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Living with Shakespeare: Essays by Writers, Actors, and Directors [Format Kindle]

Susannah Carson , Harold Bloom
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Excerpted from the Foreword

In my long career as a teacher, I have found that students, interviewers, and fellow readers keep asking me, “Why Shakespeare?” It seems a question as necessary to ask as it is impossible to answer, unless you respond, “Who else is there? Who but Shakespeare has influenced so many creative intellects?” The genealogy includes Milton, Austen, Dickens, Keats, and Emily Dickinson, and many of the strongest writers of our own generation. Who besides Shakespeare has perfected expressions of experience, and broadened and defined the horizons of human possibility? He has given us, through thirty-­seven plays, 154 sonnets, and four longer poems, a secular religion.

His is the most capacious of consciousnesses. He comprehends and apprehends realities that are available to us but beyond our ken until he manifests them.

If you run any mode of criticism, whether historicism—­old or new—­or analytical, through Shakespeare, you find it is Shakespeare who illuminates your mode of thinking and not the other way around. His is an electrical field. Anything entering it will light up, but Shakespeare powers the illumination.
There is no God but God, and his name is William Shakespeare. Yahweh is not God. William Shakespeare is God. Heinrich Heine said, “There is a God, and his name is Aristophanes.” On Heine’s model, I again remark: there is a God, there is no God but God, and his name is William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare did not set out to create a religion, or to define us. We can never know his motives—­presumably to fill seats, write good parts for his actors, stay out of the sight of Walsingham, Elizabeth’s Chief of the Secret Service, and so avoid the fate of Thomas Kyd, who was tortured, and Christopher Marlowe, who was stabbed to death. In the plays, we find traces of Shakespeare’s evolution as an artist. He swerves from the influence of Ovid, Chaucer, and Marlowe, and discovers that the only opponent worthy of agon is the writer of his own earlier plays. Not Shakespeare as man, but Shakespeare as playwright was the source of his own continued artistic struggle to break free of self-­overdetermination.

Paul Valéry, great theoretician of influence, said we must learn to speak of the influence of a mind upon itself, a very rich insight which I have adapted to my own understanding of Shakespeare. After a large book on Shakespeare called The Invention of the Human and a shorter one devoted to Hamlet called Poem Unlimited, I explored the influence of Shakespeare’s mind upon itself in The Anatomy of Influence, which provides some radically new readings of the elliptical qualities in Hamlet, in The Tempest, and of Edgar in King Lear. The only significant influence on Shakespeare, in the end, was Shakespeare himself. Increasingly in his work, what he leaves out becomes much more important than what he puts in, and so he takes literature beyond its limits. He transforms himself, a victory for art, and yet his own position as poet and as self-­precursor resulted in an internalization of the conflict and an unresolvable ambivalence.

The result is a panoply of characters who possess inner lives so very intricate that, although they are finite on the page, to us they nevertheless remain infinite in faculty and endless to meditation. The more elliptical the renderings, the more complex, illusory, and transformative the result. Shakespeare invented the depiction of inwardness in imaginative fiction, and with these characters he shows us how to overhear ourselves think and, by so doing, become richer, more complex, and more sensitive human beings. We learn about ourselves in these plays, and at the same time we enter their worlds to overcome our loneliness. These are our friends, our lovers, our enemies, our parents, our children, and the characters we encounter only briefly in the course of our daily lives.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that Shakespeare wrote the text of modern life, which means that we are all of us, each in turn, a kind of amalgam of various Shakespearean roles, though I would prefer to call them people. Shakespeare is people, and I write about them not only as roles to be performed, but as more real than you and I. If this is an eccentricity, at least it is a useful one for many actors, and for readers who look to literature for more than confirmation of their own critical agendas.

Old Bloom likes to identify with Sir John Falstaff, but another part of him secretly and inwardly identifies with the Black Prince of Denmark, and another part, rather yearningly, doesn’t identify with, but wishes he were on warm terms with, Cleopatra of Egypt. Many years ago, in London, I saw a production of Macbeth with Michael Redgrave as the hero, and the marvelously fierce, sexually intense actress Ann Todd playing Lady Macbeth. When she cried out “Unsex me here!” Miss Todd grabbed herself in the crucial area and doubled over. Many men in the audience were highly activated.

