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Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Paperback – 21 Feb 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks (21 Feb. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192802496
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192802491
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 2 x 11.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 45,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

the clearest and simplest explanation of Shakespeare's thought I have yet read (Auberon Waugh)

robust and forthright. (Hermione Lee, Observer)

Writing with full awareness that the plays were intended for the theatre, Greer is interested in the dialectic of language, performence, audience ... her clarity and her insistence on response make this an admirable book for sixth-formers. (Times Educational Supplement)

About the Author

Germaine Greer is Special Lecturer and Unofficial Fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge. She is the best-selling author of The Female Eunuch and Sex and Destiny.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jon Chambers VINE VOICE on 26 Jan. 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In focusing on Shakespeare's thought, not his biography, this VSI is refreshing. The opening chapter, headed 'Life', is a bald outline of known facts that refuses to speculate beyond them. What follows is dense, and often challenging, but entirely rewarding.

At times, Greer is iconoclastic - she considers many modern performances of the plays so stuffed with irrelevant stage business that even a bad school performance is preferable. Most of the time, she is original and illuminating. She sees Iago as needing no motivation beyond his attempt to destroy Othello. He is a descendant of a morality play Vice and an externalisation of the protagonist's 'psychomachia' (ie the moral battle taking place in his mind). Greer thinks it equally pointless trying to psychoanalyse Prince Hal. His elevation to Henry V brings about a 'character' change that can only be explained by his change of role: from private citizen to the embodiment of the English state.

Elsewhere, her presentation of ideas is poetic. As the exclusive 'theatre of lamplight' eclipsed the inclusive 'theatre of daylight', she says, didacticism and imagination were replaced by the purely sensational, while 'smells of cowslips and violets [gave way] to musk and civet'. Although this particular idea is not original, it is conveyed in typically vivid prose.

This VSI is emphatically NOT for the complete novice. But nor is it inaccessible to those prepared to grapple, despite its references to Wittgenstein and the Second Law of Thermodynamics - talking of which, 'Entropy' is not used here in the way physicists or cosmologists use it. It refers to the doctrine of inevitable social decay and degeneration (to which Gloucester would probably subscribe in King Lear).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A reader on 14 Feb. 2008
Format: Paperback
The previous reviews all summarise this book better than I could, and I agree with all the points, including he that gave a single star. I have read and watched a lot of Shakespeare without ever reading critical reviews or looking into others understandings of the plays. Never studied him at school either. I thought it time to deepen my understanding from a fairly full dramatic exposure to a more thoughtful appraisal. This book does that. Not a first introduction but an excellent overview for the second step in appreciating Shakespeare more fully. I now attend to the DVDs and my vists to the Globe with greater understanding and enjoyment. A short book with immense depth.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. K. A. Wheatley TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 26 Jan. 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Greer writes passionately and eloquently about Shakespeare in another great volume from the OUP, A Very Short Introduction To series. She ranges across a wide cross section of the plays, using just snippets from some to illuminate a particular idea or point, and with others such as King Lear or Henry V, giving more of an in depth case study of the play.

I agree with the person who gave this only one star that this is not a book for beginners. There is no chronology, no idiot's guide play by play break down, no thematic or symbolic run down. What there is however, is absolutely brilliant. Greer works hard to show us how what Shakespeare wrote informs what we know of him, and what we know of Elizabethan life and thought. She argues passionately the case for his continuing relevance in our lives today, and gives a real sense of Shakespeare as a committed playwright of vision and genius.
What is most interesting to me about this book is her argument about the importance that Shakespeare gives to the audience in the plays. She continually brings us back to the remembrance that these are plays to be performed, not books to be read 'intellectually' within the confines of a study. She reminds us that Shakespeare is continually aware of his audience, their desires, their needs and their importance in understanding and being an active part of the performance itself.
A fascinating and well written book, ideal for anyone with more than a passing interest in Shakespeare. If you want idiot proof Shakespeare there's bound to be a 'for dummies' guide out there somewhere. If you want engaging critical thought about what it means to watch Shakespearean plays, then this is the book for you.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A.K.Farrar on 27 Jan. 2006
Format: Paperback
Essential for both for those who are new and those who know.
Ms Greer manages, in a very short space, to lay out the foundations and major structural lines of modern Shakespeare Studies.
What she gives is the clearest possible statement of some quite complex ideas which will require those new to seriously studying Shakespeare (eg, older Secondary School students) to take time to pause and absorb what is being said.
Having said that, I think this should be required reading for anyone studying Shakespeare for A/AS/IB level or at undergraduate level. You will give yourself the best possible start to your voyage of descovery and be able to put in context an awful lot of more difficult material.
The first chapter is the best antidote I have seen to the loony Shakespeare didn't write it brigade. The second uses the Tempest to explore Shakespeare's Poetics. And she continues using individual texts and quotes to explore his ethics, and other aspects of his world.
As someone who has taught Shakespeare for years, I have never come across such a transparent and stimulating text.
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