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Oxford World's Classics: Henry V, War Criminal?: and Other Shakespeare Puzzles [Paperback]

John Sutherland , Cedric Watts , Stephen Orgel
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

13 April 2000 Oxford World's Classics
'Shakespeare loves loose ends; Shakespeare also loves red herrings.' Stephen Orgel Loose ends and red herrings are the stuff of detective fiction, and under the scrutiny of master sleuths John Sutherland and Cedric Watts Shakespeare's plays reveal themselves to be as full of mysteries as any Agatha Christie novel. Is it summer or winter in Elsinore? Do Bottom and Titania make love? Does Lady Macbeth faint, or is she just pretending? How does a man putrefy within minutes of his death? Is Cleopatra a deadbeat Mum? And why doesn't Juliet ask 'O Romeo Montague, wherefore art thou Montague?' As Watts and Sutherland explore these and other puzzles Shakespeare's genius becomes ever more apparent. Speculative, critical, good-humoured and provocative, their discussions shed light on apparent anachronisms, performance and stagecraft, linguistics, Star Trek and much else. Shrewd and entertaining, these essays add a new dimension to the pleasure of reading or watching Shakespeare. 'Few modern academics are doing quite so much as Professor Sutherland to connect the "common reader" with great books' Independent

Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks (13 April 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192838792
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192838797
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 13 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 502,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Few modern academics are doing quite so much as Professor Sutherland to connect the 'common reader' with great books"--The Independent

