Think you know Shakespeare? Think again… Was a real skull used in the first performance of Hamlet? Were Shakespeare's plays Elizabethan blockbusters? How much do we really know about the playwright's life? And what of his notorious relationship with his wife?
Exploring and exploding 30 popular myths about the great playwright, this illuminating new book evaluates all the evidence to show how historical material - or its absence - can be interpreted and misinterpreted, and what this reveals about our own personal investment in the stories we tell.
Potter's scholarship and breadth of reference is informative and extensive. The book spends more time on detailed critical considerations of the works, including the poems, than on the life but brings contemporary lenses to both. Unfortunately, the narrator emphasizes all the academic qualities of the prose with an overly enunciated, staccato reading that sounds just short of robotic, except when he is reading from the works, when his phrasing, remarkably, often becomes smooth and coherent. Quotes, too, are in a range of arbitrary accents that distract. He appears to have no acquaintance with the period at all, which results in pronunciations - shire rhyming with fire, Henslowe with now, Navarre in three syllables, etc.- that can only be generously called not standard. And "roman a clef" as "Roman ah cleff" is simply hilarious. The production is poor. You will learn more about Shkspr. You will work hard to do so.
3 of 4 people found this review helpful
A fascinating biography of Shakespeare by a world-class scholar who cares about getting the facts right. It's not a dull recital of dates, though: Potter brings new insight to both life and works with her extensive knowledge of the period. Her discussions of the plays are restrained and accessible, like the best of David Bevington's writing. It's not a "personable" account: Shakespeare doesn't leap off the pages as a living human being; but there isn't much in the record that describes Shakespeare in that way. What Potter provides is a consistent, engaging and reliable account of what IS known about his life and career.
Unfortunately I didn't care much for the narrator. He has an appealing voice, but he makes a number of stylistic choices that, if not plain wrong, are at least jarring. He refers to Richard III as “Richard Three,” and other “numbered” kings get the same treatment (“Henry Four,” “Richard Two,” “Henry Five”). And several of the names of Shakespeare's friends and colleagues are consistently mispronounced.
Worse than the mispronunciations is the English accent he uses when reading passages from the plays and other contemporary documents. His attempt at an accent is unconvincing and distracting. It's doubly unfortunate because (as another review notes) those passages are his most interesting and passionate. (I would add to this his unfortunate habit of using this accent when reading passages from modern-day scholars. He does this sometimes even when said scholar is American. I met Samuel Schoenbaum once, and I can guarantee that he did not speak like a chimney-sweep.)
Those flaws detract from what would otherwise have been a clear and well-paced narration. The book itself, however, remains one of the best (and best-researched) biographies of Shakespeare to come along in a long time. If you want the real deal, Lois Potter's book is one to treasure. In my opinion it's worth overlooking the flawed narration and focusing on the excellence of the content.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful