An accessible chronicle of Shakespeare’s rise to his present glory.
Samuel Johnson scholar Lynch (English/Rutgers) quickly makes clear what this study involves: “the long process that turned a very competent playwright into a demigod.” Picking up where many a Shakespearean leaves off, he dismisses the authorship question entirely. “Fantasies about faked deaths and undercover noblemen certainly make for an exciting story,” he writes, “but there’s nothing to them.” Lynch focuses instead on charting Shakespeare’s transformation from a popular playwright in his day to a writer many now consider the keystone of the Western literary canon. This metamorphosis, he contends, has taken hundreds of years and the collected efforts of numerous individuals from a variety of arenas, some more predictable than others. It was only after the Restoration in 1660, for instance, that Shakespeare’s work gained onstage life it hadn’t known since the Puritans closed the public theatres in 1642. Charles II sanctioned two new theatres, which brought drama back to the fore of London life and enabled late-17th- to early-18th-century actors such as Thomas Betterton, James Quin, David Garrick and Sarah Siddons to gain great fame by playing Shakespeare’s leading roles. Lynch provocatively argues that the great rise in literacy occurring around the time of the Restoration also contributed to the birth of critical interest in the plays as texts; fierce disputes arose over their interpretation, the manna of Shakespeare criticism to this day. He engagingly details the strengths, shortcomings and literary relevance of major editions alongside those now merely of historical interest because they attempted to sanitize the bawdy bard to reflect the more decorous tastes of late-18th-century or Victorian sensibilities.
Pitched just right for students of literature, Shakespeareans and those interested in the history of drama: a witty and appealing story of how a superstar was born.