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.