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1606 : William Shakespeare and the year of…
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1606 : William Shakespeare and the year of Lear

by James Shapiro

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A Good Year for Shakespeare but an Awful One for England: “1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear” by James Shapiro Published 2015.
 
 
 
“Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven.”
 
In Macbeth, “1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear” by James Shapiro
 
 
In the last 2 years I've been thinking a lot about Shakespeare. One of the things that always bothers me is this: "If all of Shakespeare's works and words somehow disappeared from the Earth today (due to a Bard-targeting virus or something), it would be as if his works still existed."
 
I'll try not to be snarky, but please read this in your nicest teacher's voice.
 
The answer to the conundrum is yes. He'd still exist because his words exist in everything we have. By contrast, if Nicholas Sparks were to disappear tomorrow, along with all his books and the movies directly made from his books, future generations would never know he existed. His influence on humanity, culture, and history has been, let's say, minimal.
 
If you're into Shakespeare and his influence on what it means to be human, read on. ( )
1 vote antao | Dec 10, 2016 |
A rewarding book, putting King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra into the context of James I's agenda for the Union of his kingdoms (not to be realized until Queen Anne's day, and in a completely different context) and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

It has been a commonplace for years that Macbeth is an extended act of attention towards James, both in his interest in the supernatural and as a Aeneid-style reference to an imperial future for Banquo's heirs (implying James == Augustus, which is pretty much how James liked to see himself, following in the footsteps of Elizabeth I as Astraea). Shapiro delves into this in detail, and into the ways in which the change in court environment (and patronage for Shakespeare's company) following James' accession on the death of Elizabeth shaped the plays Shakespeare was composing.

The discussion of Lear is enlightening, especially with regard to how the changes following the exposure of the Gunpowder Plot affected the two texts we have of Lear (Quarto and Folio), and the placing of Antony and Cleopatra into the context of how the monarchs' reflections in the plays affected what was acceptable (Elizabeth - Cleopatra and James - Octavius) at various times.

Like his earlier book on 1599, this is "old" historicism at its best -- allowing the environment of the time to cast light on the works produced. It effects no revolution in our understanding of Shakespeare, but deepens our understanding of critical details in the works. ( )
1 vote jsburbidge | Oct 31, 2016 |
An amazing book that draws together threads of Shakespeare's plays, his life, and what was happening in England during 1606. A remarkable year indeed. The in-depth analysis of King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony & Cleopatra is superb. Highlighting topical aspects of the plays not obvious to today's readers/audience was very interesting, I especially learned much about equivocation. The chapters are organized well both roughly chronological and with clear themes. I'm lucky enough to enjoy Shakespeare plays on a regular basis and now I can't wait to see that much more the next time I can take in those from the Year of Lear! ( )
  amarie | Jul 20, 2016 |
This is a fascinating way to look at Shakespeare. Shapiro looks at what was going on around Shakespeare as he was working on this three works. From the political world to the obsession with witches. I, personally, have never thought about the why of Shakespeare's writing outside of himself. But of course he would have been not only aware of what was going on, he would use it for his craft. Shakespeare did not write in a vacuum and Shapiro really brings that home. The writing is excellent and the notes are easy to follow for research is desired. It has changed the way that I see Shakespeare's plays and now I want to know more about what was going on when he was writing his other works as well.

I give this book a Five out of Five stars. I get nothing for my review and I borrowed this book from my local library. ( )
  lrainey | May 4, 2016 |
An excellent book; Shapiro has made the case elsewhere that Shakespeare should be considered as much a Jacobean writer as an Elizabethan one. This is of course true, and in 1606, Shapiro expertly weaves together the historical and contextual threads that made the 3 plays written, or at least probably first performed in 1606, such an essential part of the canon.

King Lear, the plot appropriated from the work of a rival company, but a play turned upside down to illuminate the discussions and fears of an impending act of union (which ultimately didn't happen) and with an ending that for many years was too harsh for the average play goer to cope with.

