Shakespeare in a Divided America
From leading scholar James Shapiro, a timely exploration of what Shakespeare's plays reveal about our divided land, from Revolutionary times to the present dayRead at school by almost every student, staged in theaters across the land, and long highly valued by both conservatives and liberals alike, Shakespeare's plays are rare common ground in the United States. For well over two centuries now, Americans of all stripes--presidents and activists, writers and soldiers--have turned to Shakespeare's works to address the nation's political fault lines, such as manifest destiny, race, gender, immigration, and free speech. In a narrative arching across the centuries, James Shapiro traces the unparalleled role of Shakespeare's 400-year-old tragedies and comedies in making sense of so many of these issues on which American identity has turned. Reflecting on how Shakespeare has been invoked--and at times weaponized--at pivotal moments in our past, Shapiro takes us from President John Quincy Adams's disgust with Desdemona's interracial marriage to Othello, to Abraham Lincoln's and his assassin John Wilkes Booth's competing obsessions with the plays, up through the fraught debates over marriage and same-sex love at the heart of the celebrated adaptations Kiss Me Kate and Shakespeare in Love. His narrative culminates in the 2017 controversy over the staging of Julius Caesar in Central Park, in which a Trump-like leader is assassinated.Extraordinarily researched, Shakespeare in a Divided America shows that no writer has been more closely embraced by Americans, or has shed more light on the hot-button issues in our history. