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I've never read a play written by Shakespeare. Not a single one. I vaguely know the storyline of two or three of those plays, thanks to Vishal Bhardwaj, but that's so very inadequate to join a conversation, or to have a personal appreciation. Hence I've decided to start reading some of the plays to broaden my Shakespeare-horizon.
But hey, reading Shakespeare is not an easy task, right? Coming from a pure Bengali-medium school the language seems so, well, unusual. And like everyone I too have a faint idea about the ambiguity and subtleness of the plots that these plays offer. So I was searching for a guide-book sort of material which could initiate me and guide me through the maze.
And I'm happy to declare, THIS is the one. Emma Smith is already a familiar name for the "Bard-watching" community. And now she writes one for the brilliant Pelican series.
If you are like me, straightforward Shakespeare-ignorant; or even know a thing or two about him; or better, claim to be a scholar of this subject; you should try this book. This book will entangle the Shakespeare-knot for those who are fearful and sceptical, and will guide/aid them who are fans. For either kind of reader, this book will surely be helpful to discover the joy and/or open up new avenues for Shakespeare appreciation.
So, surely, now I'm going to read the plays one by one.
I have not completed the book yet but was really amazed with the MND chapter where our Professor of Shakespeare Studies states "Hermia wishes to marry Demetrius; Egeus favours Lysander as her suitor." What a blunder! It is compounded a few sentences later when we are informed that "Hermia maintains that she will not accept the 'the unwished yoke' (1.1.81) of marriage to Lysander." If a mistake of this proportion can get through, goodness knows what other bloopers lie in store.
I studied English Literature some thirty years ago and although I do still read a wide variety of literature ranging from the classics/serious to the more 'popular' end of the spectrum, it's a fair while since I read any literary criticism. I bought this book because it caught my eye in a Waterstones window and realised I knew the author, Emma Smith, when at University... causing me absolute delight and excitement. I also fancied a bit of Shakespeare in my life again. Emma Smith clearly has lost none of the charisma and lively wit that I recall from those undergraduate days, as it absolutely shines through this wonderful book. (Hi Emma! I was in the year below you :-))
I have greatly enjoyed reading this book and it has spurred me on to watch some more productions and re-visit old favourites. (Ever since O levels, Macbeth is still my favourite!) I'd recommend this book to anybody wanting an accessible, clever, thought-provoking book about Shakespeare's plays - whether as an introduction, a reminder or, as has been suggested, a wonderful guide to dip into in the future, perhaps prior to attending a performance, or afterwards.
The publisher has seen fit to subtitle this book "How to Read the World's Greatest Playwright", and has backed this theme up with some choice cover blurb from a keen-to-please critic, "The best introduction to the plays I've read...". Well, fellow readers, this book is neither an "introduction" nor a "how-to-read" manual: it is entirely more interesting than that. It is not a children's book, and it is not a book for those with a childlike understanding of our greatest dramatist; it is not comprehensive in its coverage of the canon, and it assumes a better-than-basic knowledge of the plays in the reader. However, if you have read and seen some Shakespeare – better still, if you love the man’s work - this book offers a superbly gripping collection of insights into the greatest plays (some startlingly original insights, in my experience, and some that go deeper than any analysis of the plays I have read before), written in a playful style that is very accessible and involving, with much fashionable phrasing (I imagine this style has been honed over many years of wrangling undergraduates, which is Ms Smith's day job). To sum up, an intensely enjoyable collection of persuasive theories, ideas, and arguments; the result is a very addictive - if you love Shakespeare - read. But, take note: Ms Smith is a Professor of Shakespeare Studies, and she expects us, like her own students, to be prepared for her instruction. This is not, I would suggest, a book for ambivalent novices.
3.0 out of 5 starsMelvyn Braggish Shakespeare Commentary
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 25 February 2019
The blurb on the back of this book describes as 'electrifying', I'm not sure about that.
I didn't study English to degree level but I've got a good knowledge of the canon. Emma Smith has written 20 chapters, each one a short essay on a play. She's offering contemporary criticism with references to #MeToo, the sitcom Friends, Homer Simpson and anecdotes, like the story about the school party that left Midsummer Night's Dream early because of its explicit sexual references. The style is not overly academic, but it's not journalistic either. It's pitched at Melvyn Bragg level.
