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The Tainted Muse: Prejudice and Presumption…

The Tainted Muse: Prejudice and Presumption in Shakespeare and His Time (edition 2009)

by Robert Brustein

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Title:The Tainted Muse: Prejudice and Presumption in Shakespeare and His Time
Authors:Robert Brustein
Info:Yale University Press (2009), Hardcover, 288 pages
Collections:Your library, Shakespeare, Literary Studies
Tags:Nonfiction, Literary Criticism, Shakespeare

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The Tainted Muse: Prejudice and Presumption in Shakespeare and His Time by Robert Brustein



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Robert Brustein, a theatre director and noted drama critic and author, tries to tackle the inner mind of Shakespeare in The Tainted Muse: Prejudice and Presumption in Shakespeare and His Time (Yale University Press, 2009). He examines six areas of Shakespeare's works (what he calls misogyny, effemiphobia, machismo, elitism and mobocracy, racialism and intelligent design), proposing that cases from each, "admittedly without conclusive proof ... may be the result of his personal convictions and experiences," as well as (in addition to) the cultural zeitgeist of his time.

Brustein notes at the outset that he "fully realize[s] the dangers of such an endeavor," recognizing A.D. Nuttall's frank conclusion in Shakespeare the Thinker that "we do not know what he [Shakespeare] thought, finally, about anything." But, he says, this doesn't stop us from speculating. It certainly doesn't in his case, as Brustein goes on to attempt to "draw a psychic biography of the man, examining how the obsessions of his characters and himself may have changed over the course of his career" (p. 9).

Through his six chapters, Brustein offers up examples which he suggests portray Shakespeare's personal feelings: toward faithless women, cowardly courtiers, manly soldier-types, the dangers of democracy and mob rule, racial minorities, and religious opinions. What he does not do (with the exception of alluding to Shakespeare's strained relations with his wife, and to Greenblatt's suggestion that Shakespeare's father might have been a Catholic) is connect these examples from Shakespeare's works with the biographical experiences which supposedly informed or shaped them. This is hardly surprising, since we don't know enough details about Shakespeare's life to make these connections. Tracking the changes in the author's views over the course of his career is interesting, but to prove his point, Brustein needs more confirmation than the historical record can provide. To his credit, he doesn't go further than the evidence warrants.

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0300115768, Hardcover)

This book is a masterful and engaging exploration of both Shakespeare's works and his age. Concentrating on six recurring prejudices in Shakespeare’s plays—such as misogyny, elitism, distrust of effeminacy, and racism—Robert Brustein examines how Shakespeare and his contemporaries treated them. More than simply a thematic study, the book reveals a playwright constantly exploiting and exploring his own personal stances. These prejudices, Brustein finds, are not unchanging; over time they vary in intensity and treatment. Shakespeare is an artist who invariably reflects the predilections of his age and yet almost always manages to transcend them.


Brustein considers the whole of Shakespeare's plays, from the early histories to the later romances, though he gives special attention to Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and The Tempest. Drawing comparisons to plays by Marlowe, Middleton, and Marston, Brustein investigates how Shakespeare’s contemporaries were preoccupied with similar themes and how these different artists treated the current prejudices in their own ways. Rather than confining Shakespeare to his age, this book has the wonderful quality of illuminating both what he shared with his time and what is unique about his approach.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:40 -0400)

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