“Frank Kermode is one of the great critics of our time. All his books should be required reading. The Age of Shakespeare is everything one could hope for: scholarly, fascinating, accessible, and, above all, a complete education in itself.”
—Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
“Drawing on his prevenient critical masterpiece (Shakespeare’s Language) for everything to do with poetry, Kermode efficiently articulates the intricacies of Life, the Age, and the Stage, distributing the plays according to the sequence of theaters the bard so successfully exploited, and disclosing how the poems had to rely on changing patronal conventions. All the essential elements—even a bibliography!—are here, organized with a rare and rewarding elegance.”
—Richard Howard, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
“During a lifetime of study, Frank Kermode has virtually internalized the body of Shakespeare’s work, and lucky for us, he seems fond of externalizing the results in writing whose clarity rivals the depth and breadth of his scholarship. The perfect companion to Shakespeare’s Language, in which the poetry itself came under his sensitive scrutiny, The Age of Shakespeare not only provides a wide-angle view of the social, political, and cultural conditions of the Elizabethan world but also pegs each play to its exact date of composition. Academics and common readers alike have much to learn from Kermode’s illuminating and delectable study.”
—Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate and author of Nine Horses and Sailing Alone Around the Room
Kermode clears the way with an overview of Tudor politics and the growth of English Protestantism, a rich background for his discussion of what is known about Shakespeare's early life, including the recent debate over his possible Catholicism. The heart of the book is its account of the swift evolution of English drama from its late-medieval forms to its professional heights not long after Elizabeth's death in 1603, and the many threads, political, financial and social, that connected the theater to the worlds of court and city. Kermode's portrayal of the crush of the London playhouse and its place in a bustling world of commerce and competition is vibrant and full of learning. Shakespeare's rivalry with poets like Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson develops in the context of other contests, in which adult actors vie with boys' troupes and court factions plot for power.
While the age of Shakespeare overlapped with the both the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, Kermode's compact, erudite appreciation of the Bard is less about Shakespeare's private life and turbulent times than his theatrical milieu and the worlds he created for the stage. Quick summaries of the pressing political issues of the Protestant Reformation and the successor Queen Elizabeth are followed by up-to-date surveys of the debates over Shakespeare's possible crypto-Catholicism and his "missing" years. But Kermode hits his stride with the plays. His breakdown of Shakespeare's artistic development and mature achievement by the various acting companies and theaters he was associated with from the Lord Chamberlain's Company to the renamed King's Men, from the Theatre and the Rose to the Globe and Blackfriars proves a satisfying structure to match the swift pace. Inevitably, the brevity of the Chronicles format can't provide equal time to all of Shakespeare's million-plus words of dramatic poetry, and Kermode prefers the tragedies and romances over the histories and comedies (to say nothing of the sonnets). Occasionally shifting to lectern manner, he also revisits some of his favorite tropes, which he explored in Shakespeare's Language, such as rhetorical doubling and pairing in Hamlet and the theme of equivocation in Macbeth. While Ben Jonson declared, "[Shakespeare] was not for an age, but for all time!" Kermode pleasurably shows how he and his works were of their age and also transcended it. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
The distinguished critic Frank Kermode presents Shakespeare as an actor, a playwright, a poet, a minor courtier, and a highly successful businessman. He blends his discussion of Shakespeare's life and works into an analysis of the political, religious, and economic realities of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. The result is an astute assessment of the greatest dramatist in a period of explosive interest in drama. An astounding 3000 plays were written in this time period, of which approximately 650 survive. Kermode demonstrates that as the world of the theatre changed and developed, so too did Shakespeare. Some plays receive more commentary than others. Of the comedies, he refers to The Two Gentlemen of Verona as "a slight work" and to Love's Labour's Lost as "the finest." He agrees with W. H. Auden that The Merry Wives of Windsor is "'a very dull play indeed.'" As one might expect, he concludes that Hamlet is "the most remarkable" in its "complexity and scope," and explains that in Hamlet Shakespeare uses a "new dramatic language to explore the minds of the characters." This led to a new type of acting he refers to as "personation." Another example of Kermode's gifted analysis is in his discussion of King Lear. He questions, "Why must Cordelia be murdered?" noting "no existing version of the story except Shakespeare's records this loss." He concludes that the play is one "conscious of apocalypse," reflecting "a darkness in the national mood" at the time. Although focused primarily on the plays and the times in which they were written, Kermode does not avoid some of the controversies surrounding Shakespeare's personal life. He offers somelevelheaded responses to questions relating to Shakespeare's religion, the "lost years," and the identity of the Dark Lady of the sonnets. Perhaps his most provocative comment is the suggestion that Shakespeare may not have intended to retire to Stratford, noting that only three years before his death, he purchased the Blackfriars Gatehouse in London. Readers of this volume will be pleased in every respect except oneit is too brief. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2004, Random House, Modern Library, 214p. illus. notes. bibliog. index., Ages 15 to adult.
A teacher and scholar of English literature, Kermode has written and edited numerous works on Shakespeare and other literary giants. With this work, he delves into the cultural and political scenery of Elizabethan England as Shakespeare would have known it in his lifetime. He begins with an assessment of the frailty of royal succession, the problems in establishing the Church of England, and the impact of the Reformation on everyday lives. Next we learn that Shakespeare married young, became a father, and moved from Stratford to London, keeping his private life separate from the stage. Having no luck in the poetry market, Shakespeare began writing plays; in 1598, the Globe was constructed. Kermode tells quite a bit about Shakespeare's fellow playwrights and actors, giving a concise history lesson in outdoor theater. Briefly reviewing each play, even drawing on comments from audience members who attended performances, Kermode reveals how Shakespeare became a master of the soliloquy, mixing tragedy with humor and delicately balancing political realities into his plays to please royalty and common folk alike. This short but concise work will appeal to history and theater buffs as well as Anglophiles. Because of the occasional linguistic analysis, however, it may be too in-depth for general readers.-Jaime Anderson, Cty. of Henrico P.L., VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-A learned, if brief, journey through the world of William Shakespeare. Written in elegant, concise prose accessible to laypersons, the book moves quickly through the latest critical debates about the Bard's origins, and deftly summarizes the historical background of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods in which he lived and worked. The great political and religious issues of the times are explicated clearly and linked to the development of live theater as a mainstay of English popular culture. Most outstanding are the entertaining discussions of Shakespeare's literary successes in relation to his professional associations with a succession of professional acting companies and theaters. The analyses of the magnificent language in the context of contemporary cultural assumptions, evolving styles of acting, and the physical demands of the playhouses bring readers both a broader understanding and a deeper appreciation of the playwright's artistic triumphs. Along with Kermode's equally fine Shakespeare's Language (Farrar, 2001), this is an excellent choice for students curious (or struggling) to understand what all the fuss is about the Bard of Avon.-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.