Book Review: Shakespeare: A Complete Introduction

Shakespeare:  A Complete Introduction, by Michael Scott

This book has a lot of information about Shakespeare in it, but that which would be useful or enjoyable to most readers only takes up part of the book.  This is a book which is really meant for leftist hipsters who want to sound as if they are knowledgeable about textual criticism by knowing all the code language to use to refer to various Shakespeare plays and sound intelligent to their kind and only marginally if at all for those who want to know Shakespeare on his own terms and appreciate his dramas for art’s sake.  As a result, this book is somewhat of a tedious chore to read unless you really like hearing about what pointless leftist drama critics and post-colonial thinkers ponder about Shakespeare’s plays and their meaning in an overly politicized world.  As someone who has very limited interest in what leftist thinkers have to say, a lot of this book was simply pointless and useless and not very enjoyable at all.  Given the amount of time in this book that was spent on the author’s politically motivated interpretations, one might even know less about Shakespeare after reading this book than one did before, which would be disastrous.

This book is about 400 pages log and is divided into 28 chapters.  Th book begins with a look at Shakespeare as an entertainer and businessman (1) and then looks at the Comedy of Errors as a way of framing Shakespare’s approach to comedy (2).  After this there is a discussion of neoclassical and romantic approaches to Shakespeare’s work (3) as well as discussion of the relationship between A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet as that of a dream to a nightmare (4).  There is a look at Shakespeare’s poetic and theatrical language (5), Love’s Labour Lost and the Two Gentlemen of Verona (6), As You Like It (7), Twelfth Night (8), as well as a discussion of theatrical influences on Shakespeare (9).  The author returns to discussing Much Ado About Nothing and the Taming Of The Shrew (10), The Merchant of Venice (11), and then there are more discussions of critical perspectives about English history and the writing of the history plays (12), before three chapters discuss those plays (13, 14, 15) and the author returns to discussing modern critical challenges to plays like Titus Andronicus (16), Hamlet (17), Othello (18), King Lear (19), Macbeth (20), and general matters of interpretation (21).  There are two chapters about Greeks (22) and Romans (23) before a discussion of various -isms (24), problem plays (25, 26), The Tempest and collaborative plays (27), and The Winter’s Tale (28) after which there is a conclusion, several appendices, and an index.

What is it that has kept Shakespeare relevant for so long?  This book offers at least some hint at the answer.  Shakespeare was a man who kept his own thoughts and opinions about political matters rather close to the vest, something that the author would do well to imitate, and was highly observant about the times in which he lived.  It was his clearsightedness about his own times that allowed him to speak to timeless truths that later generations have found over and over again in his works, no matter the specific issues that have been relevant.  Some plays have depended more on popular tastes, and some aspects of Shakespeare’s plays has been troubling differently to different times, but his writings have been subtle enough to draw out what people have thought and believed for themselves.  This is, it should be noted, one of the qualities of good and worthwhile writing, in that they are capable of many layers of meaning and even opposite interpretations that reveal more about the thinker and interpreter than they do about the text itself.  It is a shame that the author cannot understand this and apply this to the limitations of his own and others’ interpretations on the text in the present-day, where a great deal is written that says a lot about the interpreter but very little about the true nature of the texts that they struggle with in vain.

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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