The Genius of Shakespeare (Picador Classic) Paperback – 7 Apr 2016
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‘The best book about Shakespeare for a generation’ Philip Howard, The Times
‘As brilliant an account of the Bard’s iconic universality as you could hope to find’ Michael Billington, Guardian
‘Absolutely dazzling – illuminates the whole man and the influence he has in our lives’ Simon Callow, Sunday Express
‘Occupies the territory of biography, literary criticism, theatrical and social history, and a journey across its landscape is one of constant delight and illumination’ Sir Richard Eyre, Financial Times, Books of the Year
‘The theme of this wonderfully written, diverse book is diversity itself, and the range of the essays serves only to confirm the disparate nature of Shakespeare’s achievement’ Peter Ackroyd, The Times
‘The liveliest and most intelligent general book on Shakespeare I have read for a long time’ John Gross, Sunday Telegraph, Books of the Year
Ambitious, exceptionally well informed and immensely engaging . . . Bate writes with unflagging energy, intelligence, with and enthusiasm (Daily Telegraph)
'Ambitious, exceptionally well informed and immensely engaging . . . Bate writes with unflagging energy, intelligence, with and enthusiasm' Daily TelegraphSee all Product description
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I have a shelf full of well-thumbed books proposing a wide range of writers in Shakespeare's place, another still to be delivered and one as yet unread in the "unread" section of the 822.33 section. Reading them, I always feel like the sheep in Orwell's "Animal Farm", believing the writer I am reading at the time, so convincing are they all and yet, I remain unconvinced, a determined Stratfordian.
Jonathan Bate has not written a biography in the usual sense of that word, indeed it is refreshing to find someone who admits quite simply of the pausity of material to begin another endeavour of that kind but also that it is not necessarily a reason to suspect Shakespeare was a front for a playwright in Italy supposedly killed in 1595 or a lord with creative aspirations who did not want his real views known.
He also looks at the idea of "genius", the way the word has developed and been used in the Shakespeare context to describe this native talent when no other seemed to fit. (Having worked with gifted and talented students, I know just how different they can be, e.g. one who had seven As at "A" Level and three interviews to read as an undergraduate at Oxford in three vastly different disciplines - History, Economics and Chemistry - who lived in a post-war prefab and owned no books himself; no need - he just read them and remembered them.)
I enjoyed Bate's book, a refreshing, well-written and convincing look at Shakespeare with some unusual conclusions. It has no newly discovered material or evidence but he does look afresh with dispassionate eyes at this rarest of phenomenons. If English had not ecome the dominant language, would another playwright have become the genius? Is literature the only discipline to produce real genius? He argues the scientific and mathematical discoveries would have been discovered anyway by someone because they are essential but plays are different.
Readers will not agree with everything but he does present a new perspective and think out of the box, rather then trying to make tenuous links with the slimmest of historical evidence. He looks at the anecdotes about Shakespeare when he was alive before looking at the sonnets and the mystery of the dark lady, suggesting a few possibilities. Like the fairground stall, he sets up the suggested "Shakespeares" only to demolish them all one-by-one in a flurry of well-aimed missiles. Accepting the existence and authenticity of Shakespeare, he tries to explain why he became what he is, why his plays are so different and how this "natural genius" could have existed.
It is a recommended tonic.