Esquire columnist and novelist Marche (Shining at the Bottom of the Sea, 2007, etc.) argues that Shakespeare is the most influential human being—in nearly every arena—who ever lived.
In what often reads like a pep talk delivered by an enthusiastic teacher, the author, who completed a doctorate on Shakespeare at the University of Toronto, focuses on key ways that the Bard has altered our lives and our world. Pegging his observations, for the most part, to specific plays, Marche shows how Paul Robeson’s wildly popular Othello on Broadway in the early 1940s perhaps jump-started the civil-rights movement. He reminds us that Shakespeare contributed countless words to the English language and supplied quotations for people of all political persuasions—none more so, he notes, than Sen. Robert Byrd, who frequently seasoned his otherwise soporific speeches with Shakespearean salt. (The author also notes the popularity of Shakespeare in Nazi Germany and in Stalinist Russia.) Marche explores the gleeful, unashamed sexiness of Shakespeare and the importance of Romeo and Juliet to our modern conception of adolescence. “People just love,” he writes, “to watch a couple of dumb kids make out and die.” The author connects the murder of Caesar—via the Booths—to the assassination of Lincoln, links the current popularity of skull imagery to Hamlet and writes wryly about Tolstoy, the most notable writer to hate Shakespeare. He also retells the story about a Bardolater bringing the first starlings to Central Park because Shakespeare once mentioned the bird. Marche writes energetically about the various images of the Bard—though, oddly, doesn’t discuss a current favorite, the Cobbe portrait. He also attacks the anti-Stratfordians, whom he labels “crazies.” Only occasionally does the author commit an error—e.g., he quotes lines from Hamlet that he says the Prince addressed to his mother; nope, they were for Ophelia.
Informed, ebullient and profoundly respectful.