lightly and assumes no more from the reader than a willingness to look at a very familiar work of literature in a new (although actually very old) way.
There are plenty of asides that refer to other plays and other playwrights—particularly Ben Jonson—and fun facts about the play itself. For example the title part is so short—significantly fewer lines than any of the other three—because it ran between “Henry V” and “Hamlet”, both of which starred Richard Burbage. It was a busy season so Shakespeare gave the great tragedian a bit of rest between rehearsing and performing two such daunting roles as the Lancastrian king and the Danish prince.
Wills attacks one of my favorite short scenes—lines 20 to 40 of Act 4, Scene I—in which Antony tells how he will cut one of the conspirators, Lepidus, out of the spoils of victory and set him up to be burdened with the “divers slanderous loads” that are sure to come and which should fall on Antony more than anyone else. When Octavius objects saying of Lepidus that “he’s a tried and valiant soldier;” Antony responds with “So is my horse, Octavius, and for that I appoint him a store of provender...do not talk of him but as a property”. Republican Rome had a very dark side; Antony’s casual dismissal of a formerly essential part of his party is a chilling example of it.
This is a short book that is worth reading and probably rereading (less)
This book happened to intersect with my untutored but enthusiastic reading of Shakespeare and his times--while it is definitely an academic text, if o...moreThis book happened to intersect with my untutored but enthusiastic reading of Shakespeare and his times--while it is definitely an academic text, if one has read the plays, several biographies (cited by Barroll), and knows a bit dramatic and literary history of the period it is well worth reading. Understanding some of the political history of late Tudor and early Stuart times is also helpful.
Barroll addresses Shakespeare's social standing and convincingly finds that it, along with actors generally, is lower than many literary historians had assumed based on the noble and royal sponsorship of first the Lord Chamberlain's Men and then the King's Men. While it was the most prestigious acting company in London the company still ranked well below more established guilds.
His close reading of the sources regarding different visitations of the plague, closing of the theaters and touring the countryside points to a more hand to mouth almost desperate existence for Shakespeare, Burbage and the rest than is currently (and commonly) assumed. (less)
I go back and forth between "Twelfth Night" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" as the Shakespeare comedy I would chose as a desert island book, (although...moreI go back and forth between "Twelfth Night" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" as the Shakespeare comedy I would chose as a desert island book, (although any contest like that should allow a decent Collected Works as one book) and this one is the current winner because I just read it.
As is almost always the case every character is pulled from the stock characters shelf, the plot(s) have been done to death and the themes (class conflict, gender anxiety, maintenance of order etc.) are not original. But as always Shakespeare, with his indescribably beautiful language and microsopic vision of why people do what they do makes it a necessary text.
Very decent introduction by Maynard Mack (who is listed as the author) which suggests that readers "come to Richard IV Part One from Richard II which...moreVery decent introduction by Maynard Mack (who is listed as the author) which suggests that readers "come to Richard IV Part One from Richard II which I am more or less doing. I have been reading the histories not really in order but one close on the next and digging into the tribulations of Bolingbroke right after his crowning and the death of Richard was a great way to approach it.
The history, at least in my case, is the least of it and even Shakespeare's great themes of order, class conflict, nationhood and the long reach of history are secondary in the histories to the language. Since most of the characters are noble or royal much of the text is in Shakespeare's sublime verse. (less)
"After Shakespeare" gets five stars only because that is as high as Goodreads goes. This is a wonderful book. I assumed that like with most anthologie...more"After Shakespeare" gets five stars only because that is as high as Goodreads goes. This is a wonderful book. I assumed that like with most anthologies I would read a bit here and a bit there, maybe look up a few things but once I started I was hooked which indicates, among other things, how good an anthologist John Gross is. (less)
More theory (and theory about theory) than Shakespeare, this is a technical book for a specialized audience--by no means too difficult for the general...moreMore theory (and theory about theory) than Shakespeare, this is a technical book for a specialized audience--by no means too difficult for the general reader but the amount of work one has to put into it isn't equal to the value one would get. Excellent discussion of the "New Historicism" (which isn't new anymore, of course) contrasting it to the actual study of history. Kagan writes that literary theorists read history but historians don't read literary criticism which seems to be born out. (less)
Not that useful a book--if you know a bit about the world of Shakespeare and the Elizabethan theater you will have know everything she presents. If yo...moreNot that useful a book--if you know a bit about the world of Shakespeare and the Elizabethan theater you will have know everything she presents. If you don't know much you might fall victim to her poor judgements and prejudices, none more obvious than Cook's very strong anti-Catholic bias.
It is apparently still important in the UK and was one of the defining characteristics of the Tudor/Jacobean period. There is a lot of research being published indicating Shakespeare's Catholicism ("Shadowplay" for example) so writing about Shakespeare and his contemporaries from a biased point of view on such a vital issue of the time shows, at best, a lack of interest in other scholarly work being done and at worst a smear job.
One example: in discussing the historical and social background of the plays and playwrights, Cook writes that the Saint Bartholomew's Day mass killing of Huguenots in France was "a horrific massacre", which it surely was. It is a well documented outrage against French Protestants by their Catholic neighbors instigated by French royalty. Thousands of innocent men, women and children were killed.
But regarding the murderous activities of the English under Elizabeth in Ireland during this time, she says only that "No one can pretend that what England did in Ireland dureing the last half of the sixteenth century was anything of which to be proud..." The campaigns of Drake, Raleigh and other royal favorites in Ireland were nothing less than a war of extermination that lasted for decades and led to the slaughter of tens of thousands and the starvation of many more.
