on March 7, 2004
Most of the previous reviewers have stressed the self-focus that, I agree, is both a strength & the weakness of Me and Shakespeare.
But only one reviewer so far has mentioned how useful the book is in giving a layman's guide to some of the scholarly and popular critical literature on the plays. I enjoyed Gollob's brief descriptions of one old favorite (Goddard) and of many books that were new to me, and that I've now tracked down.
Many of these books are mentioned in Chapter 1, but others pop up throughout the book as Gollob talks about the individual plays. He devotes most thought to the tragedies and the "Roman plays." The English histories -- particularly Henry V -- that I conclude Gollob doesn't find them very interesting. Eh, to each his own.
Gollob also includes interesting tidbits from interviews or meetings he arranged over time with various Shakespeare luminaries: Richard Kuhta (librarian at the Folger), Patrick Spottiswoode (director of education at the new Globe), John Barton (famed Royal Shakespeare Company Director), others.
And speaking of John Barton: I'm grateful to this book for introducing me to Playing Shakespeare, a very expensive ($1000+ !) early-1980s video series with Barton and RSC actors (Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, many others) thinking through how to perform roles and solve various acting challenges. There's also a book that transcribes much (all?) of the series: Playing Shakespeare: An Actor's Guide, by John Barton (ISBN 0385720858). Until I win the lottery, I'll have to stick with that.
I've seen elsewhere that a similar-sounding (and similarly pricy) new series, Working Shakespeare, is due out in the U.S. in April 2004, featuring actors like Jeremy Irons and Samuel L. Jackson. Maybe Amazon will someday carry it.
on February 9, 2004
On the whole, I found this book an enjoyable and interesting read. As another reviewer said, you will enjoy it more if you're sixty plus, fond of Shakespeare, and Jewish. I qualify on two out of three. The Jewish references were beyond my ken.
For a person nearing retirement, it's fascinating to see what some people do with their lives after full-time paid employment ends. After I retire, I plan to read all the great works of literature I've missed so far, and Shakespeare is on my list.
Gollob (he must hate it that so many people can't bother to spell his name correctly) took "Shakespeare in Love" far too seriously. After all, it was a romantic comedy. It was supposed to be fun! His criticisms of its historical inaccuracies is like criticizing Shakespeare for his witches and fairies.
Gollob is a little too full of himself at times, but he must have loved writing this book and gently bragging about his achievements and the famous people he's bumped against over the years.
on August 2, 2002
Herman Gollob is, in his own words, "an old man made mad by a love of Shakespeare." In other words, he is a dedicated amateur: enthusiastic, opinionated, curious, alternatively cocky and unsure, given to name-dropping. To read Me and Shakespeare is to read about Herman Gollob as much as it is to read about Shakespeare.
The memoir, however, does not slide off into the merely autobiographical. No matter how self-involved Mr. Gollob's tangents, he is tenacious in returning to the matter at hand. Throughout the course of the book, the reader investigates with Mr. Gollob, the plays, the sonnets, the new Globe, acting classes, the Folger, various scholary works, Oxford and pubs. The dedicated amateur is not limited by the pressures of thesis or reputation and Mr. Gollob transitions merrily and unrepentantly from topic to topic.
The book is not as disjointed as the style suggests. There is an overriding theme of rejuvenation as one grows older. Mr. Gollob uses his own personal thesis about Shakespeare and Judaism as a binding thread throughout the narrative. There is order and method to his superficially gregarious and haphazard appearance.
The thesis is intensely personal. Mr. Gollob is an amateur and has the amateur's enthusiastic desire to recreate Shakespeare in his own image. This is not a portrait of Shakespeare as an ordinary Elizabethean with a remarkable gift for writing. Yet even scholars have a difficult time accepting this version of Shakespeare (which I do believe to be the most accurate one). We want Shakespeare to be like us, to be as universal as his genius, to be as open to interpretation as his plays. We want his imagination to be based in something more concrete and accessible than the pure imagination of a hard-working writer. In this context, Mr. Gollob's thesis, no matter how far reaching, is perfectly appropriate, and his Judaism brings a thoughtful and religiously dynamic perception to the interpretation of Shakespeare's plays.
Recommendation: Read a chapter or two before you buy it. If you don't like the style, you won't get anything out of the book.
on July 25, 2002
I have one major problem with SHAKESPEARE AND ME by Herman Gollob-there is too much Gollob and not enough Shakespeare. Gollob is probably a very nice man, but he has too much to say about himself, and too little of it was of interest to me. Mr. Gollob apparently was a successful New York book editor before he retired and began teaching Shakespeare to adult classes. He name drops authors all over the place and adds bits of gossip here and there about former clients. When he isn't name dropping he is telling you about his family, his friends, his church, etc. which is fine if he's your neighbor or friend, but I did not pay for this kind of amusement.
