REINVENTING SHAKESPEARE: A Cultural History 1642-1986 by Gary Taylor

REINVENTING SHAKESPEARE: A Cultural History 1642-1986

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A provocative and entertaining survey of how history and the marketplace influence our understanding of our most famous literary monument. Every: age, Taylor argues, reinvents its own concept of Shakespeare, forming its opinion by an unholy alliance of cultural expediency and the newest fashions in literary criticism. It's not Shakespeare who gets Hamlet on the boards, it's politics and poker. Taylor (English/Catholic Univ. of America) defends his jaundiced view by illustrating how the Bard's image has shifted considerably in 400 years of literary and social criticism. Far from being a household word in his own time, Shakespeare's apotheosis truly began with the Restoration, and Charles II's political use of Pericles. Later, Pope and Dryden transformed him into a readerly text suitable for a lady's boudoir. Keats, along with Coleridge, rescued him by falling in love with Hamlet, and making it into a testimonial for the romantic sensibility. The Victorians worried about Shakespeare's private life, and took their revenge by bowdlerizing Romeo and Juliet and churning out Lamb's tales for children. Our own age has contributed to the muddle by transforming Shakespearean criticism into a major growth industry for academics all over the world. Today, ""Shakesperotics,"" as Taylor coins it, has so many bewildering mazes that Shakespeare himself has disappeared: he ""no longer transmits visible light; his stellar energies have been trapped within the gravity well of his own reputation."" Now, then, it is impossible to judge Shakespeare's true importance. Taylor contends that by overestimating the Bard's uniqueness, the critics ""insult the truth."" ""When did people decide that Shakespeare was the greatest English dramatist? The greatest English poet?"" Taylor's illuminating survey doesn't quite provide the answers, but it raises some powerful questions. In 1985, Taylor discovered what he thought to be an unpublished Shakespearean sonnet, ""Shall I Die?"" The furor over its authenticity by fundamentalist scholars was of such heat that Taylor earned a backlash of sympathy. It was not needed. His excellent book could as easily be subtitled: Or the Young Turk's Revenge.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson