From Publishers Weekly
One of the Shakespeare industry's most industrious scholars presents the bard's life and times, the composition and (competitive) editing of his works, the "afterlife" of his reputation and his characters' lives presented onstage. The volume combines the format of a well-illustrated coffee-table book with a distillation of scholarship for the average bardolater, if not necessarily the casual student and theatergoer. Although Wells's biographic summary is solid for all its speculative digressions and his literary criticism sound if conservative, this work hits its stride when it gets onstage, from the first performances on the recently unearthed Rose Theater to the modern productions on the newly reconstructed Globe. High points of this performance history include David Garrick's 18th-century Shakespeare franchise, Edmund Kean's scandalous precurtain rituals and Sarah Bernhardt's Hamlet, as well as such lows as Nahum Tate's popular alternate happy ending to King Lear and Shakespeare's literal bowdlerization by Thomas and Henrietta Bowdler. For modern productions, Wells's wide-ranging survey is often charged with his own experience as a theatergoer, such as seeing Olivier's "searing" Coriolanus. With contemporary scholarship, Wells gets entertainingly personal, whether describing his firsthand experience (idiosyncratically) editing the complete works for Oxford University Press's own Shakespeare department or tweaking rival A.L. Rowse for inaccuracy. There will naturally be dissension about Wells's opinions and selectivity-for instance, his assessment of Orson Welles's stagings and filmings or the extent of the Nazi regime's deplorable Shakespeare cult-but this copiously illustrated album admirably compresses more than four centuries of the bard and more than 50 years of Wells's devotion to him.
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"Here is a man who has a fair claim to be the most complete Shakespearian of them all.... Now he has distilled a lifetime's work into one crisply written, richly illustrated and entertaining book."--The Sunday Times
"Scholarly, urbane, rich in anecdotes and marvelously readable, it is a meticulously constructed and authoritative survey with a vast and satisfying scope."--New Statesman
"The doyen of modern British Shakespeare scholarship.... Few will deny that he has an indisputable right to produce yet another book on Shakespeare whenever he feels like it.... His subject calls for, and gets, abundant, handsome, and instructive illustration. The book is therefore something of a hybrid, the biography amiable, the afterlife placidly illuminating and useful."--Frank Kermode, The New York Times Book Review
"This copiously illustrated album admirably compresses more than four centuries of the bard and more than 50 years of Wells's devotion to him."--Publishers Weekly
"Written with generosity and humor, Wells's book is an illustrated compendium encompassing new readings of the Bard's Stratford-upon-Avon and London years, thoughtful observations of Shakespeare the writer and a lively history of the Shakespeare legend.... Wells navigates through Shakespeare's afterlife with wit and authority. Whether dealing with his legacy in the fields of the visual arts, music, cinema, theatre or television, the book celebrates all Shakespearean manifestations, their imperfections notwithstanding. The result is that Wells brings us as close to an understanding of the man, the writer and the legend, as is possible in a one-volume study."--American Theatre
"Wells is deservedly the most celebrated Shakespearean scholar of our time.... It is not often you meet a scholar with a sense of humor, but Wells made me laugh out loud at his section which concerns the discrepancies of the various Shakespeare printed text.... Many anecdotes make the richly illustrated text a delight."--Birmingham Post
"One of those heavy, beautifully produced books which is a pleasure to look at as it is to read.... There's no doubting the scholarship here"--Time Out London