“[Ron Rosenbaum] is one of the most original journalists and writers of our time.”
In The Shakespeare Wars, Ron Rosenbaum gives readers an unforgettable way of rethinking the greatest works of the human imagination. As he did in his groundbreaking Explaining Hitler, he shakes up much that we thought we understood about a vital subject and renews our sense of excitement and urgency. He gives us a Shakespeare book like no other. Rather than raking over worn-out fragments of biography, Rosenbaum focuses on cutting-edge controversies about the true source of Shakespeare’s enchantment and illumination–the astonishing language itself. How best to unlock the secrets of its spell?
With quicksilver wit and provocative insight, Rosenbaum takes readers into the midst of fierce battles among the most brilliant Shakespearean scholars and directors over just how to delve deeper into the Shakespearean experience–deeper into the mind of Shakespeare.
Was Shakespeare the one-draft wonder of Shakespeare in Love? Or was he rather–as an embattled faction of textual scholars now argues–a different kind of writer entirely: a conscientious reviser of his greatest plays? Must we then revise our way of reading, staging, and interpreting such works as Hamlet and King Lear?
Rosenbaum pursues key partisans in these debates from the high tables of Oxford to a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in a strip mall in the Deep South. He makes ostensibly arcane textual scholarship intensely seductive–and sometimes even explicitly sexual. At an academic “Pleasure Seminar” in Bermuda, for instance, he examines one scholar’s quest to find an orgasm in Romeo and Juliet. Rosenbaum shows us great directors as Shakespearean scholars in their own right: We hear Peter Brook–perhaps the most influential Shakespearean director of the past century–disclose his quest for a “secret play” hidden within the Bard’s comedies and dramas. We listen to Sir Peter Hall, founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, as he launches into an impassioned, table-pounding fury while discussing how the means of unleashing the full intensity of Shakespeare’s language has been lost–and how to restore it. Rosenbaum’s hilarious inside account of “the Great Shakespeare ‘Funeral Elegy’ Fiasco,” a man-versus-computer clash, illustrates the iconic struggle to define what is and isn’t “Shakespearean.” And he demonstrates the way Shakespearean scholars such as Harold Bloom can become great Shakespearean characters in their own right.
The Shakespeare Wars offers a thrilling opportunity to engage with Shakespeare’s work at its deepest levels. Like Explaining Hitler, this book is destined to revolutionize the way we think about one of the overwhelming obsessions of our time.
Acclaimed journalist Rosenbaum, New York Observer columnist and cultural omnivore (Explaining Hitler), conveys the impassioned arguments of leading directors and scholars concerning how Shakespeare should be printed and performed. "Hearing Sir Peter Hall pound his fists in fury over the vital importance of a pause at the close of a pentameter line, for instance wonderful!" Rosenbaum enthuses. Elsewhere he recalls how seeing Peter Brook's definitive 1970 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream inspired Rosenbaum's "outsider's odyssey into the innermost citadels of scholarship" to investigate the painstaking work of Shakespearean textual experts as they convert the Bard's earliest published works into authoritative editions. Evoking the clashing methodologies and discourses of scholars, the dizzying depths of lexicographic databases and a rare instance of Shakespeare's voice transcribed in a court proceeding, Rosenbaum captures with clarity and wry humor the obsessive fervor, theoretical about-turns and occasional scholarly fiasco that characterize this arcane world. He considers the politics of portraying Shylock and Falstaff, appraises Shakespeare on film and provocatively comments on the work of such influential critics as Harold Bloom, Stephen Greenblatt and Stephen Booth. Balancing academic reportage with his own lively observations, Rosenbaum wrestles with the weightiest issues of Shakespeare studies in a down-to-earth manner that readers will applaud.