Playing the Unplayable

Histories of the staging of Shakespeare’s plays have changed a good deal in the decades since G.C.D. Odell’s extensive Shakespeare from Betterton to Irving, published in two volumes in 1920. The fascinating new books by John Gross and Marvin Rosenberg are both brimming with fresh ideas and information that will …

Plague on the Globe?

Every biographer of a writer has to start with a difficult decision: whether to bring the life and works together or keep them separate. If the writer lived four hundred years ago it may well be that not enough is known about his life, or the precise dates of the …

The Second-Best Bed

“In the name of God amen I William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon in the county of War-wick gentleman in perfect health and memory God be praised do make and ordain this my last will and testament in manner and form following. That is to say first I commend my …

Do-It-Yourself Lear

At the World Shakespeare Congress held in Washington, DC in April 1976, Michael Warren read a short paper on “Quarto and Folio King Lear and the Interpretation of Albany and Edgar”[^1]—a paper hailed by some as the start of a new era in textual studies and deplored by others as …

The Dream of the Globe

Thomas Browne, a theater lover who may well have watched plays at the second Globe, would have been an ideal partner for Sam Wanamaker, the well-known actor and producer. Browne claimed that some natural processes could be reversed—“This is made good by experience, which can from the ashes of a …

Me, Myself, and I

Saint Augustine wrote his Confessions—perhaps the first “modern” autobiography—around 400 AD. No one knows how many thousands of autobiographies were produced thereafter, but it is generally agreed that our understanding of the genre only took off about thirty years ago. “Prior to the mid-1950s,” says Mr. Olney, “autobiography was seen …

Shakespeare’s Double Vision

“The comfortable book on Shakespeare is one of those not worth writing”—an irresistible beginning! Yet anyone who expects an uncomfortable book to follow is going to be disappointed. Mr. Adams expresses his personal views, some of which may not please unidentified opponents, yet so pithily, so benignly, that one chuckles …

The Triumph of Will

Biographies of Shakespeare usually dwell on the “outer life”—legal documents, his friends and professional associates, allusions to him—and say little or nothing about his art. Excellent in their own way, G.E. Bentley’s Biographical Handbook (1961) and S. Schoenbaum’s A Documentary Life (1975) followed this tradition, which began in the eighteenth …

The New Shakespeare?

Exciting new developments in the last few years have changed the face of Shakespeare studies, more suddenly than ever before. Traditional assumptions about Shakespeare’s language, ideology, text, etc., have been questioned, often successfully, and good anthologies of this very recent criticism are already available.[^1] A new book by Stephen Greenblatt, …

Fingerprinting Shakespeare

“This manuscript,” Eric Sams writes, “may yet come to be acknowledged as in every sense the most valuable in the world, as being not only [by] Shakespeare but, by powerful arguments, holograph.”The anonymous Edmund Ironside is one of a collection of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century manuscript plays now known as MS.

The Sweet Swan of Oxford?

Is it a waste of time to read a book dedicated to the crackpot proposition that Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays and poems commonly ascribed to William Shakespeare of Stratford? Mr. Ogburn bends the evidence and is sometimes inaccurate, but he has devoted several …

The New Lear

Is it really possible that, after so many centuries of tinkering and bickering, the editors still have not produced a text of King Lear as Shakespeare would have wanted it? That the world has persuaded itself that this play is the master’s masterpiece—without noticing that the editors have jumbled together …