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Living with Shakespeare: Essays by Writers,…

Living with Shakespeare: Essays by Writers, Actors, and Directors (Vintage…

by Susannah Carson

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This wide collection of essays about Shakespeare is not a stodgy academic ruminiation on the intricate metaphors of Shakespeare, but rather a series of reflections on working with the Bard: grappling with the archaic language, sifting through the various folios and quartos to find the underlying message, transposing the language of 1500s England to more far-flung places, and finding oneself and ourselves "living with" William Shakespeare.

I greatly enjoyed this book, as I could flip through on any day and read just one essay, or seven. The quality of writing and engagement of the reader varies between the different essays, but they are generally well-written. I do wish there had been a key in the table of contents that would identify which of Shakespeare's plays were discussed in which essay, but the serendipitous nature of stumbling across a reflection on the history of performance of Julius Caesar was alright.

If you have a Shakespeare geek or a theater geek friend (or are one yourself!) get this.
  kjgormley | May 20, 2013 |
If there's one thing I've learned from my ongoing Shakespeare in a Year project, it's that reading about Shakespeare can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I've found it helpful to understand the context in which plays were written and to get some perspective on what they mean. I've read essays on Shakespeare that opened the plays up to me in whole new ways (see: everything Ben Crystal writes). On the other hand, my enjoyment of certain plays has been greatly hampered by reading too many of those types of literary essays before reading the actual play. The introduction to Coriolanus in my Riverside Shakespeare had me convinced I would hate it, and I was half way through the play before I realized I was loving it. It's tricky to take those Shakespearean "authorities" as, well, too authoritative.

Which is precisely why I love this book. The authors of the essays all show their hands. They reveal their biases and specific perspectives and just tell you their opinions. There are no anonymous introductions to the "right" way to read Shakespeare here (like in my stupid Riverside Shakespeare). These are essays by people talking about how and why they see certain plays or certain passages the way they do. You may agree or disagree with them, but at least you know where they're coming from.

And yes, there's even an essay about Coriolanus. Ralph Fiennes did the movie version and he too was worried that everyone would hate it, even though he found the play, in his words, "addicting." I hear ya, Ralph. It IS addicting, and don't let those anti-Coriolanus "experts" tell you otherwise.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't listen to what Shakespearean scholars have to say. And there are plenty of Shakespearean scholars in this book. What I'm saying is that a literary scholar's opinion about Macbeth, for example, may be very different from an actor's, or a director's, or a prisoner's (see: Shakespeare Saved My Life). And that's what I loved about this book. It offered different perspectives without any one voice being "the one and only true way to feel about Shakespeare."

As someone who is just now getting around to reading all of Shakespeare's plays for myself, it was a breath of fresh air to realize that it's okay that so many of them disagreed about things. When I was a student, I'm sure I would have been looking for the "right way" to read Hamlet or A Midsummer Night's Dream but now I appreciate the discussions more than the answers. I'm not sure if we would have preserved these plays for 400 years if there wasn't so MUCH to discuss.

Also, I'm considering reviewing each essay individually for my Shakespeare blog. Maybe not ALL of them, but there are so many great ones in here that I could devote at least a dozen individual posts to them. Maybe next year I'll have to do a blog called "My Reading About Shakespeare Year"!

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own. ( )
  CozyBookJournal | Apr 25, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307742911, Paperback)

Why Shakespeare? What explains our continued fascination with his poems and plays? In Living with Shakespeare, Susannah Carson invites forty actors, directors, scholars, and writers to reflect on why his work is still such a vital part of our culture.

We hear from James Earl Jones on reclaiming Othello as a tragic hero, Julie Taymor on turning Prospero into Prospera, Camille Paglia on teaching the plays to actors, F. Murray Abraham on gaining an audience’s sympathy for Shylock, Sir Ben Kingsley on communicating Shakespeare’s ideas through performance, Germaine Greer on the playwright’s home life, Dame Harriet Walter on the complexity of his heroines, Brian Cox on social conflict in his time and ours, Jane Smiley on transposing King Lear to Iowa in A Thousand Acres, and Sir Antony Sher on feeling at home in Shakespeare’s language. Together these essays provide a fresh appreciation of Shakespeare’s works as a living legacy to be read, seen, performed, adapted, revised, wrestled with, and embraced by creative professionals and lay enthusiasts alike.

F. Murray Abraham ● Isabel Allende ● Cicely Berry ● Eve Best ● Eleanor Brown ● Stanley Cavell ● Karin Coonrod ● Brian Cox ● Peter David ● Margaret Drabble ● Dominic Dromgoole ● David Farr ● Fiasco Theater ● Ralph Fiennes ● Angus Fletcher ● James Franco ● Alan Gordon ● Germaine Greer ● Barry John ● James Earl Jones ● Sir Ben Kingsley ● Maxine Hong Kingston ● Rory Kinnear ● J. D. McClatchy ● Conor McCreery ● Tobias Menzies ● Joyce Carol Oates ● Camille Paglia ● James Prosek ● Richard Scholar ● Sir Antony Sher ● Jane Smiley ● Matt Sturges ● Julie Taymor ● Eamonn Walker ● Dame Harriet Walter ● Bill Willingham ● Jess Winfield

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:16:13 -0400)

Forty actors, directors, scholars, and writers reflect on why Shakespeare's work is still such a vital part of our culture.

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