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The Genius of Shakespeare Paperback – 6 Jun 2008


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The Genius of Shakespeare + Soul of the Age: The Life, Mind and World of William Shakespeare + Shakespeare's Language
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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (6 Jun 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330458434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330458436
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 109,183 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Jonathan Bate is Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at the University of Warwick, chief editor of The RSC Shakespeare: Complete Works and the author of many books, including most recently John Clare: A Biography, which won the Hawthornden Prize for Literature and the James Tait Black Prize for Biography. A Fellow of the British Academy, he was awarded a CBE in 2006.


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91 of 99 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 3 Aug 1999
Format: Paperback
Jonathan Bate's THE GENIUS OF SHAKESPEARE takes issue with cultural conservatives and with politically correct radicals to explain how a dramatist of humble orgins became the best known author in history. In what is described as "a new kind of biography", Bate offers a two-part history of Shakespeare's talent and reputation. Instead of the usual life story or play-by-play account, Bate begins part one by discussing the anecdotes that were told about Shakespeare during his life, looking at how his contemporaries saw him. Then he moves on to dissect the sonnets showing the various ways they have been used to provide a biographical key to their author's life. Wielding Occam's razor, Bate attacks the tendency of the "life and works" approach to over-interpret the poems to illuminate the dark corners of the life.
Bate's willingness to admit that much will never be known is refreshing. His suggestion about the Dark Lady's identity is delightfully mischievous: she could have been the wife of John Florio, Italian secretary to the Earl of Southampton. Given the sources, this is as credible as most other interpretations, even though Bate is attempting to convict the poet Samuel Daniel's sister of multiple adultery on circumstantial evidence that would not have persuaded Othello. More daring is Bate's solution to the conclusion of "Master W H", the unknown "begetter" of the sonnets. This, he argues, is just a printer's error for "W S" (William Shakespeare).
When addressing the authorship question, Bate uses knockabout tactics to demolish alternative candidates - from Francis Bacon to sundry lords - but he does so in a more profound question: why should anyone doubt that Shakespeare wrote the plays?
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jon Chambers VINE VOICE on 29 Oct 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Yes, its title is unpromising as well as rather passé (we don't like to talk of 'genius' nowadays. The word smacks of élitism). Such a title leads us half to expect yet another work of tedious bardology. Moreover, with lengthy analyses of the Shakespeare-inspired works of (C19 composer) Hector Berlioz and (C18 artist) Henry Fuselli, the book often seems only indirectly relevant to the works of the dramatist himself. But The Genius of Shakespeare is much more than a eulogising bunch of essays tied together by the common thread of Shakespeare's greatness. The common element, if there is one, is illuminating originality.

Concentrating on the rich after-life of the plays and the ever-changing historical contexts which have continually reshaped and renewed them, Bate's study not only throws much light on the works but actually has an unexpected coherence and a climactic structure. The last chapter, on C20 physics and philosophy, suggests how the work of such giants as Heisenberg and Wittgenstein helped inform the revolutionary insights of critics like William Empson. Shakespeare's continuing appeal in the nuclear age is partly explained, he thinks, by the new ways of seeing opened up by such developments as the uncertainty principle.

Bate is a very persuasive Shakespearean. He readily admits that Tolstoy was on to something in his criticism and that, indeed, psychological realism and motivation is often much stronger in Shakespeare's sources than in the plays he based upon them (Othello being a good example). But Bate sees strength where Tolstoy saw weakness.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By technoguy VINE VOICE on 16 May 2012
Format: Paperback
'Neither Shakespeare's life nor his career can account for his genius',says Bate in the preface of this beautiful book.The 1st part explores the origins of Shakespeare,the 2nd part tells of his effects.He deals not just with the life but a body of words and stage images modified in the guts of the living.Shakespeare's opinions are not stamped on his plays,his sexuality,religion and politics are difficult to discern,allowing his plays to be reinvented in every age and culture. Shakespeare's rural origins are highly important to his art and to the mark left on the way that we think.As the grandson of a yeoman farmer his imagination remained faithful to its roots. Bate says he invented something called `deep England',that the essence of the nation lies in its green heart. A rich catalogue of wild flowers find their way into the plays(eg King Lear).Oxbridge-educated contemporaries sneered at him as a "peasant",him like Ben Jonson never having gone to university.

Shakespeare's grammatical and rhetorical power came from an education entirely in Latin,but despite this his language is vigorous and new,even when his ideas are 2nd hand.Bate does not try to explain the inexplicable,why a young married man with a family to support should have gone to London to earn his living as a playwright.He was the first to turn writing plays into a rewarding profession.He was singular,too,in being the only dramatist of his generation never to be imprisoned or officially censured in connection with his writings.He was prudent in the subjects he chose to write about,being of the long dead than the currently topical.Bate shows his attitude to those in power by giving a new interpretation of the sonnets.
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