Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Living with Shakespeare: Actors, Directors, & Writers on Shakespeare in Our Time, by Susannah Carson (ed.)

Living With Shakespeare:
Actors, Directors and Writers on Shakespeare in Our Time
Editor: Susannah Carson
(Preface by: Harold Bloom)
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: April 9, 2013
If there's one thing I've learned from my ongoing Shakespeare in a Year project, it's that reading about Shakespeare can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I've found it helpful to understand the context in which plays were written and to get a some perspective on what they mean. I've read essays on Shakespeare that opened the plays up to me in whole new ways (see: everything Ben Crystal writes). On the other hand, my enjoyment of certain plays has been greatly hampered by reading too many of those types of literary essays before reading the actual play. The introduction to Coriolanus in my Riverside Shakespeare had me convinced I would hate it, and I was half way through the play before I realized I was loving it. It's tricky to take those Shakespearean "authorities" as, well, too authoritative.

Which is precisely why I love this book. The authors of the essays all show their hands. They reveal their biases and specific perspectives and just tell you their opinions. There are no anonymous introductions to the "right" way to read Shakespeare here (like in my stupid Riverside Shakespeare). These are essays by people talking about how and why they see certain plays or certain passages the way they do. You may agree or disagree with them, but at least you know where they're coming from. 

And yes, there's even an essay about Coriolanus. Ralph Fiennes did the movie version and he too was worried that everyone would hate it, even though he found the play, in his words, "addicting." I hear ya, Ralph. It IS addicting, and don't let those anti-Coriolanus "experts" tell you otherwise.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't listen to what Shakespearean scholars have to say. And there are plenty of Shakespearean scholars in this book. What I'm saying is that a literary scholar's opinion about Macbeth, for example, may be very different from an actor's, or a director's, or a prisoner's (see: Shakespeare Saved My Life). And that's what I loved about this book. It offered different perspectives without any one voice being "the one and only true way to feel about Shakespeare." 

As someone who is just now getting around to reading all of Shakespeare's plays for myself, it was a breath of fresh air to realize that it's okay that so many of them disagreed about things. When I was a student, I'm sure I would have been looking for the "right way" to read Hamlet or A Midsummer Night's Dream but now I appreciate the discussions more than the answers. I'm not sure if we would have preserved these plays for 400 years if there wasn't so MUCH to discuss.

Also, I'm considering reviewing each essay individually for my Shakespeare blog. Maybe not ALL of them, but there are so many great ones in here that I could devote at least a dozen individual posts to them. Maybe next year I'll have to do a blog called "My Reading About Shakespeare Year"!

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Shakespeare Saved My Life
Shakespeare on Toast
Check out my interview with iBardBooks!

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