People who love Shakespeare tend to do so passionately. Ron Rosenbaum loves Shakespeare, and has brought his passion and that of many others to us in The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascos, Palace Coups. The Shakespeare Wars reviews the issues, personalities and conflicts in Shakespeare studies today, excluding the authorship question, a can of worms that doesn't enter into what's actually in the plays. Rosenbaum instead tries to understand and explain not the author of the plays, but what makes those plays Shakespearian, and why they bring us such joy.
Shakespeare is my flourless chocolate cake. I can't eat it all the time; it's just too rich. There are those occasions, though, where nothing else will do; where I just have to dive in and indulge myself. It's not like the old days, when I ate more dense cake and went to Ashland every summer. I'm a little more paced with the special treats these days. Just as not everyone likes a bitter, dense cake the first time they bite in, not everyone "gets" Shakespeare at first. Making sense of Shakespeare for me took an epiphany, a moment where I could just surrender myself to the language, letting it flow over me without working too hard to understand it. Understanding would come. My personal Shakespeare epiphany came during my college days, when a son-of-an-English-teacher roommate and I watched all of the BBC Shakespeare productions thanks to our local public television station. By the time Olivier's King Lear rolled around I was hooked. Ron Rosenbaum had such a personal moment in Peter Brooks' production of A Midsummer Night's Dream; this moment changed his life and led directly to The Shakespeare Wars.
The book was daunting when I first picked it up; I was unsure how much of it I would actually read. As it is, I read every word, carrying it back and forth to work for weeks and trashing my galley in the process. Galleys are cheap advance print runs and are not designed to be used and abused this way. This is a rare case where I'm actually going to have to buy a finished copy of a book I read in galley form. What was it about the book that held my interest for so long? I was afraid that everything would be too arcane and academic to be fun. But Rosenbaum personalizes the material; visiting experts anywhere he can, from donut shop to Bermuda conference, giving people that chance to speak and respond, to let their enthusiasm show. Rosenbaum doesn't stay neutral; he is a scholar, has opinions and is not afraid to disagree.
Some of the things Rosenbaum brings to the book have actually changed the way I read and appreciate Shakespeare, in particular the reading of the lines in the plays. I am, in a sense, a child of method acting. From the first time I read one of the plays I was told to more or less ignore the lines and concentrate on making the sentences read naturally. The lines aren't written as natural speech, though, they're written in iambic pentameter; and end-of-line pause creates a different effect on the meaning, as does adding a heartbeat rhythm (lub-DUB) accenting every other word. I applied this to all the passages quoted in the book and was amazed at how the already slippery meanings changed.
The fact that Shakespeare has many meanings is central to Rosenbaum's book. He asserts that Shakespeare's works can bear whatever level of reading one cares to apply, as they are virtually, as he calls it, bottomless. Rosenbaum's choice of that specific word is one of the wonderful and recurring themes in The Shakespeare Wars. Look and see. Look again, and see more. I believe that this is why 400 years later people still care; any interested person in any time or place can find meaning in the plays and poems we call Shakespeare's, and find it again and again.
Galley Slave Galley Watch:
Blue Arabesque by Patricia Hampl
It only took a glance. Patricia Hampl was late for a lunch date at the Art Institute of Chicago when she saw the Matisse; she was stunned, arrested by the face gazing from the canvas. This visual epiphany led Hampl on a personal journey, one tracing the step of many artists in many fields, all heading toward the light. Not just any light, but the bright light of the Mediterranean, of the Cote d'Azure and North Africa, places that have drawn people looking to capture inspiration for centuries. The revelations in this slender volume are as dazzling as the light Hampl seeks to explain, and understand. Due in November, from Harcourt.