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Essays by Writers, Actors, and Directors

edited by Susannah Carson

Pub Date: April 9th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-74291-9
Publisher: Vintage

An eclectic collection of pieces from an eclectic collection of writers about reading, directing, performing and adoring the Bard of Avon.

The included writers agree on a few things, including the dreadful experiences they had with Shakespeare in secondary school—although Margaret Drabble felt quite the opposite; an amusing alliterative example from comic-book artist Conor McCreery: “I was taught that Shakespeare should scare the shit out of me.” Another bright thread in the weave of all the essays: an enduring affection for Shakespeare. Poet J.D. McClatchy calls him “the language’s premier poet.” Some contributors focus on individual plays. James Earl Jones has a long piece about his journeys with Othello; F. Murray Abraham writes about the complexities of Shylock; Eve Best compares Beatrice and Benedick with tennis legends Borg and McEnroe; Jane Smiley remembers how King Lear inspired A Thousand Acres; Joyce Carol Oates waxes academic about Antony and Cleopatra; Julie Taymor explains why she decided to cast Helen Mirren as “Prospera” in her film of The Tempest. Virtually all of the writers are generous to others in the Shakespeare world, although Jess Winfield has some unhappy words for Kenneth Branagh’s film of Hamlet. A couple of writers talk about the wonders of producing and performing Shakespeare at the reconstructed Globe in London, while others defend the late “problem” play Cymbeline. Maxine Hong Kingston recalls teaching Romeo and Juliet to adolescents. The least engaging essays tend to be those written by academics; the most, by those who have a passion for performance and a love of the language. Other contributors include Camille Paglia, Isabelle Allende and James Franco.

Bardolaters, thespians, logophiles and followers of the muses Thalia and Melpomene—all will find light and warmth, comfort and companionship in these glowing pages.