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Shakespeare's Restless World (edition 2012)

by Dr Neil MacGregor

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936122,469 (4.4)4
Member:peju.peju
Title:Shakespeare's Restless World
Authors:Dr Neil MacGregor
Info:Allen Lane (2012), Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:history

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Shakespeare's Restless World by Neil MacGregor

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
I really enjoyed this book! I was worried that MacGregor's style would be stuffy and too academic for my taste (his is British after all, and runs a British museum), but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy-to-follow and engaging his text was. The full and half-page photographs also helped to bring each of the 20 objects (and other supplemental things) to life.

I picked up this book because I love Shakespeare's plays, but know relatively nothing about the time period in which they were written and performed. MacGregor uses seemingly innocuous items, like a fork, an apprentice's cap, a clock, and a model of a ship, to describe the many events, aspects, and people of Elizabethan life.

Originally, this was a 20-part radio show on BBC, which must have been fun. MacGregor also did a "History of the World in 100 Objects" radio show, which he also turned into a book. I would love to pick that up next, especially since my only complaint about this book was that it felt too short! ( )
  kaylaraeintheway | Mar 27, 2014 |
Very readable, attention grabbing, presenting a new view into Shakespearian England and offering new insights into Shakespeare's work. Thoroughly enjoyable, just sit back and enjoy the ride. With the device of a selected object, then taking it and exploring the events and social conditions that prevailed. All the time offering a new understandings into the thoughts and preoccupations of the audience of that time. And what turbulent times, what times of change, challenge and unease. Unlikely as it seems I put the book down reluctantly, but better informed about my England's history and equally about the works of Shakespeare I know but haven't bothered to reacquaint after all these years.

But there is the rub. It is just a device, take twenty objects. Here my niggles begin to surface. Of all the possible objects to choose from why these few, are they more or less representative, offer more insightful windows than other objects? Having narrowed the selection down the chosen objects they then becomes the limiting factor, you have limit yourself to writing around it, that is the task that you set yourself. Occasionally the objects truly do open windows and are useful vehicles for exploring a narrow issue. I particularly enjoyed the section on time and clocks. Of course I knew about changing attitudes to time, but not in this way, not in such a relevant way to working persons of the time. I could feel the newly introduced tyranny of clock time with its newly offered minutes against the previous lazily chimed quarters ringing around town, quarters stretched to suit the daylight hours. Changes that echo right back to our own recent history of change. Sometimes it works and sometimes the object is a restraint, checking the breadth of review it suggest but cannot deliver. And some are just lame objects labels used to keep faith with the chosen device but scantly able to offer without reference off to other objects.

So no in the end, for me, the device of using the objects irritated but I did so thoroughly enjoy the wide ranging delving into the social and political turmoil of the times and simultaneously being offered new ways to interpret or understand Shakespeare's words. Social History and Literary critique all wrapped up in one cosy read. Brilliant. ( )
  tonysomerset | Jan 16, 2014 |
f you've ever read Shakespeare, this book is for you! Shakespeare's Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects is written by Neil MacGregor. MacGregor worked with many knowledgeable people to put together this book of twenty objects that were really relevant in Shakespeare's day. Reading this book gives you a greater understanding of what things meant in Shakespeare's time. Why somethings were taboo, while others drew a hearty laugh from the audience.

I enjoyed every page of this book. Each chapter introduces an object, the history behind it, and it's importance during this time period and why Shakespeare would include it in his plays. Things that seem trivial in our time held greater importance in the past. MacGregor also includes many images with his objects. This made the book come alive even more. To be able to see a specific image that MacGregor is referring to made this book even better.

I also enjoyed MacGregor's writing style. I know some people might think this book could be boring or that it may read like an instruction manual, but I can assure you it's not. He has an easy story-telling style that will leave you wanting to know more. My only complaint, if you can call it a complaint, is that I wish this book were longer. I was fascinated from the get-go and was a little sad when I reached the end of the book. This is the perfect book for history lovers.

MacGregor has also written several historical nonfiction books including: A History of the World in 100 objects, Treasures of the National Gallery, The Museum: Behind the Scenes of a British Museum. I'm going to add these books to my wishlist. They sound perfect for this nerd.
Read more at http://www.2readornot2read.com/2013/11/review-shakespeares-restless-world.html#f... ( )
  mt256 | Dec 4, 2013 |
Neil MaqcGregor is probably best known to the non-specialist (a group within which I definitely include myself) for his inspirational series"A History of the World in 100 Objects", charting a history of human achievement as measured through one hundred artifacts held at the British Museum.