I imagine it might be enjoyed by 'A' level students wishing to prepare for their Oxbridge interview with a few derivative ideas. It's engaging, but for my money it falls between two stools, it's not written in a way that will make it compelling to the layman, and it's too hip to be worthy of the attention of academics.
Another little piece from young Shakesperean Prof Emma Smith esconced in one of those brainy fortifications not a pub's throw from The High. In between raiding Scotland for it's singular F1 while ignoring the real heavy duty Burns stuff, she's produced a neat little refresher with some acute angles of erudition and a sprinkling of in the groove constructions. A jolly readable little gem which was much welcome having recently mined and toiled for a month in the dense labrynths of the "New Oxford Shakespeare Authorship Companion" and "The Struggle for Shakespeare's Text" latest heavy duty duty stuff this was a nice little sparkling jewel that revived the remaining aged associational neurones. I read it on my Kindle at the Westgate cafe/restaurant outside balcony of a sunny spring day in a couple of hours and found it fascinatingly hypnotic. Some interesting right-on prose and unexpected left-hook facts mingled with decent punchy style. It wears its gravity lightly which makes a refreshing interlude from casting an eye over the screaming squires big-thick-but-necessary books about his Bardness. Enjoyable....and inexpensive.
Just one of the very best books I've read, about anything really. I love Shakespeare! Over the years I've read most of the plays and studied some at degree level but Emma Smith's book taught me so much I had missed. Her main point is about what she calls Shakespeare's 'gappiness'. The missing bits, and the seemingly contradictory bits, that leave open so many varying interpretations that keeps the plays alive and relevant. There are twenty chapters, each looking at one play with an Epilogue to round the whole thing off. Each chapter focuses on one or two particular aspects of the chosen play. So, for example, in the chapter on The Winters Tale, she explores the famous stage direction 'exit pursued by a bear' and takes the opportunity to tell us her own favourite from The Tempest, 'Enter Ariel, invisible.' Love it. In exploring Shakespeare's 'radical uncertainties' Emma Smith has produced a book that is easy to read, funny, informative, original and fascinating. You don't get many like that!
I have just purchased this book, as it was recommended by one of my lecturers. Unfortunately, I will have to abstain from reading it..which will likely impede my understanding of my Shakespeare module (I'm a university student). Why? Because the binding on the book is defective, with half the pages only partially attached to the spine of the book. The other pages, which are attached, have seemingly been cut in a jagged line. Leaving crumpled paper ruining the first half of the book. If this wasn't displeasing enough, I soon discovered that hardened glue was stuck to many of the pages, having seeped from the spine itself. Between the oozing glue, the ravaged pages and the not-even-adhered pages, I am very upset with this product's manufacturing. I would not recommend purchasing it for the reasons stated above.
Falstaff is fat, very fat: that we know. But what did Hamlet look like? What specific disabilities had that redoubtable knight-in-armour Richard III? And, apart from one being taller than the other, how would we tell Hermia from Helena? Emma Smith, in This is Shakespeare, celebrates what the bard doesn’t tell us rather than what he does tell us. It is the “sheer and permissive ‘gappiness’ of his drama” – a deliberate incompleteness, a willful absence of precision, that has kept us bubbling with interest and agape with speculation these last four centuries. “Shakespeare’s construction of his plays tends to imply rather than state,” she tells us; “he often shows rather than tells; most characters and encounters are susceptible to multiple interpretations. It’s because we have to fill in the gaps that Shakespeare is so vital.” This book, which investigates the gappiness in 19 of his best-known plays, owes its own vitality to Smith’s happy way with words. Like Will, she invents some herself. Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice is Portia’s “nogoodnik lover.” A question set in a high school test paper might be: “Shakespeare supports the divine right of kings. Discuss.” It is, as Smith argues so cogently, only because Shakespeare is so “gappy” that such questions can be set.
Well this book was on a book review program on R4, since I love Shakespeare and I thought I could always learn more I bought it. Sadly it taught me nothing about the Bard that I didn't already know, I was especially disappointed that Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, plus Henry V were lumped together, I have seen all the other plays reviewed on stage too. The one thing about Shakeseare was that he was a man of his times and living in Tudor times it was good to admire the Tudor kings, all Henry by name, while Plantagenate kings, Richard by name get a poor review. This was not in the book, althogh I might have given up too soon