Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard

Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard

2.5 6
by Jack Lynch
     
 

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Becoming Shakespeare begins where most Shakespeare stories end-with his death in 1616-and relates the fascinating story of his unlikely transformation from provincial playwright to universal Bard. Unlike later literary giants, Shakespeare created no stir when he died. Though he'd once had a string of hit plays, he had been retired in the country for six years,

Overview

Becoming Shakespeare begins where most Shakespeare stories end-with his death in 1616-and relates the fascinating story of his unlikely transformation from provincial playwright to universal Bard. Unlike later literary giants, Shakespeare created no stir when he died. Though he'd once had a string of hit plays, he had been retired in the country for six years, and only his family, friends, and business partners seemed to care that he was gone. Within a few years he was nearly forgotten. And when London's theaters were shut down in 1642, he seemed destined for oblivion.

With the Restoration in 1660, though, the theaters were open once again, and Shakespeare began his long ascent: No longer merely one playwright among many, he became the transcendent genius at the heart of English culture. Fifty years after the Restoration scholars began taking him seriously. Fifty years after that he was considered England's greatest genius. And by 1800 he was practically divine.

Jack Lynch vividly chronicles Shakespeare's afterlife-from the revival of his plays to the decades when his work was co-opted and "improved" by politicians and other playwrights, and culminating with the "Bardolatry" of the Stratford celebration of Shakespeare's three-hundredth birthday in 1864. Becoming Shakespeare is not only essential reading for anyone intrigued by Shakespeare, but it also offers a consideration of the vagaries of fame.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

It's easy to assume that William Shakespeare has always held his position at the top of the literary canon. But the truth is not that simple, as Lynch, a professor of English at Rutgers and longtime student of literary history, demonstrates. He ably chronicles how "in three hundred years, William Shakespeare the talented playwright and theatre shareholder had become Shakespeare the transcendent demigod," against whom no slight of literary criticism was too small not to be deemed heresy. Along the way, Shakespeare was all but forgotten; criticized for his sloppy, profane dramaturgy; rewritten, forged and bowdlerized (literally, by the eponymous Bowdler); hijacked as a spokesperson for political causes of all stripes; revered and, finally, unquestioningly glorified. Lynch tells the story of the personalities and politics that shaped both the reception of the Bard's works and the development of the theater in England between 1616, the year of Shakespeare's death, and 1864, his 300th birthday. Lynch writes fluidly about the Puritan aspirations that shut the English theaters after Queen Elizabeth's death, the Restoration and consequent revitalization of London's theatrical culture, the rise of celebrity culture and the spread of literacy that took Shakespeare off the stage and into the parlor and classroom. Illus. (July)

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Kirkus Reviews
An accessible chronicle of Shakespeare's rise to his present glory. Samuel Johnson scholar Lynch (English/Rutgers) quickly makes clear what this study involves: "the long process that turned a very competent playwright into a demigod." Picking up where many a Shakespearean leaves off, he dismisses the authorship question entirely. "Fantasies about faked deaths and undercover noblemen certainly make for an exciting story," he writes, "but there's nothing to them." Lynch focuses instead on charting Shakespeare's transformation from a popular playwright in his day to a writer many now consider the keystone of the Western literary canon. This metamorphosis, he contends, has taken hundreds of years and the collected efforts of numerous individuals from a variety of arenas, some more predictable than others. It was only after the Restoration in 1660, for instance, that Shakespeare's work gained onstage life it hadn't known since the Puritans closed the public theatres in 1642. Charles II sanctioned two new theatres, which brought drama back to the fore of London life and enabled late-17th- to early-18th-century actors such as Thomas Betterton, James Quin, David Garrick and Sarah Siddons to gain great fame by playing Shakespeare's leading roles. Lynch provocatively argues that the great rise in literacy occurring around the time of the Restoration also contributed to the birth of critical interest in the plays as texts; fierce disputes arose over their interpretation, the manna of Shakespeare criticism to this day. He engagingly details the strengths, shortcomings and literary relevance of major editions alongside those now merely of historical interest because they attempted to sanitize thebawdy bard to reflect the more decorous tastes of late-18th-century or Victorian sensibilities. Pitched just right for students of literature, Shakespeareans and those interested in the history of drama: a witty and appealing story of how a superstar was born.
From the Publisher

“An accessible chronicle of Shakespeare's rise to his present glory...Lynch provocatively argues that the great rise in literacy occurring around the time of the Restoration also contributed to the birth of critical interest in the plays as texts; fierce disputes arose over their interpretation, the manna of Shakespeare criticism to this day. He engagingly details the strengths, shortcomings and literary relevance of major editions alongside those now merely of historical interest because they attempted to sanitize the bawdy bard to reflect the more decorous tastes of late-18th-century or Victorian sensibilities. Pitched just right for students of literature, Shakespeareans and those interested in the history of drama: a witty and appealing story of how a superstar was born.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Lynch is most interesting when examining how different eras rewrote and edited Shakespeare to make the plays meet the moral and theatrical standards of their time...Lynch's text will appeal to general readers with an interest in Shakespeare. Recommended for public libraries.” —Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802718679
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
05/26/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
File size:
5 MB

Meet the Author

Jack Lynch, a professor of English at Rutgers University, has been studying the curious afterlife of William Shakespeare for more than fifteen years. He is the editor of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary and Samuel Johnson's Insults. He lives in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
Jack Lynch is a professor of English at Rutgers University and a Johnson scholar, having studied the great lexicographer for nearly a decade. In addition to his books on Johnson and on Elizabethan England, he has written journal articles and scholarly reviews, and hosts a Web site devoted to these topics at http://andromeda. rutgers.edu/~jlynch/18th/. He is the author of Becoming Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson's Insults and the editor of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary. He lives in Lawrenceville, NJ.

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Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Have not read more than few pages...it appears to be an excellent treatment of the subject... but in a history book, it is troubling to find that the early dates are 200 years off. All the dates of events that took place in the 1500's are printed as having occurred during the 1300's. I am sure this is a spell checker error from the manuscript...but this is an ebook, and it could easily be fixed. Why don't you fix it, Barnes & Noble?
hereford More than 1 year ago
Like the other reviewer, I found this excellent book marred by the fact that nearly every "5" in dates appeared as a "3."  As I personally know quite a bit about Shakespeare and Elizabethan England, I knew the errors and assumed that every 5 would be a 3.  Not so.  So, when I got to parts with which I was less familiar, such as dates dealing with 18th Century actors, I had no idea what the correct date was--was it 1758 1738?  I see no reason for this type of error, nor do I think for one minute that the author of this well-researched book was in any way at fault.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The accuracy of the e-text is an insipid. Pictures will appear on one page, that caption will appear on another, sometimes the caption is on the correct page but text bleeds over into the caption. Subtext headers may appear at the bottom of a page, hyphens appear where they don't belong. Spaces between some words disappear. In many places following a date the first word of text is distorted. And, as both other reviewers have noted dates that should appear as 15XX appear as 13XX making the text unreliable for students. The e-text is an embarrassment for the publisher. All the errors detract from the professional research and excellent writing skills of Jack Lynch. If the quality of publication matched the scholarly skill of the writer I would have give this a 5.
DavidH42 More than 1 year ago
I cannot comment on the paper editions of this book, as I have not seen one. The Nook version is filled with what appear to be problems with the conversion to e-book format. At least I hope so. I cannot imagine a manuscript so filled with typos and date errors ever making it into print except on the sleaziest vanity press.
avidreader78WA More than 1 year ago
Fix the typos and give us a better electronic edition.  This is ridiculous.  Rating is solely for the lack of editing in the ebook.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago