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Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard Paperback – February 3, 2009

3.0 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It's easy to assume that William Shakespeare has always held his position at the top of the literary canon. But the truth is not that simple, as Lynch, a professor of English at Rutgers and longtime student of literary history, demonstrates. He ably chronicles how "in three hundred years, William Shakespeare the talented playwright and theatre shareholder had become Shakespeare the transcendent demigod," against whom no slight of literary criticism was too small not to be deemed heresy. Along the way, Shakespeare was all but forgotten; criticized for his sloppy, profane dramaturgy; rewritten, forged and bowdlerized (literally, by the eponymous Bowdler); hijacked as a spokesperson for political causes of all stripes; revered and, finally, unquestioningly glorified. Lynch tells the story of the personalities and politics that shaped both the reception of the Bard's works and the development of the theater in England between 1616, the year of Shakespeare's death, and 1864, his 300th birthday. Lynch writes fluidly about the Puritan aspirations that shut the English theaters after Queen Elizabeth's death, the Restoration and consequent revitalization of London's theatrical culture, the rise of celebrity culture and the spread of literacy that took Shakespeare off the stage and into the parlor and classroom. Illus. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Not long after Shakespeare's death, in 1616, the puritans closed England's theaters, and when Charles II reopened them in 1660, Shakespeare's plays were understandably forgotten. It took a long process of revival, performance, study, improvement (adulteration, to modern eyes), co-optation, domestication, forgery, and, finally, what amounted to worship to establish Shakespeare as the transcendent genius of the English language. Lynch devotes a lively, well-informed chapter to each aspect of that process as he argues that Shakespeare was transformed into a secular saint by successive waves of actors, scholars, adapters, propagandists, expurgators, self-aggrandizers, and cultural entrepreneurs. The apotheosis took some 250 years and involved great names in English cultural history (most notably, the actor David Garrick) and quite a few astonishing miscreants, such as the forger William Henry Ireland, who only wanted his father's respect, it seems. Lynch makes virtually every one of these figures fascinating, amusingly revealing their idiosyncrasies without letting any of them obscure the ongoing movement he traces. A book for Shakespeareans of all stripes to relish with gusto. Olson, Ray --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books (February 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802716784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802716781
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,551,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on August 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I absolutely love Shakespeare and considering him a great genius of the English theater. However, if even those of us who love the Bard are honest, it must be admitted that his reputation did not spring full-blown from the Globe Theater at the turn of the sixteenth century. It took time for him to become Shakespeare as we understand him today. Professor Lynch does an excellent job at sketching out the outlines of this transition in this book.

Professor Lynch reminds us that Shakespeare, though successful in his day, was not considered the greatest playwright of his day. Johnson and Marlowe were much better regarded in most circles. Shakespeare did not adhere to the classical structure of the dramatic form well enough and he often stooped to crude humor. With the closure of the theaters during the Protectorate, it seemed very likely that Shakespeare and his works would be lost to history. Fortunately for us, the Restoration saw the rise of some of the great Shakespearean actors--Garrick, Cibber, Siddons, Kemble, etc.--who really began to move Shakespeare to the fore.

Professor Lynch also reminds us that, until the twentieth century, Shakespeare's text was not as sacrosanct as it is now. He discusses the fact that the most popular forms of Shakespeare until very recently were adaptations and bowdlerizations. (In fact, the word "bowdlerization" comes from Henrietta and Thomas Bowlder, who made a career out of deleting the "naughty bits" from Shakespeare.) Additionally, there were many attempts to forge and otherwise pass off plays as written by Shakespeare. So much so that it is difficult, even to this day, to ferret out some truths.

It may be hard for some to accept in a culture where Shakespeare is so revered, but it did not have to be so.
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Format: Hardcover
William Shakespeare was a genius. Everyone knows it, but he became a genius only after his death. That's the surprising lesson in _Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard_ (Walker) by Jack Lynch. The author is a professor of English who is a well-known scholar of Samuel Johnson. Johnson himself had plenty of admiration for Shakespeare, but also criticism, and told Boswell that "Shakespeare never has six lines together without a fault." That's the sort of candor that eventually became forbidden; by the nineteenth century, Lynch says, "Criticizing the Bard - even hinting that he was less than perfect - was becoming the literary equivalent of blasphemy." And yet, Shakespeare had been what Lynch calls a "B plus" playwright during his lifetime, a popular artist who had a lucrative career, but there were other playwrights doing the same thing. Shakespeare made no plans to have his plays published, and his friends arranged only seven years after his death in 1616 for his collected works to be printed. A second edition came out nine years later, and then there was nearly nothing. His plays were performed less often, simply because they were old fashioned, and then in the middle of the seventeenth century there was the closing of the theaters during Cromwell's rule. It could have happened that Shakespeare would take a respected place at the level of his contemporary Ben Jonson who had more critical esteem during his own life, but is now known mostly to enthusiasts of literature rather than to the masses. How is it that Shakespeare became Shakespeare?

Lynch focuses on stories about the plays and their production, appreciation, and alteration over the centuries.
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Format: Hardcover
Jack Lynch starts out be setting forth his grand plan: he will show us how a "provincial playwright" became "the universal bard." He ends the book by asserting that he has done so. The problem lies between his beginning and his end: he has no middle. There is no "there" here.

What is there consists of a superficial recitation of well-known anecdotes from theater history, much of it seemingly cribbed from sources like Oscar Brockett, and some of it not very accurately or critically. To that, he adds a small body of Shakespeariana trivia, such as analysis of two figures known for Shakespearian forgery and fraud.

There's a lot of sloppy thinking. Right from the top, how are we to understand Shakespeare as a "provincial" playwright when he spent his entire working life in the only great metropolis of his nation?

Searching for the cultural processes that transformed Shakespeare, the popular playwright of his day, into Shakespeare, a poetic master known and valued all over the world, is a very worthwhile project. I do hope somebody carries it out some day. It most certainly has not been carried out here. One finishes this book as ignorant of the nature of that process as one is at the beginning of the book. The one substantial suggestion, badly framed as the idea that "he changed what it meant to be great" might bear fruit if someone were to take it seriously and examine exactly how reception and response to the work of Shakespeare led to broadly shared changes in the conception of quality in literature. Again, I hope someone does that someday, for it has not been done here.

All in all, I see no reason to buy this book. It does not deliver on its basic promise, and it has little else to recommend it.
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