Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

THWS, CWWS, WSAF, and WSCI in the Shakespeare Book Biz

Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

THWS, CWWS, WSAF, and WSCI in the Shakespeare Book Biz

Article excerpt

The Age of Shakespeare, by Frank Kermode (New York: Modern Library, 2004), 204 pp., $21.95.

Shakespeare, by Michael Wood (New York: Basic Books, 2003), 344 pp., $29.95.

Shakespeare: The Biography, by Peter Ackroyd (New York: Doubleday, 2005), xvi + 548 pp., $32.50.

Shakespeare: The Seven Ages of Human Experience, 2nd ed., by David Bevington (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), xi + 258 pp., $19.95 paperback.

Shakespeare After All, by Marjorie Garber (New York: Pantheon, 2004), xii + 906 pp., $40.00.

Shakespeare for All Time, by Stanley Wells (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), xxi + 424 pp., $40.00.

Shakespeare's Face: Unraveling the Legend and History of Shakespeare's Mysterious Portrait, by Stephanie Nolen with Jonathan Bate, Tarnya Cooper, Marjorie Garber, Andrew Gurr, Alexander Leggatt, Robert Tittler, and Stanley Wells (New York: Free Press, 2002), xvii + 334 pp., $27.00.

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, by Stephen Greenblatt (New York: Norton, 2004), 390 pp., $26.95.

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, 1599, by James Shapiro (New York: HarperCollins, 2005), xix + 376 pp., $27.95.

SITTING JUST A FEW INCHES under ye olde blacke beames in Hussain's Restaurant in Church Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, I once had the melancholy thought that the historical William Shakespeare (THWS), for all the omnivorous appreciation of human experience registered in his plays, and despite having gone to school (probably) just down the street, had most likely never tasted a good lamb vindaloo. Since then, however, I have come to associate "Shakespeare," if not THWS, with the smell of espresso. The books listed above have a lot to do with that association. Most of them have found a spot on the Drama or Literature shelves of Borders and Barnes & Noble, some of them cover-side out, a few of them cover-side out on a display table at the end of the aisle. Most readers of this journal will, I suspect, agree with the following responses to this phenomenon:

* Seeing the subject of one's professional expertise for sale in Borders and Barnes & Noble is like seeing a place you know well in a commercially successful movie. You feel validated.

* As a result of all those Foucault-inspired sessions at MLA and SAA in the 1970s and '80s you have to wonder what the commercial viability of these books (price: $19.90 to $40.00) means politically. What kind of "social work" are these books doing?

* At the same time, you can't help wondering why that person over there with the Prada shoulder bag--yes, him--is pausing at the Shakespeare table on his way to the Self-Help section.

* You're envious that no one has offered you a six-figure advance to write a book like one of these.

With these nine books it's probably fair to say that critical reception in academic journals has stood in inverse proportion to each book's commercial success. All nine principal authors have written for a "general" readership. It would be altogether hypocritical of me to follow the example of other academic reviewers, since, with respect to subjects other than early modern England ca. 1550-1700, I myself am just such a "general reader." As the sixty-year-old version of the child who would take to bed a volume of The World Book Encyclopedia, 1956 edition, I still maintain a general reader's interest in anthropology, art history, history, linguistics, musicology, philosophy, and psychology--this despite Prof. J. W. Johnson's warning in graduate school that I was a dilettante and would never get anywhere in this profession if I didn't settle down. The best way to keep up with these diverse fields, I've found, is not to wander aimlessly in the journals section of the university library but to read the reviews in the TLS, to which I've subscribed since 1972, the first year I could afford it, and use those reviews to choose books for sampling and, on rarer occasions than I'd like to admit, for cover-to-cover perusing. …

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