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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars life in Shakespeare's time - vividly described and illustrated
This is a superb book. Neil McGregor, the Director of the British Museum, looks in turn at 19 objects with relevance to Shakespeare's time, before finishing off with the relevance of Shakespeare to Nelson Mandela and his fellow captives on Robben Island. Elizabethan England with its discoveries, superstitions, plagues, fears and aspirations is described in fascinating...
Published on 14 Oct. 2012 by markr

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Found it hard to get into but it was interesting!
I love Shakespeare and have studied him at University and that is the reason I brought this book. Neil MacGregor is a really well-known and competent author and historian but for some reason I just couldn't get into this book.
It wasn't bad, don't get me wrong! The writing is fantastic and informative, the pictures clear and the chosen objects interesting in the...
Published 11 months ago by Lucy Hargrave


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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars life in Shakespeare's time - vividly described and illustrated, 14 Oct. 2012
By 
markr - See all my reviews
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This is a superb book. Neil McGregor, the Director of the British Museum, looks in turn at 19 objects with relevance to Shakespeare's time, before finishing off with the relevance of Shakespeare to Nelson Mandela and his fellow captives on Robben Island. Elizabethan England with its discoveries, superstitions, plagues, fears and aspirations is described in fascinating prose, complemented with relevant quotations from Shakespeare and with beautiful illustrations, throughout the book. The original ideas for the Union flag are fascinating, and the illustration of these is used to describe the hopes and fears of both Scotland and England at the time of accession of James the VI and I to the British throne

Through the example of a fork used at the theatre, an apprentice's cap, a beautiful Venetian goblet and many more objects, the author has brought the late 16th and early 17th century almost to life in these pages. This is a genuinely wonderful book; simultaneously informative, erudite, and easily read, this will form part of my permanent book collection to be revisited again and again.

Highly recommended for those interested in history, the stage, or simply in what it has been to be human throughout the ages.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely brilliant!, 24 Oct. 2012
By 
SAP "Steba" - See all my reviews
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I think my title says it all. But I will say more because to stop here would be unorthodox. I loved A History of the World in 100 Objects and this is even better! Someone give this man a knighthood! He is a literary Olympian. Everything about this book is excellent. The content - what you're paying for - is written in a very accessible but academic way. Elizabethans' everyday lives are dissected and their innards laid bare. I loved the chapter about hats - so random and arbitrary but surprisingly revealing - what other history books deem too trivial to bother with. Then there're the pictures on just about every page. Lovely to look at while you reflect on what you've just read. Lovely, sumptuous cover with the title picked out in silver on a cardinal red background. This isn't a book, it's an experience - a guided tour.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvellous book, 25 Oct. 2012
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Sensible Cat (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This is the best book about Shakespeare I've read since James Shapiro's "1599" - and I've read many. It takes as its theme not Shakespeare himself but the restless, thrilling and dangerous times he lived in, all of their conflicts and opportunities reflected in his plays.

Repeating the winning format of "A History of the World in 100 objects", Neil MacGregor has selected twenty iconic objects from the early modern period, encompassing the entire range of society from dynastic depictions of the Tudor succession to the woolen cap worn by a London apprentice, and made each the basis of an illustrated essay explaining its historical context and applying it to scenes in Shakespeare's work. If this sounds dull, rest assured that it isn't - quite the reverse. A medallion comemmorating Drake's global navigation reminds us that this human achievement altered people's perception of their place in the universe as radically as the 1968 Earthrise photograph taken from Apollo 8. A pedlar's trunk turns out to be a disguised portable kit for the underground celebration of the Catholic Mass, as well as a window opened into the itinerant chancers who inhabit the fringe of society. A more gruesome emblem of religious intolerence is the eye of a Catholic martyr encased in siver, reminding us of the unsettling appetite for violence as theatre that fed the audiences who first witnessed the blinding of Gloucester on stage. And once you've read MacGregor's desciption of a soft-porn illustration on a Venetian drinking glass, you'll have a fresh insight into the prejudices against Venetian women that sealed poor Desdemona's fate.