My favorite fantasy is that Falstaff did not allow himself to be done in by his murderous adopted son, the dreadful Prince Hal, and instead Shakespeare let him wander off to the Forest of Arden. There he sat on one end of a log, with the beautiful Rosalind on the other, and the two matched wits. Orson Welles had a fantasy in which he remarked that Hamlet did not go back to Elsinore but voyaged on to England, where he eliminated poor Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, stayed on, grew old and fat, and became Sir John Falstaff. Welles played a splendid Falstaff in the movie Chimes at Midnight, with Jeanne Moreau as Mistress Quickly.

We are used to characters breaking loose from Shakespeare. You cannot confine these figures to their own plays. They become instances of what was said of Spenser’s Faerie Queene by Gabriel Harvey: that Hobgoblin had run off with the garland of Apollo. Shakespeare kills off Mercutio, since otherwise who would pay attention to Romeo? Juliet is marvelous enough, so people would keep admiring her. It became a choice between Mercutio and the play, and Mercutio had to go. In the same way, what can you do with Falstaff? He is larger than the play. He is life itself. Shakespeare may not have intended Sir John to turn into this comprehensive vision of immanence, but his is the outstanding instance of the real presence in all literature. He appears again in the beautiful Cockney prose elegy of Mistress Quickly in Henry V, but that isn’t Sir John anymore. The impostor in the unforgivable play The Merry Wives of Windsor is not Falstaff either. It is in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 that he triumphs.

My book Hamlet: Poem Unlimited shows the Prince escaping from Shakespeare and writing his own play. He loathes the story that is unworthy of a majestic and marvelous mind. Shakespeare and Hamlet fight it out in the play. That sounds like Bloomian fantasy, but the more deeply you absorb Hamlet, the more you realize that the Prince has cut loose from Shakespeare. I can understand anyone not much liking Hamlet. I remember a conversation with the learned scholar Alastair Fowler in which he said to me that it wasn’t right to call Hamlet a hero-­villain, for he is rather a villain outright. Hamlet is responsible for eight deaths, including his own. He destroys everyone in the play who has a speaking part, with the exceptions of Horatio, the fop Osric, and the dunderhead Fortinbras, who marches in with his army at the close—­and so pragmatically Hamlet is very bad news indeed.

And yet he raises for Shakespeare, for me, and for you, a problem that we can’t, I think, escape. One of the strangest ideas in Freud, expressed in his letters and by anecdotes concerning him, is the belief that great souls who are able to sustain a thorough psychoanalysis can emancipate their own thinking from its sexual past. When Freud is at his most reductive, he is sometimes strongest. It is the very small child’s immense curiosity about gender difference that is the origin of thinking in every one of us, and almost all of us never transcend this. Thought never does get emancipated from its sexual past, and so we are caught in an endless moody brooding. Hamlet escapes, and I do not know whether that is his triumph or Shakespeare’s. Hamlet has freed thinking from its sexual past. He does not know, we do not know, and perhaps Shakespeare does not know, when the actual sexual relationship began between Gertrude and Claudius. This leaves the unnerving possibility that Hamlet is the natural son of his uncle. If you protest how unlike he is from Claudius, reflect that he scarcely resembles that great basher of heads in battle, his putative father King Hamlet.

In Hamlet, and perhaps also throughout his canon, Shakespeare seems to have liberated his own thinking from its sexual past. He produces the uncanny detachment of the Sonnets. They are a different mode than the plays, for they do not invent human beings. Lyric rather than dramatic, the narrative they offer is dangerous if employed to reveal the historical man. The poet of the Sonnets is Shakespeare, and yet he is also outside Shakespeare, revealing and concealing himself. Sonnets 1 through 126 possess a distanced erotic intensity, and the Sonnets from 127 on show an indisputable and heated erotic rancidity, although both the earlier poems concerning the fair young man and the later poems dealing with the dark lady are unified by their ironic stance. Shakespeare is so advanced in irony that we never will catch up. There is but one Sonnet in the sequence which is beyond irony, and that is 129, “Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame,” which affrights us but will not let us go. Here, perhaps nowhere else, the force of Shakespeare’s sentiment becomes just as strong as his craft. He is one with the Sonnet’s speaker, momentarily and deliberately giving in to madness as perhaps the last defense there ever can be against the lure of that perilous imbalance. There may be elements of Shakespeare himself in Hamlet and in Falstaff, and perhaps traces of the same rancidity in the later plays, most notably in Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida, but in those dramatic instances the craft outlasts the sentiment?

Such rancidity is different from Shakespeare’s negations, which culminate in the high tragedies. At their strongest, as in Iago, Shakespeare’s grand negations are figures in a negative poetics which is a kind of dramatic negative theology. Iago is the incarnation of the spirit of modern war, which is his religion. Even Shakespeare surpasses himself, since, after he composes Othello, in the next fourteen consecutive months he goes on to write and revise King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. Had one the privilege of having a drink with Shakespeare in a tavern, no doubt in salacious company, insofar as either of us could disengage our attention from our associates and the spirits, I suppose I would have asked him: Am I right in believing that after the high tragedies that culminate in King Lear and Macbeth, and then modulate magnificently into Antony and Cleopatra, it had all cost you too much?

Revue de presse

"An eclectic collection of pieces from an eclectic collection of writers about reading, directing, performing and adoring the Bard of Avon.... All will find light and warmth, comfort and companionship in these glowing pages." —Kirkus Reviews

"A cornucopia of delights for lovers of the Bard." —Booklist

"Lively.... Thought-provoking.... The collection is a consistently stimulating read, which goes a great way toward illuminating the degree to which we all live already—and can live even further—with Shakespeare." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 5956 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 531 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 0307742911
  • Editeur : Vintage (9 avril 2013)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
  • X-Ray :
  • Word Wise: Non activé
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°269.623 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)
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Commentaires client les plus utiles
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Anything but stale, flat, and unprofitable 12 février 2014
Par bernie
This is a most excellent collection of views of and writing about William Shakespeare. There other books are possible better books but that does not distract from this great collection of wtiters, directors, and actors.

There are a few pictures form some of the various play (I like pictures).

Not that every section was not good. However my two favorites possibly because I like their work is the section "The Architect of Ideas" Ben Kinsley and "Rough Magic" Julie Taymor. I think Julie is sort of snot but she put together some great works including "The Tempest."
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 4.5 étoiles sur 5  61 commentaires
9 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 A bit unfocused, some excellent, others only okay... 12 avril 2013
Par C. Williamson - Publié sur
Format:Broché|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
This is really a grab bag of essays about Shakespeare, written by scholars, actors, and writers, and is a *mixed* bag. It's as though the editor requested a bunch of people to write about anything they liked regarding Shakespeare, put the essays in a bag, shook them up, and then printed them in that order. The few attempts at order are self-defeating, as frankly, I'd much rather *not* read three essays about OTHELLO in a row, but would rather have them interspersed through the rather thick volume. Most of the essays are worth reading, though a few, primarily some by actors, come off as self-serving. One exception is James Earl Jones' marvelous piece on playing Othello, and F. Murray Abraham's "Searching for Shylock." Other favorites were works by Joyce Carol Oates and Camille Paglia. I enjoyed Harold Bloom's foreword more than I did the editor's introduction, which tells us too much of what we're going to be told, and seems rather unfocused. Still, a decent enough book to have on the Shakespeare shelf, if not one of the top rank. Its value is diminished by Amazon sending its Vine readers (of which I am one) advance reading copies rather than the finished book, so there's no index, as there will be in the final printed edition. A semi-reference book without an index is like Romeo without Juliet.
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3.0 étoiles sur 5 wide-ranging commentary 18 avril 2013
Par Konrad Baumeister - Publié sur
Format:Broché|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
While it's not as though there has been too little written about Shakespeare or his plays, the subject continues to attract attention. In this case, we have a volume consisting of a large number of short essays, commentaries, asides, notes, stories, and vignettes about one or more of the plays, and how a given actor, director, reader, comic-book writer, or whatever, has been impacted or inspired or affected by the experience.

Some of the authors are well-known actors who have considerable experience with Shakespeare; other writers are more obscure. The quality of the writing is generally good. The essays are generally grouped together by the individual play which is the main subject of the essay, i.e. numerous essays in a row on Othello or Hamlet, etc.

If you know the plays, or most of the most well-known ones, you may well enjoy commentary on the subject. If you do not already know Shakespeare's work, this collection will likely not be of riveting interest. It's a thick book - at 500 pages you may well find yourself skimming some of the less interesting essays.
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Good book--well worth your time. 9 avril 2013
Par Stanley Hauer - Publié sur
Format:Broché|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
"Living with Shakespeare" is a collection of essays on the influence the Bard has had on various persons' lives. Most of them are by actors and producers; I find these to be the most helpful and insightful. Oddly, those by academics (Paglia aside), I found fairly pallid and unrevealing. Harold Bloom provides his usual breathless introduction. I found the first two-thirds of the book rather more interesting than the last third, which often descends into whimsy.

