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Living with Shakespeare: Essays by Writers, Actors, and Directors Paperback – Illustrated, April 9, 2013
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"An American Duchess" by Caroline Fyffe
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"A cornucopia of delights for lovers of the Bard." —Booklist
"Lively.... Thought-provoking.... The collection is a consistently stimulating read, which goes a great way toward illuminating the degree to which we all live already—and can live even further—with Shakespeare." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- Lexile Measure : 1230L
- Item Weight : 1.07 pounds
- Paperback : 528 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307742911
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307742919
- Product Dimensions : 5.33 x 1.08 x 8 inches
- Publisher : Vintage; Illustrated Edition (April 9, 2013)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,585,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Everyone will have their own favorite essays, but the following are what stick in my mind:
I felt privileged to read Ben Kingsley's reflections about how various theatrical spaces shaped one company's performances of "The Merchant of Venice," and James Earl Jones' thoughts on Othello as "The Sun King." Ralph Fiennes gives insight into his choices in making the film version of "Coriolanus" (a favorite of mine) as does Julie Taymor in her marvelous "Tempest" with Helen Mirren as Prospera.
I didn't care much for "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)" when I saw it performed, and I have no real interest in the questions of the differences in the different extant versions of Shakespeare's plays, but somehow I found myself completely engaged with Jess Winfield's discussion of Shakespare's texts, using "Complete Works (abridged)" -- which he was part of creating -- as a lense.
Whatever your interest, you will find something here to enjoy -- and probably more than you expected to. I will be keeping this volume close and revisiting the individual chapters as I study the different plays.
The text opens with a characteristic Intro written by Harold Bloom. The intro tends to be more about Mr. Bloom than Mr. Shakespeare, and it is both frustrating and interesting to read. So typical of Harold Bloom, there should be no surprises there.
I approached the book not as a single set piece, but as individual essays. Therefore I would read a few essays at a time, then put the text down and read something else. Once that book was completed, I would return to read a few more essays from “Living with Shakespeare” and so on until I had the text completed. I think reading it in this fashion will allow you to dialogue with, and digest the ideas in the text more easily then reading it in one continuous cycle.
The book is full of many hits and misses. I will focus first on the book’s weaknesses, and then finish with its strengths. Notable among the worst of the essays in the collection are the ones by Cicely Berry-a very dull and self serving piece, and James Earl Jones’ essay which is filled with ludicrous ideas and choppy didactic writing. Mr. Jones writes about “Othello”, and the text has a total of three essays about that play. None of them are any good, and the editor should have tossed them. They appear in a row, and they really drag the collection down. Two other big letdowns are the essays by James Franco (more mystifying than his Oscar host performance) and Julie Taymor. Both are narcissistic and uninteresting.
However, there is more to celebrate about this text than to complain. “Living with Shakespeare” opens with a bang with a brilliant and simplistically profound essay by Bill Willingham about storytelling. I also enjoyed many of the essays by actors, especially Rory Kinnear’s (very interesting) and Brian Cox’s scholarly yet easy to consume piece called “I Say it is the Moon”. Mr. Cox’s essay breaks new ground and is very accessible. It is a highlight of the text. Especially surprising was the essay “What’s in a Name?” by James Prosek. Mr. Prosek is known primarily as a nature writer, but he produces one of the best essays in the book. The collection also ends as well as it began with the writer Isabel Allende writing an appropriately sentimental and lovely piece.
One last recommendation, most of the essays assume a familiarity with much of Shakespeare’s work. This is not a text for someone not well versed in the plays.
“Living with Shakespeare” is an interesting contribution to the canon of books about Shakespeare. I will keep a copy on my shelf.
As an avid reader of historical mysteries, of course I read (and greatly enjoyed!) Fool's Guild author Alan Gordon's bit first. After cherry-picking a few more familiar names, I was having so much fun that I went back and began reading start-to-finish. I was delighted to find one essay after another to be enjoyable, thought-provoking, or (frequently) both. Some of the essays are rather academic, some very personal, and some hilarious; some I'll want to re-read and some (this means you, Harold Bloom!) I barely survived. Overall, though, I liked it enough to keep reading after I got back to my book-filled house.
I'm glad I bought it, and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in Shakespeare. You're sure to like at least some of the essays, and may make the acquaintance of one or two surprising new favorites along the way.
Example: "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?" doesn't mean what you might think it means. Check it out!