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The Shakespeare Handbook by Michael Schmidt

The Shakespeare Handbook

by Michael Schmidt

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There was talk a few years ago about Shakespeare being removed from the South African Matric syllabus because it was too Eurocentric: by that logic, science, mathematics, computer studies and all European languages should also have been scrapped.

At the time of writing, the Bard is still firmly entrenched, both at schools and universities, keeping us in step with the rest of the world where, from Valparaiso to Vladivostok, Shakespeare is part of the English curriculum.

For the cultured Victorian it was essential to pepper public prose with original quotations in Latin and Greek, and a thorough knowledge of the entire opus of the Swan of Avon was a given.

The world has moved on, yet anyone with any aspirations to join the literary intelligentsia is still expected to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every line penned by Mr. WS. The trouble is, Shakespeare wrote a lot, and not all of it was good: who has the time to commit drivel to memory?

Don’t get me wrong – Bill was brilliant; even on a bad day he was on a par with the greatest of the Greeks and completely outclasses all the moderns. But there’s a reason than fewer than half his plays are regularly performed or studied.

Anyone who has been thrilled by Richard III or Hamlet might have shuddered at Titus Andronicus, and positively cringed during scenes from propagandist historical pot boilers like Henry VI part 3.

Yet no matter how dire, our William never wrote anything that – like the curate’s egg – was not excellent in parts and The Shakespeare Handbook, with an anthology of 50 great scenes, will identify those excellent parts for you.

On an entirely lowbrow and irreverent note, the pithy précis of the less noteworthy of the plays will portray the plot and spare you the tedium of resorting to Tales from Shakespeare by William Lamb, flipping through Classic Comics or – God forbid – actually reading the original.

The brilliant Bard boring? God forbid! But let’s face it, he is not exactly flavour of the month for the Hip Hop generation, some of whom would rather drink of cup of cold sick than voluntarily read Shakespeare.

The book contains important scenes and “is based on the conviction that reading them side by side can provide an unrivalled sense of Shakespeare’s astonishing range as a playwright and of the radical changes he underwent…”

The Bard in Brief [the subtitle] covers 37 plays in chronological order from The Two Gentlemen of Verona to Henry VIII, each with an introduction, a synopsis, notes and quotations.

But as any student will tell you, three pages on a play is not enough to make up for a year’s study and the book will not provide and quick and easy Get out of Goal Free card for those hoping to pass exams without working.

However for anyone wanting to broaden her knowledge of all the plots and themes of the plays, with accurate and appropriate quotations to boot, The Shakespeare Handbook is an excellent supplementary read. ( )
  adpaton | Feb 13, 2009 |
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SHAKESPEARE STUDIES & CRITICISM. The Shakespeare Handbook is the definitive Bard-in-brief. Presenting 50 of the most significant and best-loved scenes from Shakespeare, each extract is preceded by a summary of the play, its plot, characters and themes. The scenes are clearly laid out, with key quotes highlighted and explained, and illustrated with a famous painting, drawing or film still. Arranged chronologically to show the progression in Shakespeare's style and themes, the seminal scenes encompass all of Shakespeare's plays, from the lesser-known Cymbeline, King John and Titus Andronicus to the most famous scenes of all time in Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Hamlet and Macbeth.… (more)

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