Shakespeare: For All Time (Oxford Shakespeare (Hardcover)) Hardcover – 9 Jan 2003
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Stanley Wells has distilled nearly half a century's experience as one of the most respected critics and editors of Shakespeare to produce Shakespeare: For All Time, a definitive account of Shakespeare life, writing and afterlife. The result is a brilliant survey of the world's most famous writer, of whom Ben Jonson claimed "He was not of an age, but for all time," that stretches from his first mention in 1564 in the parish register of Stratford-upon-Avon church, to "Shakespeare's emergence as a truly global writer, aided by the increasing use of English as an international language," watched and read by millions of people throughout the world.
The strength of Wells' book is that it encompasses Shakespearean biography, criticism and history. The early chapters deal with Shakespeare's days in Stratford, his move to London and immersion in the theatrical world, and a vivid recreation of the stage and court of the day. There are short, acute accounts of nearly all the plays, as well as Wells' broader claims that Shakespeare was "a religious writer: not a proponent of any particular religion, but a writer who is aware, and makes his spectators aware, of the mystery of things, of mankind's impulse to seek, however unavailingly, for an understanding of how we came to be on earth". However, Wells also manages to survey the growth of Shakespeare's legend throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, thanks to the dedication of actors, critics and editors such as David Garrick and Samuel Johnson, through to his current ascendancy across the globe in the mass markets of publishing and the media.
There can be no better book on Shakespeare for the general reader than Wells' Shakespeare. It is learned, clear and passionately committed to Shakespeare, who as far as Wells is concerned, "is in the water supply, and is likely to remain there until the pipes run dry." --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
Here is a man who has a fair claim to be the most complete Shakespearian of them all.... Now he has distilled a lifetime's work into one crisply written, richly illustrated and entertaining book. (The Sunday Times)
Scholarly, urbane, rich in anecdotes and marvelously readable, it is a meticulously constructed and authoritative survey with a vast and satisfying scope. (New Statesman)
The doyen of modern British Shakespeare scholarship.... Few will deny that he has an indisputable right to produce yet another book on Shakespeare whenever he feels like it.... His subject calls for, and gets, abundant, handsome, and instructive illustration. The book is therefore something of a hybrid, the biography amiable, the afterlife placidly illuminating and useful. (Frank Kermode, The New York Times Book Review)
This copiously illustrated album admirably compresses more than four centuries of the bard and more than 50 years of Wells's devotion to him. (Publishers Weekly)
Written with generosity and humor, Wells's book is an illustrated compendium encompassing new readings of the Bard's Stratford-upon-Avon and London years, thoughtful observations of Shakespeare the writer and a lively history of the Shakespeare legend.... Wells navigates through Shakespeare's afterlife with wit and authority. Whether dealing with his legacy in the fields of the visual arts, music, cinema, theatre or television, the book celebrates all Shakespearean manifestations, their imperfections notwithstanding. The result is that Wells brings us as close to an understanding of the man, the writer and the legend, as is possible in a one-volume study. (American Theatre)
Wells is deservedly the most celebrated Shakespearean scholar of our time.... It is not often you meet a scholar with a sense of humor, but Wells made me laugh out loud at his section which concerns the discrepancies of the various Shakespeare printed text.... Many anecdotes make the richly illustrated text a delight. (Birmingham Post)
One of those heavy, beautifully produced books which is a pleasure to look at as it is to read.... There's no doubting the scholarship here (Time Out London)
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Top Customer Reviews
Stanley Wells, who should be a hero to any self-respecting lover of Shakespeare, has assembled in this heftily sumptuous book not only an outline of the Bard`s life and times, but a chronological rundown of all aspects of his works in performance and on the page.
One of its chief glories is the plethora of illustrations, from line drawings and maps, as well as many pictures and photographs of actors down the ages - from Kean and Kemble to Gambon and Gielgud - in scenes from the plays, to a section of paintings and photos in colour, from rococo depictions of fairyland in A Midsummer Night`s Dream to Peter Brook`s less lavish but no less flamboyant production of the same play.
I suppose it is what`s usually called a coffee-table book, but don`t let that put you off. Here are riches aplenty, from one of our leading Shakespeare scholars (now 82) who co-edited the 1986 Oxford Complete Works, a revolutionary enterprise in its day, offering many surprise `alternate` versions of some of the plays. He is not a man to be shy with his opinions, and gives the reader, whether newcomer to Shakespeare or old hand, much to ponder and to argue with.
To my great gladness, he demolishes the pseudo-arguments of those who, despite evidence enough to the contrary, persist in their perverse insistence that William Shakespeare of Stratford was not the author of the plays of Shakespeare. He needs but a page or two to do this, and does so with deft yet devastating aplomb.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The first 100 pages present a minimalist biography of the great playwright - "minimalist" in the sense that Wells sticks close to the (relatively few) facts that are known, or can be judiciously inferred, about Shakespeare's life, avoiding any temptation to pad out or speculate where the facts will not stretch. I found this approach to be refreshing and useful; it clarified for me what is actually known about Shakespeare's life, versus what has been inferred (or imagined) in other biographies.
The remainder of the book deals with the history of Shakespeare in performance, from the playright's time down to the present day, both in England and (in less detail) abroad. The history of the original texts of the plays, their theatrical revisions (or mutilations), the theatres, producers, actors, and critical and popular responses (including Hollywood) are discussed. Given the potentially unlimited scope of this topic, Wells' treatment is brief, selective, and to the point (for example, Joseph Papp's seminal New York "Shakespeare in the Park" is given one sentence in the book.)
To summarize, Wells has, a bit unusually, combined a brief but thoughtful biography of Shakespeare, with an introductory history of Shakespeare in performance. It's a fluently written and engaging overview, and as such, I think that many Shakespeare aficionados, as well as students of the history of theatre, will want to have it.
It's also packed with solid information that's easy to digest. Wells tells everything that's known about Shakespeare's life and speculates on additional possibilities. All that could have made a book by itself, but it's only about a third of this volume.
He also goes on to tell about the writing of the plays and their staging through the centuries. Something I've not seen elsewhere in one volume is a discussion of the many famous actors who've played the major Shakespearean roles.
Above all, this book goes down easily. It's perfectly easy to understand. There is no deep and esoteric Freudian, feminist, postmodern whatever discussion of individual plays or characters.
What particularly fascinated me in the book, which is beautifully illustrated, is a picture of the famous poet Sir John Suckling, by Van Dyck, painted about 20 years after Shakespeare's death. Sir John chose to be immortalized holding the First Folio volume on his knee, showing that Shakespeare's reputation was, even so early as the 1630's, well established in poetry and theater. Whereas his contemporaries dropped out of fashion pretty quickly, our Will never did.
Although this covers much the same ground as Samuel Schoenbaum's great works, I found much new to ponder and enjoy. Many thanks to Mr. Wells for sharing his vast erudition with us - and those wonderful illustrations!