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Shakespeare the Player: A Life in the Theatre and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

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Shakespeare the Player Hardcover – November 25, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Sutton Publishing; illustrated edition edition (November 25, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0750923121
  • ISBN-13: 978-0750923125
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,200,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 31, 2002
Format: Hardcover
As an academic, I could resent the sometimes acerbic references to academics in John Southworth's Shakespeare the Player, but as an academic I learned more from this non-academic book than I have learned from many academic books on Shakeespeare. The book is written by aprofessional theater person, an actor/director, who has a thorough knowledge of Shakespeare's plays and of the interactions among casts and playwrights and stages and plays and performances. From this background, he proposes and credibly supports four lines of argument: a) that there cannot be any lost years in Shakespeare's biography: to do what he did, Shakespeare had to have had an extensive apprenticeship in the theater, and Southworth adds evidence in support of the theory that this was Leceister's company; b) that there is no credible evidence that Shakespeare ever retired from the theater, and much circumstantial evidence from theater lives to suggest that he did no such thing; c) that Shakespeare was primarily an actor/director in his own plays, and not primarily a playwright, in his own eyes and the eyes of his colleagues; and d) that the roles he chose for himself, roles like Iago in "Othello," were characterized by being somewhat detached from the action, frequency of appearance on stage even when not speaking, and often a kind of controlling relationship with the other characters. The style is clear, unpretentions and very readable, the presentation direct, knowledgeable and carefully argued with detailed and credible evidence. I found the book to be the most helpful single book in illuminating Shakespeare and his plays that I've read in the last ten years.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rory Coker on December 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book, and SHAKESPEARE OF LONDON by Marchette Chute, are the only works known to me on Shakespeare that emphasize his work as an actor-director. Once one is reminded that Shakespeare was one of the leading actors in the various companies in which he worked and for whom he wrote, much of his life and career arc make far better sense than they do in the usual biographies that concentrate exclusively on his writing, as if he sat every night in a rented room and generated page after page with no actors or theater in mind. It also supplies a very different picture of how the members of any given successful group of players spent the year, particularly in its demonstration that even players with a dedicated, available playhouse in London still necessarily spent a good part of each year on tour.

Any discussion of the details of any part of Shakespeare's life is necessarily 99% speculation and 1% ambiguous documentation. However, Southworth's guesses as to the roles taken or preferred by Shakespeare in his own plays are soundly based on Southworth's lifelong experience as an actor in many performances of most of the Bard's plays, and generally made sense to me. It would be fascinating to get some clearer idea of the roles he took in the plays of Jonson and Marlowe, and Southworth does make some guesses, at least for the Marlowe plays that had the most obvious influence on Shakespeare's own earliest plays.

Southworth pictures Shakespeare as a whole-hearted "man of the theater" from well before his hasty marriage until just a few weeks before his untimely death in his early 50s. It's a picture that is consistent with what we know about the Elizabethan and Jacobian theater, and which remains consistent with the few documents that place Shakespeare at any given spot at any given time, doing any specific thing.

In short, it's a highly-recommended eye-opener.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By James Neville on January 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
There are thousands of biographies of Shakespeare. Picking which to read can be a challenge. "Shakespeare the Player," by John Southworth, is the third Shakespeare biography I've read. I recommend it highly for its passion, its premise and its detail. This book leaves you with an appreciation of, not just the writer of the most famous plays in the world, but the actors he wrote FOR and the roles he played IN. In a readable, well-organised presentation, Southworth turns Shakespeare the austere genius into Shakespeare the warm human being.

Shakespeare learned his craft by acting first and writing second, contrary to conventional treatments of his life. These are the points that struck my interest:
. Shakespeare the apprentice actor, playing roles in other writers' works, learning to be part of a team of players, learning to read an audience's reactions, learning to read fellow actors' abilities
. Shakespeare the company sharer, investing in his company when he had the experience and money, becoming a stakeholder whose written plays were part but not all of his substantial contributions to the success of the team
. Writing specific parts that fit specific actors
. Emphasis on time on tour as well as at home in London

Southworth is an actor and director who brings experience and research to provide supporting detail for his points:
. Superb familiarity with the plays and lines (making the most readable and engaging summary of Shakespeare's works I've ever seen)
. Examples of influences of lines from other Elizabethan plays, in which Shakespeare performed as an apprentice, on lines in his earliest written plays (showing influence on his development as a writer from his experience as an apprentice).
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