Review: Becoming Shakespeare, Jack Lynch

What I wanted: A corrective emotional experience to How Shakespeare Changed Everything, which I hated.

Why I didn’t read Will in the World, which I own and still haven’t read, rather than going to the library to get this: Y’all, I don’t know. I felt like a how their reputation happened sort of a book.

My satisfaction level: Moderate. To be fair I don’t think I’d have felt any different if I’d read Will in the World, and perhaps less satisfied because it wouldn’t have been the sort of book I was in the mood for, which, again, was a how their reputation happened sort of book. I am mad for that kind of book. I could read twenty jillion of them. Even if they’re not super awesome, they still always contain interesting tidbits.

An interesting tidbit: In the olden days, when the Puritans receded and they brought back theater (no theater and no Christmas! what the hell, Puritans?), Charles II licensed two theaters only to produce Dramas. They were the only legitimate theaters in the land, so if any theater besides these two licensed ones tried to put on Othello, they’d get slapped with whatever sorts of penalties Charles II meted out in the olden (but non-Puritan) days. However, the other theaters could do other sorts of performances, like variety shows or puppet shows or I suppose pantos if they wanted to and if they had pantos back then. So the other theaters would cleverly have plays but intersperse them with songs, making like it was a variety show. Cunning. Jack Lynch implies this might be the reason pretentious theater people (at least all the ones I encountered in high school) hate musical theater. I don’t know if that’s actually the reason, but I choose to believe that it is because it has a good anecdote to go with it, and I like anecdotes.

If this review seems desultory, that’s because the book was desultory. This was intended. Jack Lynch wasn’t (if I understand him correctly) trying to write something comprehensive and scholarly, but just to give a sense of the broad arc of Shakespeare lovin’ in its various manifestations over the centuries. So like, there’s a chapter on abridging and bowdlerizing Shakespeare, there’s a chapter on Shakespeare fakes (I felt clever for knowing about all of these from Contested Will), and so forth. Because of my insatiable appetite for books like this, I wanted every one of the chapters to be like six times longer than it was, and I got frustrated with the way the chapters would just, just, just end! They’d just end, before I was done enjoying them! Before I’d had my fill of reading quotes from people back in the day about how much they all love Shakespeare.

Hm, it seems from this that I’m definitely recovered from the fight I was in with Shakespeare over Taming of the Shrew. I should get back on that project of reading all Shakespeare’s plays in order. If I could just read one reasonable, clear-eyed explication of Taming of the Shrew, I’d feel infinity times better. Maybe I should stop delaying gratification and just read Shakespeare the Thinker already, which has been sitting on my shelf and in the back of my mind for over a year now. It looks so great! It looks so clear and reasonable! I want to read it so much, so that Shakespeare and I can definitely be friends again and I can carry on reading all his plays in the order he wrote them, but on the other hand I feel like I’ll get more out of Shakespeare the Thinker if I’ve already read all of Shakespeare’s plays. CONUNDRUM.

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8 thoughts on “Review: Becoming Shakespeare, Jack Lynch

  1. I’ve not heard of this book, perhaps it’s just a well. You’re reading Shakespeare’s plays in the order he wrote them? – excellent! I’m just reading them as and when I’m in the mood for one – next up – either Richard III or Othello or possibly As You LIke It.

    I long and long and long to see a panto and deeply regret that I did not do so when in England
    Oh no, you don’t! (Sorry, couldn’t resist)
    Do you not have them or anything similar over the Pond? I’m not sure you’re missing much apart from the cross-dressing and the terrible jokes.

  2. I have an unreasonable prejudice against books and movies titled
    Becoming [Insert Famous Person]. I have no idea why, but I guess the voice in the back of my mind keeps thinking, didn’t he become Shakespeare by being born? Anyway, I do like the idea of “how their reputation happened” books, although I can’t think of one that I’ve actually read. Hmmm…

    Also, I was not crazy about Will in the World. It was all speculation on top of hypothesizing on top of strained readings based on more speculation. I just didn’t see the point.

    And Taming of the Shrew is my guilty Shakespeare pleasure. I kind of love it, while recognizing that, yes, it is misogynist as can be. I’m more likely to fight with Shakespeare over Merchant of Venice, except that I love Portia’s “Quality of mercy” speech to pieces (all while loathing Portia–my feelings are complicated when it comes to Merchant).

  3. *frowny face* Everyone focuses on the Puritans and their hatred of Christmas. Cromwell really did have good logic behind his actions, besides ‘you godless revelers, with your maypoles and your Christmas trinkets’, even if he probably shouldn’t have lopped off Charle’s head (I am very much anti-this nowadays, but I find it very hard to stick by my no death for creepy heads of state rulers stance when it comes to Charles I).

    Still, it’s hard to totally love someone who didn’t want theatres, sadly because I really want Cromwell to be my homeboy.

    Anyway…I had heard that fact about plays with singing before, but forgot it and I love the idea that this might tie into a snobby hatred of musicals. Let us all use it as an excuse to see musicals all the time, because we are defeating the historical royalist agenda or something.

  4. I will join the movement to see musicals all the time!
    Taming of the Shrew is my least favorite and Othello my most favorite. There is an opera version of the Othello story that I have never seen; perhaps I should. Despite years of urging, I will never like the musical Kiss me, Kate.

  5. Don’t you hate it when a book you are loving doesn’t give you enough? This usually never happens with fiction, but I find that sometimes I am reading nonfiction and just when I am getting really embroiled, the chapter ends! I feel your frustration on this one, but I am glad that you liked it!

  6. I was going to make that joke about the White Witch! And I like musicals, but I don’t want to defeat the royalist agenda. The Royals are Wrong but Wromantic whereas the Roundheads are Right but Repulsive.

  7. Nice review, Jenny! This looks like an interesting book for Shakespeare lovers. I have ‘Will in the World’ – I got it when it came out and it has been languishing on my bookshelf for maybe six or seven years now. I hope to read it sometime. I don’t know whether I would like to read all of Shakespeare’s plays sometime – maybe I would when I have the time – but I would definitely like to read Charles and Mary Lamb’s retelling of them, which is a classic on its own.

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