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'When I the word 'run' sayeth, thou must run'!
on 11 August 2014
A novelty tie-in book needs to achieve a number of things to be any good: quite apart from being funny, witty and unusual, it needs to tread the fine line between not being too silly, thus risking losing sight of the appeal of the source brand, or too serious, losing the ovelty factor. The Shakespeare Notebooks manages to tread this line, just. There are segments that sail perilously close to one or the other, sometimes in the same piece!
The principal aim of this book is to try and present various brief snippets of the Doctor's life through the prism of the World's Greatest Playwright. If you are looking for details of the pair's many meetings or a coherent story/stories, then you are looking in the wrong place. What we get are a series of short segments of 'Shakespeare's' writings, all of which show the playwright had a greater knowledge of both the Doctor and his world than hitherto imagined.
The segments included are varied and alledgedly come from a variety of sources, some more coherent than others. The sonnets are witty and well written, the rough drafts and treatments entertaining and the diary segments, just plain odd. However, it is in the play fragments that we can find some of the best, and most frustrating, material. It feels a little like these go one conceit too far: are the writers trying to purport that the Doctor invegled himself into Shakespeare's plays and thus needed to be written out in rewrites, or was he present at the actual historical events Shakespeare was dramatising and he was merely being historically accurate?
However, this minor confusion aside, the writing here is absolutely fabulous, a love letter to the works of Shakespeare by those more used to writing of Dalek battles than star-crossed lovers. Some characters seem more willing to enter into the style than others, with ccasionally odd turns of phrases giving familiar lines a new slant. It is quite clear that all involved had a strong knowledge and understanding of both of the worlds they were combining.
And knowledge and understanding are both things the reader would benefit from. Knowledge of both classic and new Who is absolutely essential to get the most from all the segments, a lack of knowledge in one or the other will seriously reduce the quantity of material you will follow. Also, if you have no knowledge or understanding of Shakespeare (shame on you!), you will struggle. That said, a DEEP knowledge is not actually required; if you know Shakespeare's writing style and the basic plots of some of his plays, you'll get through fine (but if you understand the plot of Twelfth Night, could you explain it to the Fifth Doctor?).
This is not a book to read end to end, it has been designed to be dipped into, a few sonnets read here, the 'original drafts' of a famous play perused there; reading too much at once feels a little disjointed and gets confusing. To go into specifics of any of the contents would be to spoil the wealth of gems contained within. I'll simply say that I am quite convinced that there are already some drama groups working out how to put on the 'new' versions of Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet or any of a number of the works included.
Thoroughly recommended for a light Autumn evening. See if you can get some friends together to act out scenes for unsuspecting family members, it'll make for a memorable evening!