24 July 2013

Living With Shakespeare: Actors, Directors, and Writers on Shakespeare in Our Time

Summary from Goodreads:
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.

The only drawback to working in a bookstore is that your fellow booksellers very quickly figure out all your book soft spots.  So I silently cursed the merch manager when he very casually said "Oh, hey, there's a new book of Shakespeare essays and one of the contributors is Ralph Fiennes" and handed over my dollars.  The other bonus on this collection is that it was edited by Susannah Carson who previously worked on the Austen collection A Truth Universally Acknowledged.

Living With Shakespeare has a very good range of essays on Shakespeare as man, playwright, and the plays as entities separate from their author by actors, directors, scholars, and writers (similar to the breadth in her volume of essays on Austen). So many of the contributors have "lived" with Shakespeare in so many ways.  Eleanor Brown, who wrote the wonderful novel The Weird Sisters, pops up.  As does James Franco, which seems on on the face of it but makes sense when you read it.  There is a 40 page essay by James Earl Jones about setting Othello that would probably have great merit for an actor (somewhat less for the lay-reader, I wasn't as interested in that level of nitty-gritty).  My favorite is by Harriet Walter (known to Janeites as Fanny Dashwood in the Ang Lee/Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility adaptation) who gets into how Shakespeare may have viewed gender roles - great ideas there.

Very enjoyable and thought-provoking.

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