There's a lot of good stuff in this quasi-biography, but there's also a lot of - shall we say - "airy persiflage." That is to say: speculation based uThere's a lot of good stuff in this quasi-biography, but there's also a lot of - shall we say - "airy persiflage." That is to say: speculation based upon not much else than eminent scholar Greenblatt's own instincts. Sometimes he is convincing in his attempt to built a biographical argument based upon the the textual analysis of Shakespeare's poetry and prose; quite often I found him to be not particularly convincing; and in the vexed matter of Mrs. Shakespeare, I found him to be not believable at all. _Do_ read Greenblatt if you are an actor, reader, or theatre-goer in search of "the real Bard" - but then definitely read Germaine Greer's "Shakespeare's Wife" as a necessary correction. ...more
Yes, there are way too many Dukes in this play, and they are not sufficiently differentiated. Reading this, you get the feeling it's like one of thoseYes, there are way too many Dukes in this play, and they are not sufficiently differentiated. Reading this, you get the feeling it's like one of those old "Masterpiece Theatre" miniseries, and you really wish that Alistair Cooke were around to give you some tidy and well-spoken background info. Not to mention the fact that the central character Henry VI probably should never have been king in the first place. Given Queen Elizabeth's political sensitivity in the 1590s, Shakespeare had to be careful not to impugn the entire concept of inherited monarchy.
That said, "Henry VI Part II" contains a number of very interesting things, and I was tempted to give it four stars. For one thing, the Queen - Margaret of Anjou - is a great character, one of the best Shakespearean villainesses. It's a well-written part, with enough depth that on a certain level you have to sympathize with her plight, particularly her infidelity. I mean, it's not _her_ fault that she was married off to such a schlub as King Henry VI.
Then there's the whole Jack Cade rebellion, which is portrayed with a lot of gusto, even if Cade is presented in a one-sided manner as an ignorant demogogue. In some ways, the episode is eerily reminiscent of some 20th century dictators. Oh, the fickle mob!
And this is play that contains on the most famous of all Shakespearean tags, "First, let's kill all the lawyers." Contrary to what is sometimes assumed, the Bard himself was NOT sympathetic to that idea: clearly, lawyers and clerks were among the most important of his fan base in the early 1590s when he wrote this play at the start of his career.
(Of course, Shakespeare's chronicle plays bear the same relationship to the "real history" of 15th century England as Oliver Stone's films do the history of our own time, but that doesn't mean that they can't be appreciated on their own merits.)...more