I probably would have enjoyed Gollob's book if he had spent more time writing about his lectures on Shakespeare-condensing his material into a reasonably erudite set of essays as other professors have done before him. I am interested in Shakespeare (why I bought the book). Instead, he offers a few tantalizing bits and then rambles on all over the place. Where ever he goes, be it the theater, the classroom, the bookstore, or a hotel in Oxford, he seems to feel compelled to identify and comment on the people present. I almost had the sense that Mary, Bob, Anne and the others were going to be looking for their names in print and he was determined to oblige them.
He also mentions at least 50 times that he is an Aggie fan from Texas, that he did not like his mother, and that he thinks Shakespeare got many of his ideas from the Bible. Okay already, the Bible was a big deal in Shakespeare's England as anyone who has studied the Elizabethan age knows. The Elizabethans were early English Protestants whose whole approach was "back to basics." Elizabeth's successor James had the Bible translated from Latin into English. They teach you these things in the freshmen survey of English literature. If Gollob had delved into the connections between the Bible and Shakespeare's works, I might have been intrigued, but he does not.
Probably the thing I cannot forgive Mr. Gollob is that he hated the film "Shakespeare in Love." Okay, he has a right to his own opinion, but these days many stories are spun from an original tale. Besides, if Gollob had done his homework he would know that no one knows very much about Shakespeare, and that Tom Stoppard has as much right to the playwright's life as the next guy.
on June 25, 2002
Yes, the author is a bit self-involved: the title, remember, is "Me and Shakespeare" not "Shakespeare and Me". But he recognizes that himself, chalking it up to his only-childhood. Even better, he is big enough to share with us some of his wife's withering assessments of Planet Gollob. (His wife sounds like a great and interesting gal, and if she has put up with him all these years he can't be too bad.)
That's enough about the "Me," a few observations about the "Shakespeare." I love Shakespeare, of course, but equally pleasureable (to me) is reading books and criticism about Shakespeare. So it was great to read a book about both: Shakespeare and the books about Shakespeare. It was fun to watch Gollob discover and discuss the works of Frye, Kott, Bradley, and, the best book of them all (it was originally published as one volume): Harold Goddard's "The Meaning of Shakespeare." There is a very odd omission, however. Gollob does not discuss Bloom's "Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human," which was published to much fanfare in the time period of Gollob's book. I'm certain that Gollob raced to read it, and I am very curious why he chose not to discuss Bloom's theory that the biblical model for King Lear was King Solomon.
Finally, the book was worth the price for its discussion of the Hamlet performance Gollob saw at the Globe theatre: I agree, that is the way Hamlet should react to Polonius's death!
on May 27, 2002
The wonderfully unique book is best appreciated if you are Jewish, a senior citizen and/or a Shakespeare buff. Herman Gollob, recently retired from his editing chores at a publishing house, falls madly in love with Shakespeare. He rejects a retreat from societal intercourse and volunteers to teach a course on Shakespeare in the lifelong learning institute of a local college. There he finds an avocation and purpose that will carry him into his senior years.
Gollob finds a love for research--both book-centered and travel-enhanced. He takes a three week course on the bard at Oxford where he does research in the august Bodleian Library. He dips his toes into the quiet purposefulness of the Folger Library in Washington, D.C. He attends a soul-inspiring performance of Hamlet at the newly rebuilt Globe Theater along the Thames in Southwark. He interviews actors and directos and watches them work.
Along the way he enjoys the company of his elderhostel students. He recalls his feelings as a youngster in Texas and his rediscovery of his Jewishness. He ponders the process of aging and the place of oldsters in our society. He becomes clear that Shakespeare valued the heart and emotions much more than pure intellect. He imagines Shakespeare being influenced by a Jewish mentor most noticeably in the writing of King Lear. This odd conceit becomes oddly compelling as the book unfolds.
Earlier I said you had to be a senior, Jewish or a Shakespeare buff to enjoy this book. Not really. I'm a little bit of two of these (pre-senior and former English teacher) and I liked this book a ton. Really what is needed is the ability to enjoy a character who brings a zest and a fervor to life. And Herman
Gollob certainly does that.
on May 26, 2002
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
--William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Macbeth (Act V, sc. 5)
Forget about those dusty tomes of academia, whose "jargon-burdened flights of hermeneutical ingenuity" induce terminal boredom. Me and Shakespeare is a triumph of communication.
Herman Gollob is an amateur scholar of Shakespeare (in the best sense of the term amateur). Bubbling with life and vitality, bristling with wit and wisdom, his reader-friendly memoir is an impassioned celebration of genius--of an Elizabethan playwright, poet, and philosopher who is arguably the world's greatest writer.
Gollob's magnificent obsession with the life and work of William Shakespeare began in a Broadway theatre, in which Gollob (now retired) witnessed a spirited and ingenious production of Hamlet starring Ralph Fiennes. This experience, he says, "galvanized me into a life-changing exploration of the planet Shakespeare."
Like a Dostoyevskian character possessed and deranged by an ide'e fixe, Gollob plunged into a crash course on his new passion. Indeed, this volume should be titled A Passion for Shakespeare: Hermeneutical Musings of an Autodidact.
