Friday, April 27, 2007

Shakespeare's Birthday Presents

According to New York Times book reviewer William Grimes: this month brings "a stack of Shakespeare books released to coincide with the playwright’s birthday on April 23. Such onslaughts are a time-honored ritual, but this year the pickings are unusually rich." The review: Keeping the Faith With Shakespeare.

Most discussed is the latest single-volume edition of the plays edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (Modern Library). I'm sure it's great, but when I actually read plays, I want a small, easy-to-handle volume. In fact, in my latest project of rereading a fair portion of the plays, I've been buying new paperbacks to replace the ones I discarded many years ago.

The reviewer enthuses about the "wayward and intermittently brilliant" observations in A. D. Nuttall’s Shakespeare the Thinker (Yale University Press): "a close reading of the plays that tries to map the creases and folds in Shakespeare’s mysterious, elusive brain. ... with pithy barroom observations sharing space with arguments so fine-spun they threaten to disappear on the page." I don't know if I want to read that or not. Another reviewed book I doubt I'll read: a book about riots over Shakespeare performance in 19th century New York.

For me the most appealing of the new books from this discussion is David Bevington: This Wide and Universal Theater (University of Chicago Press). I'm adding it to my list of books to be read along with my projected Shakespeare reading. From the review:

Mr. Bevington, by focusing on the stage directions in Shakespeare’s plays, shows how actors relied on words alone to suggest time, place and action, and how the stage at the Globe could be manipulated in the hands of a canny playwright. There was no balcony in “Romeo and Juliet.” On the other hand, since there was nothing in the way of stage d├ęcor, no intervals were needed to move from scene to scene. More recent directors, returning to Shakespeare’s idea of staging, have embraced abstract spaces and let the language do the work.

No comments: