Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Note: 30 Great Myths about Shakespeare

Maguire, Laurie, and Emma Smith. 30 Great Myths about Shakespeare. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

This is really quite a delightful book. Its authors treat a wide range of myths about Shakespeare—some of which are less mythy and more debatable than others (i.e., "Shakespeare was a Catholic")—in a perfect marriage of popular expression and scholarship.

The book addresses the myths thoroughly, exploring how and why the myths came to be and providing good documentation to support its claims. Myth number 30 addresses the authorship issue. Even though the authors, in debunking that myth, perpetuate the separate but related myth that Orson Welles was an Oxfordian (he wasn't), I can forgive them because the rest of the chapter is compelling and well-written.

To intrigue you all the more, I'm provided an image of the table of contents—for the first fifteen myths.  Enjoy!

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Jr said...

I am intrigued by the myth "Shakespeare's plays are politically incorrect." It sure seems to me that some of them are.

Merchant of Venice comes to mind, or Taming of the Shrew.

kj said...

Thanks, Jr, for the comment.

Yes, this is one of the "myths" that is more debatable than genuinely a myth. The authors' contention is that the plays offer a complicated picture of things like these:

"One of the reasons it is hard to decide whether Shakespeare is politically correct or incorrect is that he has it both ways" (45).

He presents Shylock in a setting with considerable anti-Semitism, but he makes him an enormously sympathetic character. He presents Katherine as (according to others in the play) a shrew, but gives her great depth that makes her more than a misogynistic stereotype.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review, Bardfilm: much appreciated.
Emma Smith

kj said...

Thank you very much, Dr. Smith, for the great book! Please, though, do remove Orson Welles from the list of Oxfordian supporters—he wasn't one of their number.

Take care!


Anonymous said...

Well: he's listed on the 'Declaration of Reasonable Doubt' - the main 'database' for the anti-Stratfordians based on a comment, I think, he made in an interview with Tynan. So I agree it may be marginal...

kj said...

Yes, but the problem is that those lists are not trustworthy. They also list Leslie Howard (who was demonstrably not an Oxfordian) and Charles Dickens (who did not doubt the authorship in any way).

Further, Tynan's evidence is not from an interview at all. It's very unclear why Tynan says what he says, and it's very clear that Wellles, in official interviews, thought of the man from Stratford as the author of the plays. You can read more here:



Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

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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