This is Shakespeare

This is Shakespeare

This is Shakespeare – Emma Smith

“Ambiguity is the oxygen of these works,” page 3, introduction.

So it is. After several years, and at least one academic book about Shakespeare, and dozens of podcasts by the same author, I have clues as to her analysis and thinking. But that single snippet sums up a great deal about what is up ahead.

The first chapter is on Taming of the Shrew, and as I would expect from her excellent (podcast) lectures, the books asks questions, but leaves no definite answer.

Then again, isn’t that the nature of great art? Make the spectator ask questions and find answers for his, or her, self?

I was left a little underwhelmed by the first book I read by the esteemed Emma Smith, but that’s a judgement based on my expectations, not a swipe at her or her street credentials. That noted, the first chapter alone delivered what I wanted, background, scholarship, questions, and observations I’ve never actively considered.

Which is what I look for in text like this.

Her commentary on The Comedy of Errors starts out, lifted almost, from her podcast and lecture, I would guess, but turn a page, there’s new material, drilling down a little deeper.

At the conclusion to Chapter 4, on Richard II, the final line, “…again, we make Shakespeare mean what we want him to mean.” (Page 66).

This is Shakespeare Some of the material, I’ve listened to a handful of her podcasts over and over, but some of her material delves into more metaphysical realms, and thereby, touches upon — gives voice to — sentiments, and prescient observations I’ve used in my own works. One comment, when it surfaced the third or fourth time, made me think back to long, boring rides to and from Austin with her podcast reverberating in my ears, and her question of “agency.”

“Agency” in this setting, a way I never heard it before, it was the question of “free-will” versus “pre-determined” outcomes. Thankfully, that question isn’t yet resolved, not in my mind. Is it the stars above that govern our dispositions? Or are we in charge, masters of our own fates?

“At the time of Shakespeare’s writing, philosophies of causation were on the move.” (Page 72)

In the chapter on Romeo and Juliette, using the play’s preface as a springboard, the question of the nature of tragedy, set against the characters, and that preface. Who is in charge? Questions, not answers, and questions best left to the readers themselves.

Throughout her take on Romeo and Juliet, there was the academic suggestion that it appeared at the same time as Midsummer’s Night’s Eve, and in doing so, has crossed swords. I couldn’t help but think about Shakespeare for Squirrels since that was one or two books before, in my reading stack.

This is Shakespeare

The book itself, with March 31, 2020 release date, might be one of the earliest examples of a pandemic victim. I missed the release entirely, and it wasn’t until a local bookstore started to let me browse again, did I happen across the title. Flipped it open, red the first few lines of the introduction, checked to make sure it was that Emma Smith that I knew from her excellent podcasts and whatnot?

Full price, at the moment. No question. Worth every cent. While some of this is certainly high-brow Oxford professor stuff, she can also draw a direct line between one of Shakespeare’s fan-favorite’s Falstaff, and our own modern day Homer Simpson, “D’oh.”

This is Shakespeare

For the last two dozen years, maybe longer, I’ve held one, then two texts as my “go-to” for Shakespeare studies and preparations, Bloom and Garber. So in the last seven years, I’ve added — toyed with — several Shakespeare-themed podcasts. Emma Smith’s lecture series nailed it best, but to this day, I still find the Chopped Bard podcast equally refreshing, if somewhat longer-winded.

I won’t completely replace the previously mentioned texts, but when possible, the Emma Smith book is just — for me — easier to read, more enjoyable, and has a kind of even-handed approach, fraught with possibilities and questions, but not promising an easy solution.

As a reference book, suppose I’m about to watch a play, or see a movie, something by Shakespeare? If it is play she’s covered in the book? A few minutes rereading her comments and questions adds a world of background, and helps flesh out the material, and makes it easier to understand what is happening, and why.

But, in its heart? It’s just more questions rather than answers.

This is Shakespeare

Part of this is not just about the book, but its contents. The book-buying adventure, first it was in a corner of a big-box bookstore, the local Barnes & Noble. I knew of the book’s publication, but not the exact date. Part of the first round of pandemic pause material. I started reading it, and got, maybe halfway through, then it was set aside.

On rare occasions, I would check the online libraries for a copy, if I needed a quick reference.

In bed, the other evening, looking at baseball games, Shakespeare performances, and Moon Phases for fishing, I wondered if Emma Smith’s This is Shakespeare was available as an e-book.

It was on sale, $4.99 on the i-books thing. Store. Whatever. Well-worth it. I keep a copy of digital copy of King James, Marcus Aurelius, and The Complete Works. Plus a couple of library books, whatever I might be reading at the time.

There are very few, count on one hand, the number of authors where I keep a hardback copy of the text, and a digital copy.

It’s brilliant, timely, succinct, and the best reference I have for Shakespeare’s Works, better than anything else I’ve found. Accessible yet academic in the same breath. Worth it to have two copies.

This is Shakespeare

This is Shakespeare – Emma Smith

#Shakespeare

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