Friday, December 18, 2020

Book Note: Shakespeare: Upstart Crow to Sweet Swan: 1592-1623

Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Shakespeare: Upstart Crow to Sweet Swan: 1592-1623. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2011. 

I'm sorry that this is the second post in a row that reviews a book that I cannot wholeheartedly recommend. But I suppose that's the way it sometimes goes.

This book has been in my Amazon cart for a very long time. It's very expensive, and it seldom drops in price. But I finally got fed up and (instead of actually purchasing it) requested it through Inter-Library Loan.

I'm glad I did. Though I'm fond of Katheine Duncan-Jones as a scholar, this volume isn't all that scholarly. 

The book centers on Shakespeare as a dramatist and actor, which is an admirable approach. But it's so highly speculative that it loses its claim to scholarship.

Here's a quick example. There's a wonderful chapter that concentrates its efforts on three early encounters with Shakespeare. And that's all to the good—and Duncan-Jones has her head on straight in detailing those encounters. But she provides highly-speculative interpretations of those . . . without letting readers know how speculative they are.

As one among many potential examples, here's her reading of the Peachum illustration of a performance of Titus Andronicus.


All of that is extremely interesting, but it's all highly hypothetical. We really cannot conclude, on the basis of one amateur illustration, that actors in female roles during Shakespeare's age did not employ padding, that war heroes were presented on stage with bare legs, or that "haystacks" is a distinctly superior way to express the idea of "hay stalks." 


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Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
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