Most Helpful First | Newest First
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars FEIGNING ART,
Arthur Phillips' "The Tragedy of Arthur" is a clever, genre-bending novel that is quite readable without being wholly successful.
"Arthur Phillips," the narrator and a fictional version of the author with whom he shares certain characteristics including the same birthday as Shakespeare, comes into possession of a 1597 quarto of a lost Shakespeare play. He enters into a contract with a parallel universe Random House to publish it and to write an introduction. The only problem is that Arthur receives the play from his elderly father who is about to be released from his most recent prison sentence for serial forgery. Numerous clues - textual and circumstantial- suggest that the "Tragedy of King Arthur" was actually penned or at least printed by Arthur Phillips Sr, never mind that Random House's bevy of experts (some of whom are identifiable as real life Shakespeare scholars) pronounce that there is no reason not to award the try.
The novel consists of two forgeries. The first is a 110 page, five act faux Shakespeare play, sourced from Holinshed, written in iambic pentameters with signature caesuras and other nods to the bard, and a vocabulary and syntax that seem utterly compatible with early Shakespeare (1592, perhaps rather than 1597). This is a remarkable achievement but one wonders why Phillips bothered. It is damn good forgery but it is not lively enough to be staged in the way that the re-imagined "Cardenio" was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company earlier this year. And it is hard to believe that any - any - reader will do anything more than skim through this section of the book.
The second forgery is the memoir of "Arthur Phillips" that comprises the other 250 pages of the novel. This covers both the backstory to the discovery of the quarto and the history of Philips' relationship with his father and his gay, twin sister Dana within a Jewish, Minnesota family. As Dana observes, Arthur suffers from a "double Oedipus complex," his second father being the dramatist. Whereas, the forgery of the play is deadpan in its earnestness, the memoir smacks heavily of parody. It has clever echoes and references to Shakespeare (twins, Dark Ladies, sexual confusion within a love triangle) and to Shakespeare scholarship (the "Shakespeare industrial complex") but it also has its longueurs and at several points I found myself on (but not quite over the brink) of abandoning the book.
The "Tragedy of Arthur" is thought provoking in its questioning of brand in art and the role of art in the invention of character and it is quite entertaining in places. In a sense it is wonderful, but at times I felt myself thinking of Johnson's maxim that it is a wonder that "it is done at all."
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Hilarious Comedy of Errors Courtesy of Arthur Phillips,
In his funniest novel to date, Arthur Phillips ("Prague", "The Egyptologist", "Angelica", "The Song Is You"), pokes fun at the genre of memoir and of Shakespearean scholarship in his irresistible "The Tragedy of Arthur", which allegedly one William Shakespeare wrote as a play that was left out of the 1597 Folio edition of his plays; those recognizable to anyone familiar with Shakespeare's oeuvre. Pulling no punches, Phillips casts himself as the befuddled famous literary son of his father, the artful dodger and the likely forger of this "Shakespeare" play. Having inherited the play's manuscript from his deceased father, Phillips finds himself the unlikely protagonist of this tale, authorized by Random House in editing and preparing for publication this long-lost "Shakespeare" play. And once he realizes that this manuscript is most likely an excellent forgery, he finds himself legally compelled by his Random House publisher Jennifer Hershey and her colleagues (both real and fictitious, including his Random House publicist whom I have met) to fulfill his contract by producing a publishable manuscript.
Much of "The Tragedy of Arthur" is an extensive Introduction that describes the complex relationships which Phillips has had with his father, his stepfather and with his twin sister Dana; an introduction that quite literally pokes fun at the genre of memoir itself (Anyone expecting the luminous lyrical prose of Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes", may be disappointed, since Phillips's Introduction isn't as memorably written, and yet, it is still a most fascinating work of memoir from another fine American author, the real Arthur Phillips himself.). Phillips has to contend with his sister's objections to his decision to withdraw this manuscript from publication, once he realizes that the play "The Tragedy of Arthur" was apparently forged by their father.
Those willing to wade through Phillips's memoir will be richly rewarded by the play itself, with introductory notes from a Professor Roland Verre. Readers shall find most hysterical, the literary back and forth, the slingshot duel of bon mots between Phillips and Verre, with Verre denouncing Phillips's claim that this "Shakespeare" play is simply a forgery cleverly conceived and executed by his father. All of these comments are listed as footnotes, with competing explanations for certain lines provided both by Verre and Phillips.
Taken as a whole, "The Tragedy of Arthur" is a most elegant comedy of errors conceived by Arthur Phillips. It's one of the funniest novels I have read in years, and definitely this year's best. Phillips has added yet another remarkable novel to his oeuvre, and one which confirms his place as among the finest American writers of my generation.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the cleverest novels I've read lately!,
It is refreshing to find a book that clever, witty, original, and readable at the same time. For me personally, it's also good to read any readable work about Shakespeare! Here is a winner! In "The Tragedy of Arthur" by Arthur Phillips, we find it all: a very readable work by Arthur Phillips.
A young novelist (Arthur Phillips) has a load of baggage (more than Louis Vuitton or some politicians!). The ramifications of his entire family and how he is dealing with that scenario should be enough for anyone. At the heart of all this is the fact that the character Arthur "inherits" a long-lost (certainly unheard of) play by the Bard himself. What a secret! And what a treasure. His father, a flim flam man of the first water and a big fan of Shakespeare himself, reveals this "find" on his deathbed. How to "produce" this "find" is something else, owing to the literary historians/skeptics out there. What intrigue! (One can only imagine the ramifications and the reactions to such a find!) There are other aspects of this complex, yet refreshing story, "autobiographical" or not, which enhances and intrigues the story line. It's a book that, for me, needed to be read slowly, just to make sure one gets the full picture, but worth whatever effort one might put forth.
The novel concludes with the Shakespearean "play" ("The Tragedy of Arthur")--that in itself is worth the read. My hat goes off to the author Arthur Phillips--really, really clever, sir!
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping read.,
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Other reviewers have given plot summaries - I just want to add that this book is so clever and readable. All the way through, we are doubtful as to the authenticity of the new Shakespeare play. Our opinion shifts constantly, guided by the evidence as it points first one way and then the other. Finally, we are left in a position of uncertainty, able to make up our own minds - rather like the ending of many a real Shakespeare play! The actual 'play' is very cleverly done, and the research alone earns the author 5 stars. Highly recommended - I also love the way he pokes fun at the anti-Stratfordians!
4.0 out of 5 stars intelligent book,
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I am still in the middle of reading the book, so it might hold another couple of surprises. It is a clever book, even though (it's the hardback!) it is somewhat too heavy to read in bed.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips (Paperback - 16 Aug. 2012)