- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster (Oct. 6 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1416541640
- ISBN-13: 978-1416541646
- Product Dimensions: 15.9 x 3 x 23.5 cm
- Shipping Weight: 717 g
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #128,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 Hardcover – Oct 6 2015
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The temptation for someone reviewing a readable and revelatory work like The Year of Lear is to babble on about the amazing secrets its author has uncovered. . . . [The book] is irresistible—a banquet of wisdom.” (Jane Smiley The New York Times Book Review)
“James Shapiro [is] the liveliest and most accessible of Bardologists. . . . The book is crammed with stimulating research that again and again produces startling connections. . . . It is to be hoped that Mr. Shapiro might be persuaded to write a book for every year of Shakespeare's life: Then we might finally find ourselves face to face with the Sphinx of English literature.” (Simon Callow The Wall Street Journal (*Best Books of the Year, The Wall Street Journal))
"In The Year of Lear, Shapiro takes a closer look at the political and social turmoil that contributed to the creation of three supreme masterpieces. . . . Exciting and sometimes revelatory." (Michael Dirda The Washington Post)
“Illuminating. . . . Shapiro captures a Shakespeare moved by – and moving – history.” (The New Yorker)
“Shapiro has a marvelous ability to use his formidable scholarship, not to pluck out the heart of Shakespeare’s mysteries, but to put the beating heart of the contemporary back into them. His great gift is to make the plays seem at once more comprehensible and more staggering.” (Fintan O'Toole The New York Review of Books)
"Shapiro's investigation of Shakespeare's professional fortunes is as fascinating as his scrutiny of the plays. . . . [His book] draws on a mountain of reading, yet is persistently original. It takes us onto the streets of Shakespeare's London, and it reminds us of the brutal culture from which his plays sprang." (John Carey The Sunday Times (UK))
“No one writes about Shakespeare as Jim Shapiro does; it's so immediate and alive. . . . His passion for Shakespeare, his excitement and pure joy infect everyone he comes in contact with and absolutely come through in each of his books.” (F. Murray Abraham)
"James Shapiro’s insightful new book, The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606, performs a kind of archaeological excavation of the three plays Shakespeare wrote in this year – King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra – to reveal the rich matrix of factors that molded their themes and language." (Nick Romeo The Christian Science Monitor)
"Like other Shapiro works, [The Year of Lear] is a brilliant, acessible fusion of meticulously researched historical narrative and keen-eyed literary criticism." (Celia Wren Commonweal)
"Shapiro demonstrates once again his skill in shaping quantities of research into a brisk and enjoyable narrative.” (Charles Nicholl The Guardian (UK))
About the Author
James Shapiro is the Larry Miller Professor of English at Columbia University, where he has taught since 1985. He is the author of several books, including 1599 and Contested Will, and is the recipient of many awards and fellowships. Shapiro is a Governor of the Folger Shakespeare Library. He lives in New York with his wife and son.See all Product description
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First, Shapiro presumes the reader is very familiar with Shakespeare's plays. I for one, haven't read them since school, (which has been a while). He doesn't provide any summary of the plays he discusses, which would have been helpful to those readers like me, before delving into the detailed analysis. He discusses mainly King Lear (which is the best and most detailed discussion), Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. He touches on a few other as well. He does provide a very good account of the social climate of the day - the unease between Catholics and Protestants culminating in the GunPowder Plot and while I appreciate the this was the 9/11 of the day, I thought he spent far too much time on it to make his point as well as the Catholic doctrine of equivocation (there were times I thought I was reading alternatively, a history of the GunPowder Plot and a theological discussion of Catholics beliefs at the time); the recurrents bouts of the Plague, the questions of political union between Scotland and England.
He also provides a detailed account of theatre life in general, discussing other play writes and other formats, "Masques" performed at court, and mundane day to day behind the scenes work that went into writing, performing and producing plays. Again, if you are fan of theatre or are interested in the history of theatre you would probably find this quite fascinating but I just got a bit bored after a while.
While this book was chock-full of information, my biggest issue with it lies with the title, The Year of Lear. I picked this book up because of my love of Shakespeare’s King Lear play, and while Shapiro does discuss at length some of the inspirations behind the play, a good chunk of this book went over the year instead of the work. Shapiro explores, specifically, the Gunpowder Plot in such detail that it should have been renamed to reflect this aspect rather than lead the reader to believe that it is a book exploring Shakespeare’s play.
With that said, I must admit I am a hypocrite when it comes to certain historical aspects explored in The Year of Lear. Specifically, I did find Shapiro’s exploration on the plague and subsequent theatre closures to be really engrossing, even though they really didn’t have too much influence on King Lear, Macbeth, or Antony and Cleopatra.
It takes place alongside 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare as one of the best books about Shakespeare, his actors, his life and times.
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