Like everyone who approaches the Bard seriously, Gollob faced the problem, Where is Shakespeare coming from? What does he mean? How does one interpret him? Gollob's hermeneutical key was "seeing" Shakespeare from the perspective of Conservative Judaism.
"The lens through which I discerned a crucial Shakespearean motif," he writes, "happened to be my religion." His antennae finely tuned from reading the Pentateuch (especially the Book of Genesis) and the Torah, his antennae couldn't help picking up the Judaic vibrations in a play such as King Lear.
Gollob's point of view is interesting (there are many biblical allusions and themes in Shakespeare). However, from my own perspective as an amateur philosopher, I believe the recurring nihilistic sounds uttered by Shakespeare's characters suggest that he was an existential philosopher, not a biblical theologian.
If Shakespeare tells us nothing else, Gollob asserts, it's that the human animal is a crazy patchwork of contradictions. The polyphonic range of Shakespeare's characters illustrate the divided nature of the soul, the inner struggle between the "heart "and the head," the spiritual and the sensual. Shakespeare was ever aware of the contradictions of the human comedy.
Gollob points out that in Shakespeare's work, we should look, at all times, not for absolutes but for his "signature qualities": the ironies, ambiguities, paradoxes, and antitheses of existence.
Gollob's central thesis is that Shakespeare recognized and advocated the Aristotelian golden mean, the balance of head and heart. Violating the principle of the golden mean, and developing mind at the expense of feeling, or vice versa, leads to tragedy.
Although Gollob clearly recognizes (as did Shakespeare) the destructive effects of hubris--the overreaching pride of the ancient Greeks--apparently he is blind to the hubris (a pride disguised as humility) among his fellow Hebrews, who make the staggering claim of being God's "chosen people."
One easily forgives Gollob for being an incorrigible name-dropper, for his anecdotes add spice to the narrative. Gollob's most endearing quality is his self-deprecating humor. A writer who can laugh at himself can't be all bad.
Rarely have I read a book that entertained me on virtually every page. Me and Shakespeare is truly engaging, amusing, and enlightening. I hated to see it end. By all means, read this one!
A graduate of Texas A&M University (Class of '51), Herman Gollob served in the U.S. Air Force in Korea, worked as a theatrical agent for the MCA Artists Agency and a literary agent for the William Morris Agency before finding his calling as an editor with Little, Brown. Gollob (70) has been editor-in-chief of Atheneum, Harperâ€™s Magazine Press, the Literary Guild, and Doubleday, and a senior editor at Simon & Schuster. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife, Barbara, and teaches Shakespeare at the Lifelong Learning Institute of Caldwell College.
"Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices--just recognize them."
--Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965)
on June 26, 2003
I bought this book after sighting it in a competitor store where I felt it was overpriced. My Amazon.com edition provided me with a book that reflected what I am currently going through as a retiree. With time on my hands, I decided that I wanted to see every production of Shakespeare. It did not matter where, college plays are fine! After I witnessed my third production, "As You like it" I was a victim of what I call"Shakespeare's Disease". This book will explain what it is all about. Suddenly the desire to know everything about the plays and various productions over the years will open a new world to you (and a modest expense account). The Author fell into the same trap. It is a great account of the pursuit of everything Shakespeare. The only fault I found with it was a personal section of some length on the author re-discovering his Jewish faith, which I found out of place with the rest of the book. Otherwise it is a fine work and worthy of a summer read.
on June 5, 2002
I have to say that this book is an outrageous example of solopsism, written by one of the most self-engaged individuals imaginable. I chose to read this book because I thought I might encounter some interesting thoughts about the scholarly Shakespeare. That is not at all what the book is about! This is a book about only one thing: the phenomenal ego of Herman Gollub. Unless you are a close personal friend of this man, I don't recommend that you invest your time in this book. If you are a psychology student, studying the distorted perception of an oversized ego, than it might be worth your while. This book may have been helped by a vigorous editor; perhaps the individual in this case was reluctant to edit a peer. As a serious reader, I have no hesitation in warning other serious readers to stay far away from the narcissistic, self-congratulating drivel in "Me and Shakespeare."
on June 26, 2002
After reading "Me and Shakespeare" I feel as if Herman Gollob is an old friend. As a fellow auto-didact I can relate so well to all tat he has written.
Those who have said that he is too self-absorbed or drops too many names are way off base. The fact that he was able to have contact with so many interesting people (Orson Welles is so much fun to read about), and not come across as a snob is very refreshing.
This book is so much more upbeat, though Mr. Gollob does discuss some negative parts of his life, then "Shakespeare's Dresser". I would certainly put this one at the top of the list for fellow Bardologists.
Maybe some day maybe we can expect a book from one of Mr. Gollob's friends entitled "Herman and Me". I think that would be a great read.
For now let Mr. Gollob further stimulate your interest in WS.