The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups
by Ron Rosenbaum
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of the best books on Shakespeare that I've read yet. With a title like "The Shakespeare Wars", I expected it to be much concerned with biographical/historical controversies about Shakespeare, but it's actually a much more interesting look at the clashes and controversies of people responding to Shakespeare's text. This book asks the questions: how do we read and interpret Shakespeare, both academically and dramatically? And what do these readings and interpretations tell us about why we respond to Shakespeare the way we do? In other words, what makes Shakespeare Shakespeare?
Rosenbaum is probably the ideal person to write this book. His background in English literature allows him to understand some pretty arcane academic controversies, while his training as a journalist helps him make these accessible to the general reader. And he is passionate about Shakespeare. Before I read this book, I would not necessarily have expected a detailed discussion of Shakespeare's spelling or a close reading of a particular sonnet to be so compelling. This book makes them so.
Rosenbaum does make it pretty clear that, in his mind, there are right ways of studying Shakespeare and wrong ways of studying Shakespeare. The wrong ways include excessive obsession with Shakespeare's biography, excessive reliance on Literary Theory, and virtually everything ever written by Harold Bloom. The right ways mostly include various kinds of close textual analysis. I'm new enough to Shakespeare studies that I don't have a Shakespearean ideology, so I mostly find Rosenbaum's occasional dogmatism amusing. If I had more fixed opinions of my own, I imagine it might grate occasionally.
Still, I have yet to read any other work on Shakespeare whose sheer enthusiasm was so infectious. Do be warned, this is a book that will leave you with a long list of other works you need to read or reread, starting, of course, with the works of Shakespeare himself. View all my reviews