Many books that recreate a successful radio series don't translate all that well to the literary format (Melvyn Bragg is an offender in this respect, whose books read like broadcasts hastily revised by staffers, very much an inferior product to the original excellent programmes). Neil MacGregor is a welcome exception; erudite but supremely accessible, each of these short essays could be savoured alone as bedtime reading, but they are so compelling that you may well feel the desire to stay up late reading just one more. If you are daunted by the prospect of Shakespeare - too alien, too intellectual - give this a try and you'll be converted. If you are already knowledgable about the Bard and his times, read this and you'll discover much that you were unaware of. I commend it to you unreservedly. It's a marvellous book - and the final chapter looks at the way Shakespeare continues to resonate with readers today, taking as its text the remarkable Complete Works that sustained the anti-apartheid campaigners in Robben Island.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent alternative introduction to Shakespeare's world, 26 April 2013
By 
Martin Turner "Martin Turner" (Marlcliff, Warwickshire, England) - See all my reviews
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For those who have already read EMW Tillyard's The Elizabethan World Picture, or who fancy something a bit more accessible, Shakespeare's Restless World is a wonderfully lucid artefact-based discussion of late Elizabethan/early Jacobean London life by the same author of, and on the same lines as, A History of the World in 100 Objects.

Most people who love Shakespeare know him either through reading the plays, or watching them, or performing them, or all three. Some will have traipsed round the various Shakespeare sites at Stratford upon Avon, but it was in London, not Stratford, that Shakespeare did most of his work. Working from casually discarded or lost objects, such a rapier found by the Thames, and from others that stayed in use for long afterwards, Neil MacGregor peels back the layers of meaning behind such things. What may be seen in a museum as a curio turns out to have immense practical and symbolic meaning, as well as shedding light on how Elizabethan power was projected to the Western hemisphere by means of the new sciences of cartography and navigation.

Any chapter of this book will reward an A-level student trying to dig deeper into Shakespeare, and many undergraduates will discover insights that even Tillyard could not give. For those of us long past our literature degrees, this book is a voyage of delight.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Found it hard to get into but it was interesting!, 11 Feb. 2014
By 
Lucy Hargrave (Wellingborough, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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I love Shakespeare and have studied him at University and that is the reason I brought this book. Neil MacGregor is a really well-known and competent author and historian but for some reason I just couldn't get into this book.
It wasn't bad, don't get me wrong! The writing is fantastic and informative, the pictures clear and the chosen objects interesting in the context of Shakespeare's life. I know from other reviews that this is a hugely successful and well loved book and i'm not trying to offend anyone with this review, just personally I found it really hard to engage with and it took me ages to complete the book. I tended to just read a bit at time I would just occasionally dip into a chapter when I had time or a particular interest. Thankfully due to how the book was set out this was totally possible.
I do think though anyone who loves history and has a particular interest in the late fifteenth/ early sixteenth would love this book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ingenious concept..., 23 Oct. 2012
By 
S. Riches - See all my reviews
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Some reviews on here refer to the audio cd's, some to the book. This review is of Neil MacGregor's book "Shakespeare's Restless World" (just to clear up any possible confusion!)

The concept, on the face of it, seems ridiculous. The author uses physical objects (items of clothing, gold coins, a fork, a dagger, a clock etc.) as a springboard to understanding Shakespeare's writing, his life, and the times in which he and his audiences lived. At best I expected some tenuous connecting script while the objects were simply used to "hook-in" the less literary of us. No such problem as it turns out, it's all seamless.

Shakespeare was not some grubby backstreet playwright who got lucky while better writers perished - OK he was from a well-to-do family but was not aloof, he knew how to excite people by words and he knew his audiences well. His plays were a huge financial business, and he was an accomnplished wordsmith probably without equal: this book helps to see him for the genius he was.

Reference to various objects helps to focus the mind, they amplify rather than interrupt the text - for instance there's the reference to the pottery money-boxes into which theatre-goers' cash was collected as they came in to the play, and then later were all broken open to be counted backstage with the cash then accumulated into the money chest in a back room (thus the possible origin of "box office") - and almost certainly the reason for so much broken pottery dug up on theatre excavation sites.
A humble cloth cap becomes the peg upon which the author hangs a fascinating explanation of levels of social interaction (we'd call it the class system) of who is more important than whom, and who can say what to whom, and the subtleties of language.

The Elizabethan era and its progression to a new monarch was a time of massive change, vibrant events, discovery through intrepid travellers, political intrigue, frightening beliefs such as witchcraft, and terrifying power struggles between Protestant and Catholic. This book is a scholarly work but an exciting one, not musty at all - it's full of life. If you don't fancy a long read, take it chapter by chapter...it stands up well to piecemeal reading and it holds interest throughout.