In this book MacGregor looks at twenty objects retrieved from Shakespeare's London, and analyses the perspective that they offer on the Bard's works. I felt that with a couple of these depictions he perhaps strained the reader's credibility but he never lost the reader's interest. The penultimate chapter, "The Theatres of Cruelty" , was particularly engrossing (if also somewhat repulsive), focusing on the cruelty endemic throughout Shakespeare's plays (and indeed those of his close contemporaries).

His prose is beautifully clear, and his arguments always lucid, and this book works as both a scholarly and a layman's level. Most significantly, it has inspired me to read the whole canon again. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Jun 19, 2013 |
This book follows a fascinating premise: what are the influences that inspired Shakespeare‘s plays? To really appreciate this book one has to understand that the Elizabethan and Jacobean plays were, quite revolutionary, not just accessible to the nobleman or an eminent personage at court, but to the general public, and as such also served another purpose apart from mere entertainment: that is, to educate about history, politics and national and international news.

This is a gorgeously produced hardcover brimming with the quality of its writing and of the astonishingly detailed photographs of the twenty objects featured, as well as the reproductions of numerous contemporaneous maps, woodcuts, paintings, coins and other written documents that really bring history alive. Anyone who has listened to him on Radio 4 knows what a clear voice Neil MacGregor has, and his writing is just as clear and easily understandable considering such a complex topic, illustrated by excerpts from the plays and contemporary quotations. Here he continues with his winning formula first encountered during A History of the World in 100 Objects, and yet again he achieves an easy rapport with his readership and has it follow his every word with keen interest. He augments his close examination of the various objects with comments from a variety of experts and scholars to convey as much understanding as possible to the reader. This is an eminently readable historic literary detective story that offers us a fascinating insight into the momentous changes that occurred during Shakespeare’s lifetime and shows how topical he was. The nineteen early modern objects featured here (plus the Complete Works that sustained the Robben Island prisoners in South Africa during the Apartheid) - among them a lost iron fork, a woollen cap, a silver cup and a wooden ship model, some of them actually housed at the British Museum - represent the turmoil that affected nearly each area of life of the ordinary citizen during the Elizabethan and early Jacobean age, offering the reader a captivating glance into their minds and mindsets. As Neil MacGregor himself states in his introduction, “They aim instead to take us immediately to a particular person or place, to a way of thinking and of acting which may be difficult to recover if we work only from texts, or look top-down at broader historical currents. They are a physical starting point for a three-way conversation between the objects themselves, the people who used or looked at them, and the words of the playwright which have become such an embedded part of our language and our lives.” As Mark Forsyth remarked in the epilogue of The Horologicon, people write about the things they know, and Shakespeare did just that: the world of the Elizabethans and Jacobeans is contained within his plays and more than four hundred years later we can still find relevance in them; they are, as Ben Jonson said, “not of an age, but for all time”. To understand Shakespeare, one also has to understand his time and environment. Unmissable.

(This review was originally written as part of Amazon's Vine programme.) ( )
  passion4reading | Dec 13, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
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MacGregor is at his least convincing, though, when in his last chapter he tries to account for the long-term, worldwide popularity of Shakespeare's plays, a phenomenon that has had little if anything to do with what happened to be in the shops and on the quaysides while they were being written. In the end, for all its virtues as illustrated social history, Shakespeare's Restless World is an unsuccessful attempt to encumber Shakespeare's plays with a beguiling clutter of the historical bric-a-brac that they long ago left far behind. These things look very much at home in MacGregor's British Museum. But they would be much more to the point as sources of insight about Shakespeare if instead of expressing his restless creativity as a poetic dramatist he had gone into the more tangible and easily explained world of the antiques business.
...
added by marq | editThe Guardian, Michael Dobson (Nov 23, 2012)
 
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Book description
Haiku summary
To understand the
Bard, one has to understand
Shakespeare's time and world.
(passion4reading)
An iron fork, a
Woollen cap illustrate the
Bard's fast-changing world.
(passion4reading)

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 144584690X, Audio CD)

Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, looks at the world through the eyes of Shakespeare's audience by exploring objects from that turbulent period. Examining these objects, Neil discusses how Shakespeare's audiences understood and made sense of the unstable and rapidly changing world in which they lived. With old certainties shifting around them, in a time of political and religious unrest and economic expansion, Neil asks what the plays would have meant to the public when they were first performed. Neil uses objects to explore the great issues of the day that preoccupied the public and helped shape the works and considers what they can reveal about the concerns and beliefs of Shakespearean England.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:03 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

From Neil MacGregor, the acclaimed creator of 'A History of the World in 100 Objects' and the Director of the British Museum, comes a unique, enthralling exploration of the age of William Shakespeare to accompany a new BBC Radio 4 series.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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