Macbeth, the Scottish play, in which James i actually appears, with its many references to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 (incidentally killing yet again the nonsensical idea that the dead Edward de Vere could somehow have written these plays) and particularly to the worrying Popish concept of "equivocation" with its potential to undermine dealings between honest men. Shapiro's chapter on equivocation may be the best thing he has ever written.

And Antony and Cleopatra, a lesser play in every way to the above, and one in which although Shakespeare deals in interesting ways with the main characters romance (they never appear alone on stage, soliloquies are few and far between) still feels out of step with his development as a playwright

This is an engrossing book. Shapiro is hampered by a problem that will probably never now be resolved; the fact that there is very little information on about Shakespeare's personal life, politics, or motivations. Noone at the time thought it was worth recording - or if they did, that documentation hasn't survived. So Shapiro is forced to make circumstantial arguments; The Gunpowder Plot could have touched his life - many of the principals had connections to the Warwickshire area, and he probably knew at least some of them. He could have been touched by plague; there is a strong possibility that plague made it to the house he was lodging in. He may have been touched by religious controversy; his daughter Susana appears in the records as not appearing in church. Yet we will never have good answers to any questions about the personal Will. Shapiro does his best, and makes some interesting suggestions, but the book is at its strongest when it focuses on the text of the plays, and in this area Shapiro is a master forensic analyst.

An excellent book ( )
  Opinionated | May 2, 2016 |
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Book description
Preeminent Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro shows how the tumultuous events in England in 1606 affected Shakespeare and shaped the three great tragedies he wrote that year—King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.

In the years leading up to 1606, since the death of Queen Elizabeth and the arrival in England of her successor, King James of Scotland, Shakespeare’s great productivity had ebbed, and it may have seemed to some that his prolific genius was a thing of the past. But that year, at age forty-two, he found his footing again, finishing a play he had begun the previous autumn—King Lear—then writing two other great tragedies, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra.

It was a memorable year in England as well—and a grim one, in the aftermath of a terrorist plot conceived by a small group of Catholic gentry that had been uncovered at the last hour. The foiled Gunpowder Plot would have blown up the king and royal family along with the nation’s political and religious leadership. The aborted plot renewed anti-Catholic sentiment and laid bare divisions in the kingdom.

It was against this background that Shakespeare finished Lear, a play about a divided kingdom, then wrote a tragedy that turned on the murder of a Scottish king, Macbeth. He ended this astonishing year with a third masterpiece no less steeped in current events and concerns: Antony and Cleopatra.

The Year of Lear sheds light on these three great tragedies by placing them in the context of their times, while also allowing us greater insight into how Shakespeare was personally touched by such events as a terrible outbreak of plague and growing religious divisions. For anyone interested in Shakespeare, this is an indispensable book. [amazon.com]
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"Preeminent Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro shows how the tumultuous events in England in 1606 affected Shakespeare and shaped the three great tragedies he wrote that year--King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. In the years leading up to 1606, since the death of Queen Elizabeth and the arrival in England of her successor, King James of Scotland, Shakespeare's great productivity had ebbed, and it may have seemed to some that his prolific genius was a thing of the past. But that year, at age forty-two, he found his footing again, finishing a play he had begun the previous autumn--King Lear--then writing two other great tragedies, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra. It was a memorable year in England as well--and a grim one, in the aftermath of a terrorist plot conceived by a small group of Catholic gentry that had been uncovered at the last hour. The foiled Gunpowder Plot would have blown up the king and royal family along with the nation's political and religious leadership. The aborted plot renewed anti-Catholic sentiment and laid bare divisions in the kingdom. It was against this background that Shakespeare finished Lear, a play about a divided kingdom, then wrote a tragedy that turned on the murder of a Scottish king, Macbeth. He ended this astonishing year with a third masterpiece no less steeped in current events and concerns: Antony and Cleopatra. The Year of Lear sheds light on these three great tragedies by placing them in the context of their times, while also allowing us greater insight into how Shakespeare was personally touched by such events as a terrible outbreak of plague and growing religious divisions. For anyone interested in Shakespeare, this is an indispensable book"-- Provided by publisher.… (more)

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