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An English teacher's view 1 Mar 2002
As a Literature enthusiast, I have always enjoyed John Sutherland's nit-picking, anal assessment of nineteenth century novels, finding his essays insightful and amusing at turns. I was glad to find that his assessment of Shakespeare took much the same approach: some of the points he raises are quite silly but others are genuinely thought provoking. I particularly engaged with the chapter on Viola's plan, since I am teaching 'Twelfth Night' at the moment. On concluding a first reading and discussion with my year 9 class, the students were problem solving some of the issues raised by Shakespeare's plotting and were especially bemused by Viola's eunuch plan and the fact that Olivia apparently sees marriage to a eunuch as a desirable prospect. They soon became obsessed by this idea and have been mentioning it in lessons at every opportunity. At last, thanks to this book, I can offer them one possible explanation and for that I am grateful. Don't take it all too seriously and just enjoy.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A useful tool for newcomers to the Bard. 4 Nov 2000
By A Customer
... Any sweeping dismissal of Shakespeare is always a mistake, as illustrated by the sheer scope of topics covered in Henry V, War Criminal? Discussion ranges from Cleopatra's competency as a mother, to whether 'Love's Labour's Lost' is one of the earliest feminist texts. Anyone who has seen or read Henry V will be in no doubt that in today's terms, he is indeed a war criminal, possessing a cruel ruthlessness and a dubious claim to rule either France or England. Yet the authors do tackle aspects that seem a little less obvious questioning text that has rarely been commneted on, or that most have only interpreted superficially, such as the famous line 'Romeo Romeo, wherefore arthou Romeo?' While this particular loose end may not excite you too much, anyone unfamiliar with the subtlety and scope of Shakespeare's references will gain great insight from this book. Sutherland and Watts a;ways retain an accessible and entertaining tone that was probably missing from most of school encounters with Shakespeare...
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you are at all interested in Shakespeare's plays much of this will appeal to you, although it doesn't make an exactly riveting read. Some sections are just not that interesting, but others bear close reading. The question of whether, in Othello, the handkerchief (stolen by Iago's wife Emilia and later used to suggest Desdemona's adultery with Cassio) was really a magical artefact, or simply a handkerchief, embroidered with strawberries and the extremity of it's significance for play and players is discussed in detail. What, the essay also asks, is the motivation of Iago. Is he simply a jealous, malevolent man, out to do down someone more fortunate and highly regarded than himself? Samuel Taylor Coleridge long ago remarked that in Iago we see `the motive-hunting of motiveless malignity." In the play Iago gives so many motives that they seem to cancel each other out. The authors suggest that as well as hatred of Cassio, lust for Desdemona, thwarted ambition and Cassio's supposed adulterous union with Emilia, Iago's plotting draws much of its energy from racial hatred - his own and that of others. The concentration on the loss of a handkerchief spirals out into all of Iago's malignancy in the powerful last scene (where also, as the author's point out, Desdemona speaks, even though she is dead, strangled). Also discussed is the semiotics (signs and symbols especially the relations between written or spoken signs and their referents in the physical world or the world of ideas). These didn't, to my mind, prove very fascinating or illuminating of the psychologies of the players. After all, a handkerchief is just a handkerchief, as Othello himself remarks towards the end of the play. Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lot of good fun... and thought-provoking too. 23 Dec 2000
By Rory Coker - Published on Amazon.com
Shakespeare wrote plays that were to be seen only as performances before live audiences, running around two and a half hours, on a rather small stage. And he probably wrote pretty fast. Are the numerous inconsistencies (or apparent inconsistencies) one finds in the plays genuine errors of oversight, deliberate toying with the audience, unavoidable given the physical limitations of actors and stage, or part of some grand artistic design? For any given play, the answer can be any or all of the above.
The authors discuss about 30 such "glitches," and seem to derive most of their fun from summarizing how various Shakespearian commentators (few distinguished for intellect) have dealt with the glitches over the past 350 years. Sometimes, the authors appear to me to be deliberately obtuse about an issue, perhaps because they had some trouble finding as many as 30 genuinely puzzling glitches to comment upon.
One comment I have about the whole matter, which the authors do not make: Shakespeare's intellectual and artistic depths seem virtually boundless, and every seeming inconsistency might well have a reason for being other than carelessness or a schedule that didn't allow complete revision. The authors are aware of this, even when they don't state it explicitly.
Among the questions discussed: Why does Shakespeare's Henry V during the battle of Agincourt twice order all French prisoners to be slaughtered in cold blood, yet have "full fifteen hundred" prisoners "of good sort" left after the battle, not to mention a like number of "common men"?
Why does Juliet say, "Oh, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore (why) art thou Romeo," when the problem is that he is a Montague? Why do so many of the plays end with nothing resolved, everything hanging in suspension? [Notorious examples are Troilus and Cressida, and Love's Labour's Lost. The answer here is probably, oh say can you see, a sequel being demanded by audiences.] How is Desdemona able to deliver several lines of dialogue after being strangled or smothered by Othello? How can King Lear be more than 80 and Juliet only 13? And so on.
Some of the answers were fairly obvious to me, although apparently not so to the authors. Juliet falls in love with Romeo when they are both in disguise, and it is the revelation that he is who he is that is upsetting. He could be referred to as Romeo, Romeo Montague, or Montague, and the sense would be the same. The action of Richard II would cover 30 years or so in real time, yet the performers would have looked the same and worn the same costumes throughout the play, so Shakespeare has the characters proclaim themselves as "lusty, young" in the early scenes, and having "worn so many winters out" in the last scenes. Further tipoff to this necessary compression is that where ever the dialogue would naturally refer to "years," it instead refers to "minutes" and "hours." As the authors put it, Shakespeare has invented "Warp Time."
The book is a great pleasure to read, and will greatly deepen your knowledge of Shakespearean drama, and your viewing of any Shakespearean film. Highly recommended.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Weak Responses to Interesting Questions 19 April 2002
By Timothy Haugh - Published on Amazon.com
I came across this book last summer when I was in Stratford, Ontario, attending their annual Shakespeare festival. I had just seen Henry V so this title caught my eye. A glance through the table of contents made me think this book might be a real eye-opener. Unfortunately, I ended up being a bit disappointed.
Sutherland and Watts take turns addressing what they call different "puzzles" in various Shakespearean plays. The problem is, except for the rare exception, most of these questions can be answered in various ways depending on how the play is performed. For example, is Malvolio vengeful or reconciled at the end of Twelfth Night? Or, does Bottom actually sleep with Titania in Midsummer Nights Dream? In both cases the ultimate answer is, it depends on how you play it. There is no one answer fixed in the text.
Even questions that seem like they should have a specific answer like, who killed Woodstock in Richard II?, are given waffling answers. There's simply no way to know. Again, the ultimate answer will lie in how the play is performed. Different companies will lead their audience to different answers depending on what they decide to focus.
Ultimately, this book has value in the sense that it points out what some of the issues are with various plays. On the other hand, the writing here is not very dynamic. The authors rarely take a position and, when they do, they approach it so weakly that they do not inspire a response in the reader. Perhaps the authors felt that they didn't want to provoke any controversy with their readers but, if they had, it might have made for a more readable book.
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Testing the Texts 23 Jun 2009
By Lee Speth - Published on Amazon.com
This is a frequently stimulating inquiry into problems, both major and minor, in the concepts and details of Shakespeare's plots. I found that it raised provocative points (the timeline of OTHELLO, the moral stature of Henry V, how can a soul in Purgatory -- Hamlet senior -- demand blood vengeance?). But authors who nitpick need to watch out more carefully about their own nits. E.g., why on earth is Antony regularly referred to by the authors as "Anthony"? The strangest lapse comes in the title essay. The opening paragraph celebrates Branagh's HENRY V as the big winner at the Oscars for 1989. But HENRY V wasn't even nominated for Best Movie that year (for the record, DRIVING MISS DAISY won the big one, Branagh, nominated for Best Actor, lost to Daniel Day Lewis, and HENRY V won a single award for Costume Design). Still, a fairly entertaining volume, and one that focuses a number of questions that the reader may not have even realized were questions.
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