Anything she writes must be seen through the prism of a vicious and open fear and hatred of English subject who professed the Catholic faith, probably the most critical signifier of a person's identity during and after Elizabeth's reign.(less)
Just began reading this book and I will probably be reading it a year from now--not straight through but a chapter or two at a time while reading and...moreJust began reading this book and I will probably be reading it a year from now--not straight through but a chapter or two at a time while reading and re-reading the sonnets she covers although Reading it straight through would be like taking an advanced class in how to read a poem.
This is close reading as it should be, concentrating on the rhetoric, language, recurring imagery and sheer, boundless technique of the poems.
Old pro Frank Kermode discusses the language--mainly the classical rhetoric--used by Shakespeare particularly in the plays after 1600. He also discuss...moreOld pro Frank Kermode discusses the language--mainly the classical rhetoric--used by Shakespeare particularly in the plays after 1600. He also discussed how the rude, aparently unlettered and ignorant audiences of Shakespeare's time were able to understand many of the complexities of his plays that are either forgotten or simply not dealt with now.
Very rewarding book, "popular" criticism in the very best sense of the the term--based on decades of close reading of the texts and familiarity with critical works in several languages it is uncompromising in its scholarship but free of jargon and most accessible.
Highly recommended to anyone who loves Shakespeare. (less)
A strange but fascinating little book by Gary Wills who many consider to be a Catholic (upper case C) author. His knowledge is both deep and broad but...moreA strange but fascinating little book by Gary Wills who many consider to be a Catholic (upper case C) author. His knowledge is both deep and broad but he fails to convince with "Witches & Jesuits: Shakespeare's Macbeth".
"Macbeth" is knowm among people who work in the theater as "The Scots Play", since to call it by its actual name will invoke the curse that seems to plague every production of it. Wills sets out to show why it is such a jinx, accepting that it is (he is much more a literary than theater person). His explanation makes no more sense than any other other but his analysis of the structure of Macbeth is worth reading. The book touches on the Gunpowder Plot, comparing it to fears of Communism in the U.S. in the 1950s and goes into some detail regarding the Society of Jesus and their mission in England.
Wills claims that the key to the play is the witches and that because their appearances in the third and fourth acts are truncated or cut altogether that what is left is so different from what Shakespeare desired that it is unplayable. Therefore the constant difficulties that occur--actors becoming ill, getting injured onstage, curtains being dropped at the wrong time, light cues missed or confused, lines forgotten, entrances missed, etc.
It isn't a convincing arguement because it is so improbable. The first chapter "Gunpowder", the fifth "Jesuits" and the sixth "Malcolm" are worth reading. (less)
Just about any 1007550 several pages of "Will and Me" are charming, interesting and fun to read. But it is much more about Dominic Dromgoole (curren...moreJust about any 1007550 several pages of "Will and Me" are charming, interesting and fun to read. But it is much more about Dominic Dromgoole (currently artistic director of the Globe Theater) than anything else and Dominic Dromgoole isn't very interesting so one tires of it quickly. (less)
**spoiler alert** The bleakest and most uncompromisingly harsh of the tragedies. The people of Rome are an easily fooled rabble, their leaders (the Tr...more**spoiler alert** The bleakest and most uncompromisingly harsh of the tragedies. The people of Rome are an easily fooled rabble, their leaders (the Tribunes) are unprincipled careerists, the patricians are weak and fearful. Caius Martius (Coriolanus) is a great general but among the worst political leaders imaginable, getting himself exiled from Rome when the acclaim for annihilating the Volscain army should be at its highest. His mother, Volumina, may be the coldest and least maternal woman in literature, wishing only that her son have military success and be elected cousul. His wounds are signs of her fitness as the mother of a warrior and his death in battle would be the highest accolade. At the end, of course, she betrays him, convincing him not to lead an army against Rome even after the Romans banished him and knowing he would die as a result of her advice.
While not the most immediately inviting play "Coriolanus" is a superb study of the pathology of politics. Its structure is very clean--it almost hurtles along and the semi-comic byplay among three servingman at the court of Aufidius comes as a welcome respite. Beautifully plotted--once Coriolanus makes his first irrevocable decision to lead the Volscains against his former homeland, you want to know how everyone in Rome will react. Will they be shocked, afraid, outraged?
They are all of that and more. Even Menenius, the wisest of the not very wise patricians, disbelieves that Martius would have an army in the field advancing on the gates of Rome. The patricians dither, the plebians claim that they didn't really want to banish him after all and Volumina plots the best way to manipulate her son. Which is never really difficult, although part of Shakespeare's genius makes us think it should be. Here is a proud leader, a believer that he alone possesses absolute truth and virtue, a man who has been scorned by those that he feels are beneath him. Given the chance by a former enemy, a person whose courage he respects, to get revenge on Rome there isn't much that can stop him. Or so it would seem.
It turns out that he is powerless against his mother, a character who makes Lady Macbeth look like Mary Poppins. The only even partially sympathetic characters in this desolate view of the world are Virgilia, his wife, who would rather have a live husband than a dead icon of Roman glory and Aufidius, the leader of the Volscains.
There is much more here, of course--there always is in Shakespeare--especially considering it was written and first performed early in the reign of James I who wanted to be an absolute ruler and who clearly wasn't going to be. I've read "Coriolanus" twice through this time, listened to a very decent BBC audio book, watched a filmed production from the Globe and am reading some of the criticism. It isn't a bad way to approach any of Shakespeare's plays, whether this one, with which I was only noddingly familiar or others I have loved for decades. (less)