Book Review: Making Make-Believe Real

Making Make-Believe Real:  Politics As Theater In Shakespeare’s Time, by Gary Wills

Mostly being familiar with Gary Wills’ flagrant misunderstanding of the American experience and its key texts in order to support an illegitimate progressive worldview [1], it was interesting to see him try the same techniques when it came to the drama of the Elizabethan world [2].  As someone familiar with and hostile to the author’s approach, I wanted to see if the same political agenda would come off the same way when the author was looking at a history of importance in political history that was less personally important.  And while this book was less irritating than most of the author’s work, there were at least a few basic flaws that the author shared.  For one, the author was particularly hostile to “new historians” who were critical of the legitimacy of authorities in the Elizabethan world just as they are in the contemporary world.  Despite my own disagreement with much revisionist history, this shared skepticism towards the legitimacy of authorities is definitely something we share.  Less praiseworthy still is the author’s scorn for C.S. Lewis, who was a master of the same Elizabethan literature that Wills uses in such a shady fashion here.

In terms of its contents, this book is a large one at close to 350 pages before the endnotes, but definitely one whose bias and selection is pretty obvious to those who are familiar with the author’s approach.  The book is divided into six parts, and it is pretty obvious from even the titles of the parts that the author and I are simply going to disagree on a lot:  Make-Believe (Courtly) Love, Make-Believe (Divine) Monarchy, Make-Believe (Cosmic) Religion, Make-Believe (Faerie) Nation, Make-Believe (Chivalric) War, and Make Believe (Courtier) Warriors.  The author looks not only at familiar authors like Shakespeare and Sidney but also figures like Essex, Raleigh, Prince Henry, and even the Puritans the author views with a great degree of scorn for their hostility to theater as well as their anti-authoritarian stance.  The author combines two unpleasant positions in tension, a lack of faith in biblical religion and a lack of acceptance for limitations on the power of central governments and authorities.  Even when reading about a period hundreds of years ago and in another country I could not help but to be disgusted by the author’s worldview and offended by his belief in the expansive powers of tyrannical rulers and states.

Unfortunately, this book demonstrates that the author likely will bring his worldview and bias to just about any book he writes, and makes it very unlikely that I will look forward to reading any book of his even out of intellectual curiosity.  The author’s worldview is such that it taints nearly every comment he makes, as he simply cannot avoid showing his bias even in his comments about fellow historians and researchers.  By passing himself off as an authority and using a book on Elizabethan drama as a way of smuggling his worldview in a less obvious and less obviously objectionable fashion than his writings on the Declaration of Independence or the Emancipation Proclamation.  Unfortunately, neither a progressive nor a leopard can change their spots, and books by progressives seeking to justify their worldview are just as unappealing regardless of what subject they are writing about.  At least this book did one thing for me that it will likely do for many readers, whether or not they like the author’s approach to literature, religion, politics, history, or historiography, and that is that it encouraged me to read more of the originals and less of the author’s slanted interpretations.  That is likely for the best.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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3 Responses to Book Review: Making Make-Believe Real

  1. Pingback: Shut Up, You Talk Too Much | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Puritan Family Life | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Six Encounters With Lincoln | Edge Induced Cohesion

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