An electrifying new study that investigates the challenges of the Bard’s inconsistencies and flaws, and focuses on revealing—not resolving—the ambiguities of the plays and their changing topicality
A genius and prophet whose timeless works encapsulate the human condition like no other. A writer who surpassed his contemporaries in vision, originality, and literary mastery. A man who wrote like an angel, putting it all so much better than anyone else. Is this Shakespeare? Well, sort of. But it doesn’t tell us the whole truth. So much of what we say about Shakespeare is either not true, or just not relevant.
In This Is Shakespeare, Emma Smith—an intellectually, theatrically, and ethically exciting writer—takes us into a world of politicking and copycatting, as we watch Shakespeare emulating the blockbusters of Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd (the Spielberg and Tarantino of their day), flirting with and skirting around the cutthroat issues of succession politics, religious upheaval, and technological change. Smith writes in strikingly modern ways about individual agency, privacy, politics, celebrity, and sex. Instead of offering the answers, the Shakespeare she reveals poses awkward questions, always inviting the reader to ponder ambiguities.
Smith (Shakespeare's First Folio), Oxford professor of Shakespeare studies, combines contemporary wit and verve with scholarly rigor to produce a refreshingly entertaining study of the Bard's plays. Smith aims to introduce "a Shakespeare you could have a drink and a good conversation with" and isn't afraid to deploy pop-culture references such as comparing Falstaff to Homer Simpson to achieve her goal. The effect isn't to diminish the literary genius behind the 20 plays she examines but to open and explore the gaps Shakespeare left in each of his works. Smith begins with The Taming of the Shrew's controversial treatment of gender relations. To show that the play's ambiguities its title character can be seen either as "feisty and independent... or strident and antisocial" aren't just the result of changing attitudes, Smith draws comparisons to more straightforward works by Shakespeare's contemporaries, demonstrating that the play challenged audiences from the very start. A Midsummer Night's Dream, often adapted to serve as children's introduction to Shakespeare, is revealed as a "darker, sexier play," in which animal desires collide against marital strictures. While a familiarity with the plays is expected, poetic jargon is kept at a minimum. Entertaining and sagacious, this work will spur readers who gave up on Shakespeare on first pass to approach his oeuvre with new eyes.