26 April 2011

How Shakespeare Changed Everything

Shakespeare is commonplace these days.  Any number of common phrases - "to be or not to be", "a rose by any other name", "now is the winter of our discontent" - are quoted and misquoted frequently.  Modern adaptations of the plays are performed or the plots used as the basis of a movie.  Regardless of whether you think Shakespeare was a real person who wrote the plays himself or you believe he was the front man for any of a number of Elizabethan men, English language and literature changed after Shakespeare's plays hit the boards.

Stephen Marche's new book, How Shakespeare Changed Everything, provides a short history of the Bard's influence on language, thought, sex, politics, and racism, to name only a few realms of influence.  Nazi Germany tried to claim Shakespeare as a Germanic writer (except for the whole Merchant of Venice "Hath not a Jew eyes?" thing), John Wilkes Booth was part of a trio of accomplished Shakespearean actor-brothers known for a famous one-off performance of Julius Ceasar, and Othello broke color lines in the twentieth-century when a director cast the reknown Paul Robeson as the Moor, just to name a few.  Shakespeare was a bawdy, raunchy dude - euphemisms for sex abound.  Book titles overtly (Brave New World) or obliquely (Infinite Jest) reference the plays.

This was a fun and quick read.  The chapters are organized by topic - sex, politics, race, etc - rather than by play so I wouldn't recommend this for those who haven't read or seen the more popular plays (Hamlet, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream); most of the quotes are presented without context so some familiarity with Shakespeare is needed to enjoy this book.  I've read all the plays, seen most of them, so I got oddball references to Titus Andronicus and Measure for Measure.  Those looking for a Shakespeare study aid would do better to look at something like Shakespeare Alive!; Marche's book is for pleasure reading.  I really liked this book - I like the Trivial Pursuit nature of the short chapters, random facts are things I love.  I never knew that about starlings (if you have to ask, then you need to read the book).

How Shakespeare Changed Everything drops on May 10!

*Dear FTC: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

No comments:

Post a Comment