Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History from the Restoration to the Present

Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History from the Restoration to the Present

by Gary Taylor
     
 

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As an actor, William Shakespeare reinvented himself almost every day. At the height of his career, he often performed in six different plays on six consecutive days. He stopped reinventing himself when he died on April 23, 1616, but, as Gary Taylor tells us in this bold, provocative, irreverent history of Shakespeare's reputation through the ages, we have been

Overview

As an actor, William Shakespeare reinvented himself almost every day. At the height of his career, he often performed in six different plays on six consecutive days. He stopped reinventing himself when he died on April 23, 1616, but, as Gary Taylor tells us in this bold, provocative, irreverent history of Shakespeare's reputation through the ages, we have been reinventing him ever since.
Taylor, who sparked a worldwide controversy in 1985 by announcing his discovery of a "new" Shakespeare poem "Shall I die?," presents a brilliantly argued, wryly humorous discussion of the ways in which society "reinvents" Shakespeare—and to some extent all great literature—to suit its own ends. He reveals how Shakespeare's reputation has benefited from such diverse and unpredictable factors as the dearth of new plays after the Restoration; the decline of tragedy in the eighteenth century, when, as Taylor puts it, "Shakespeare was kept on the menu because he was the only serious dish [the repertoire companies] knew how to cook"; the changing social status of women in the nineteenth century; England's longstanding rivalry with France, which turned Shakespeare into the great advocate of conservative British values; and the current trend in academia toward shockingly unorthodox views, which has turned Shakespeare into the great ally of radical Marxist and feminist critics.
Through the centuries, critics have cited the same Shakespeare—often the very same play—as the supporter of a vast array of world views. Examining each period's method of invoking the Bard's "greatness" to support a series of conflicting values, Taylor questions what actually constitutes greatness. He insists on examining the criteria of each epoch on its own terms in order to demonstrate how literary criticism can often become the most telling form of social commentary. Reinventing Shakespeare offers nothing less than a major reevaluation of Shakespeare, his writing, his place in world history, and the very bases of aesthetic judgment.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A rising young textual critic and co-editor of the new Oxford Shakespeare --a Catholic University of America professor notorious for attributing a hitherto little-known manuscript poem to Shakespeare--here defines what ``Shakespeare'' meant in and to six periods in the past 350 years: the 17th-century English Restoration, the early 18th century, the Romantic period, the Victorian and post-Edwardian eras and the very recent past. Taylor discourses on how Shakespeare's works were edited, criticized, quoted, translated, performed and filmed, how his name and words were spelled, how he was graphically depicted. Although it focuses on the poet-dramatist's evolving reputation--which Taylor calls ``Shakesperotics''--this lively survey also examines developments in publishing, journalism, theater, censorship, morality, education, sex, economics, politics, ideology, social and material culture. Among the enormous cast of characters engagingly presented are not only Garrick, Kean and Gordon Craig, but also Burke, Keats and Coleridge, Dowden, Bradley and Chambers, Shaw, Joyce and Cleanth Brooks. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Like Louis Marder in His Exits and His Entrances (1963), Taylor examines Shakespeare's rise from a half-forgotten playwright to the brightest jewel in the crown of English literature. What distinguishes Taylor's effort, however, is his equal emphasis on political, social, and historical events as well as events in the literary and theatrical world. Taylor ably illustrates how such disparate elements encouraged the series of happy accidents that allowed Shakespeare's reputation to flourish. Taylor's irreverent, tongue-in-cheek style may prevent his book from being taken as serious scholarship; this would be a mistake, as it is a delightful, illuminating read. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-- James Stephenson, The Soc . of the Cincinnati Lib., Washington, D.C.
Booknews
Relates the various interpretations of Shakespeare's plays to the concerns and values of the particular era, and uses the contrasts to examine the bases of aesthetic judgement. Includes 30 black-and-white plates. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781555840785
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
08/15/1989
Edition description:
1st ed
Pages:
544

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Gary Taylor is Associate Professor of English Literature at Brandeis University. He is a joint general editor of Oxford's Shakespeare: Complete Works, co-author of William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion and The Division of the Kingdoms: Shakespeare's Two Versions of "King Lear", and author of To Analyze Delight: A Hedonist Criticism of Shakespeare.

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