WHAT SHAKESPEARE READ--AND THOUGHT by A. L. Rowse

WHAT SHAKESPEARE READ--AND THOUGHT

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Professor Rowse free-associates on his favorite topic. This profuse, congenial, and alarmingly broad outpouring of literary lore tells us ten-thousand-and-one curious/interesting/useful things about Shakespeare but in a fashion likely to overwhelm laymen and disgruntle scholars. The former will admire Rowse's encyclopedic learning and his ability to illustrate every conceivable aspect of Elizabethan-Jacobean life with an apt quotation; but they will also gripe at Rowse for not deigning to list the title, act, scene, or line of the plays he cites--not everyone has Henry VI, part 2 at his fingertips. The casual reader of Shakespeare may likewise be only faintly excited to learn than when Falstaff, about to do a bombastic take-off of the king for Prince Hal's benefit, declares, ""I will do it in King Cambyses' vein,"" he's referring to an early tragedy by Thomas Preston. Professor Rowse, however, gleefully rubs his hands over this tidbit, exclaiming, ""How much more there is in Shakespeare than meets the eye--especially when one is familiar with. . . his proper background!"" Scholarly readers, on the other hand, while respecting Rowse's erudition, will doubtless feel a wave of dÉjà vu coming over them when they hear remarks like, ""He [Shakespeare] does his thinking notably through images, as a poet would."" Rowse warms the dense mass of his learned allusions and speculations with a sort of pious fervor, which is fine but no substitute for a carefully articulated thesis. Agreeable and informative, then--to a point.

Pub Date: May 14th, 1981
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan