BOOK REVIEWS: Get Inside the Brilliant Mind of the Bard; Shakespeare the Thinker by A D Nuttall. Yale. Pounds 19.99

The Birmingham Post (England), April 21, 2007 | Go to article overview

BOOK REVIEWS: Get Inside the Brilliant Mind of the Bard; Shakespeare the Thinker by A D Nuttall. Yale. Pounds 19.99


Byline: Reviewed by Richard Edmonds

The official birthday champagne is popped on St George's Day, April 23, linking Shakespeare (for reasons I have never understood) with George the Dragon Slayer.

But the Swan of Avon, Elizabeth I's "sweet Master Shakespeare" was actually born several days later.

You can see it for yourself in the records held at the Shakespeare Centre in Stratford. Against the date April 26, 1564, the Stratford Parish Register records the baptism of one Gul-ielmus filius Johannes Shakes-pere (spellings were always shaky in the 17th century) the most famous baby in the world was born to the Stratford glove maker.

Afterwards came the marriages, then the children, Ham-net and Susanna. Then the lost years took Shakespeare into a void. Where he went, nobody knows. Michael Wood, that gifted TV historian, suggests he may have been with a family in the north of England working as a teacher.

Others reckon Shakespeare became a soldier and they quote Henry V as an instance of his awareness of military techniques.

But fact and conjecture are very much part of the Shakespeare game and we don't really know the answer in any definitive sense.

The truth is probably quite simple and so we can assume with a fair degree of certainty, that the young Shakespeare attached himself to The Queen's Men, a respected theatre company working under Elizabeth's patronage and playing both at the court and in the regions.

It is known that Will replaced a company actor, William Knell, who fell in a street brawl, something common enough at the time.

During the 16th century, when he was touring through country houses and inn yards, Will would have discovered that no previous experience was necessary.

You conned your lines from a handwritten script dangling on a nail backstage. If the actor forgot his lines he simply made it up - it is very unlikely the groundlings in the pit, standing on nutshells and fruit skins either knew or cared as long as it was interesting and funny. But what dialogue it was!

Professor Nuttall accepts that Shakespeare was exceptionally gifted in terms of imagination and rhetorical power. But argues, at the same time, that he was particularly intelligent in terms of philosophy and human psychology.

By examining and re-examining all the Shakespearean texts, Nuttall argues that Shakespeare's fertile mind was a restless, ever-moving engine shifting continually from play to play.

Certain questions engrossed this genius, whoever he was, from his early plays to the late romances.

On The Taming of the Shrew, with its firm assertion that husbands should rule their wives, Nuttall is particularly fluent. He says that the poet John Milton would have said that all people, irrespective of gender, are equal.

Republican Milton could see no reason why kings (or queens) should tell other people what to do and was a firm believer in meritocracy, not equality. …

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