There are some very good pieces here, notably Ben Kingsley's plea for teaching Shakespeare better in schools. Indeed, if there's a villain in this book, it's the English teacher and the terrible first impression they (we) make with our students introducing them to Shakespeare.

I am glad I read this book. I teach Shakespeare on the university level and will bring much to my next classes that I have learned here.

Susannah Carson and her contributors show us--yet again--that Shakespeare is an author to live with, not just read.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A lovely collection of essays about Shakespeare 19 avril 2013
Par George Goldberg - Publié sur
Format:Broché|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
Many of the authors of the essays collected in this book are quite naturally British. But there is a foreword by Yale's Harold Bloom in which he places Shakespeare carefully among the greats of history: "There is no God but God, and his name is William Shakespeare." Actually, I would have identified Bach as the true deity, but this is after all a book about Shakespeare.

There is an entire genre of Shakespeare studies which insists that he did not, could not, have written all the plays attributed to him. Bill Willingham, another American, argues that the plays do have a co-author, the Audience. It is certainly true that an audience in the 21st century, 400 years after these plays were written, must make an effort to appreciate their drama, humor, and most of all poetry. Many of the essayists here make an effort to help the rest of us in this task.

The task is especially difficult for Americans. Camille Paglia notes that in Britain every member of the audience knows every line, every word, every nuance in the entire corpus by heart, whereas an American may never have seen any Shakespeare play before. Moreover, Paglia says that classless Americans have difficulty portraying class, and "Manners are not superficial trivialities but the choreography of social class." (A nice phrase, that.) But Ben Kingsley is worried that even in England the language is collapsing and that children are being brought up semi-literate.

Sir Antony Sher, of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), discusses the efforts he had to make in moving from the accents of his native South Africa to proper British English. I can sympathize with him, as I had a similar experience in moving to the Queen's English from New York's. When I auditioned for the London Symphony Chorus, the musical test was over soon enough - my voice blends well with a tenor section and I am a quick sight reader. But the chorus master, the late great John Alldis, was worried about my accent. He could not have 120 English subjects singing brahss while one colonial brayed braass. I promised I would practice - practise - and when I returned a week later he welcomed me into the fold.

I won't try to summarize all the 38 essays in this book but would like to mention one more, a lovely paean to Judi Dench by Margaret Drabble, who understudied Dench at the RSC (before Drabble moved into writing). She refers to Dench playing Titania in a Midsummer Night's Dream: her "clear, moonlit, silvery intonations still echo through the corridors of our memories."

This is a lovely book. Some of the essays focus on the technical aspects of producing or acting in Shakespeare's plays, others are more in the nature of appreciations for days fondly remembered which gives them an aura of nostalgia. All in all, this is an extremely nice collection which can be very highly recommended.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 "What a Piece of Work is This..." 6 avril 2013
Par s.r.cohen - Publié sur
Format:Broché|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
In the Isabel Allende essay of Living with Shakespeare, entitled "Enamoured with Shakespeare", she begins by saying that her love of Shakespeare started when her father gave her the complete works, translated into Spanish and follows with the quote, *Its a wise father that knows his own child.* The Editor's Note at the bottom of the page states that quotation marks for that quote from the "Merchant of Venice" were purposefully left out to demonstrate exactly how much a part of Allende's, and all of our, everyday language these quotes have become. Just as the complete works volume was a perfect gift from father to daughter, this book, Living with Shakespeare, came at a perfect time for me. Two weeks ago, I was privileged to see the Yale Repertory Theater's production of Hamlet, with Paul Giamatti in the title role. It was wonderful and renewed my high school and college interest in the plays. But I did not want to go back and read the plays...I wanted to read about the plays and talk to people about the plays...particularly people who knew more than I, who had spent some professional time with the plays. I did have a lengthy discussion with a young theater student about her impressions and conclusions but I needed someone with more hands-on experience.
That is exactly what I found in this book...I found the people who had touched, worried about, ruminated over and actually USED the plays. It was perfect. I will say I have not read every essay, being mostly interested in the actor/director perspective...and really only for the plays I have read.
But that's ok, because now that I have this book, I can see more Shakespeare plays and will always have these "conversation partners" to discuss them with....the competent and experienced actors, directors and writers...the essayists included in this text. What a great piece of Shakespeare reference material to keep in a home library.
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