In fact my review sounds a bit dry and boring, whereas MacGregor's book brings alive the riots, the diets, the curiosities, the uneasy intereaction between the lower classes and the ruling classes, (eg. a master would send his wife to the theatre accompanied by one of his apprentices for safety, but that could lead to innuendo), it tells you the reason why the exotic settings of many of Shakespeare's plays appealed so much to his London-bound audiences, and should you have had to endure dry readings of Shakespeare's plays at school, forget it - this book brings it all to life. Steve Riches, Northampton, UK.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating., 10 May 2013
By 
artemisrhi "artemisrhi" (Forest of Dean) - See all my reviews
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A collaboration between the British Museum and BBC Radio 4. There are 20 programmes that take objects that are held at the British Museum that link into Shakespeare's world and link them in with quotes and exploration of some of the plays to explore lifetimes of Shakespeare.

For example I particularly enjoyed Programme 5 which has a rapier and dagger found in the Thames both made around 1600 and they explore urban violence which was a problem in Shakespeare's London. The programme scenes of street fighting in Romeo and Juliet and looks and the language the contempory background. Fascinating.

Most of the programmes were good, there were a couple that were lost on me but all in all a really interesting way of looking at things from a different view point
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is This a Fork I See Before Me?, 8 May 2013
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We all had to learn a Shakespeare play or two at school and for many it would have put them of the Bard for a lifetime. His alien language and references to things that no longer seem relevant just does not cut it with the average 13 year old. Thankfully, I learned `Macbeth' and `Romeo and Juliet' at school - two pretty awesome plays. Perhaps my peers would have enjoyed the plays as much as I, had they known some of the context in which Shakespeare lived. This is exactly what Dr Neil MacGregor provides in `Shakespeare's Restless World: An Unexpected History in Twenty Objects', a book that uses surviving objects of the era to explain the turbulent times in which Shakespeare lived and how this would have impacted on his writing and his audience.

What `Restless World' basically does it paint a rich social history of late Elizabethan/early James 1st Britain. It is hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone from 1590-1620, but MacGregor does a great job in transporting you back there. The book is full of lush full colour pictures and is broken down into chapters that explore different aspects of life e.g. food, death. You learn how the latest fashions or political upheavals impacted on some of Shakespeare's most famous works.

As part of a Radio 4 show `Restless World' is just able balance being accessible with being academic. Personally, I found that the number of pictures filled up too much space and there could have been more written information. For the non-academic, `Restless World' is an accessible introduction into history during the time of Shakespeare; I would have liked a tiny more meat on its bones though.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected and unsurpassed., 24 April 2013
By 
Flickering Ember "I need a break and I wanna ... (Once Upon A Long Ago.) - See all my reviews
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Having read A History of the World in 100 Objects I was struck by MacGregor's unique approach. Most historians, however fascinating and however insightful they are, tend to focus on the overall picture, whereas MacGregor delves much further.

It would be easy to overlook, for example, an old fork when excavating a centuries old theatre. Most historians probably would. However, MacGregor takes a seemingly eclectic assortment of items out of their original context and studies them in-depth before placing them back into their original context in order that they may be better understood.

So, the item would be investigated and explained, with the help of various photographs, paintings and diagrams from the era, and its origins described in detail, and then it would be put back in terms of where it was found and how it fit in and the part it played in the lives of people at the time.

Truly fascinating and thought provoking in an engaging and beautifully presented book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read - and be amazed!, 18 April 2013
By 
Stromata (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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In my humble opinion, if a book has Neil Macgregor's name is on the cover I know it is going to be worth reading and 'Shakespeare's Restless World' is no exception. A beautifully product, it is brimming with double, whole or half-page illustrations.

The focus of the book is the opening-up of the world during the late Tudor period and how these voyages and consequential discoveries touched the psyche of the Bard and his contemporaries.

MacGregor takes objects such as a brass-handled iron fork, unearthed during excavations at the Rose Theatre on London's South Bank, to explore what sort of experience the Elizabethan playgoer would have, including what he/she would get to eat with the fork.

Other objects include Sir Francis Drake's Circumnavigation Medal; an apprentice's cap; a Venetian goblet; a Plague Proclamation; a peddler's trunk; a striking musical clock; an eye relic etc etc. Rather a random collection of small and perhaps insignificant things, one may think, but each left a mighty mark.

Each object has its own chapter, usually only a few pages so this will not take long to read. However - read one chapter and you will spend the rest of the evening thinking and dreaming.

Excellent.
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Shakespeare's Restless World: An Unexpected History in Twenty Objects
Shakespeare's Restless World: An Unexpected History in Twenty Objects by Dr Neil MacGregor (Paperback - 27 Mar. 2014)
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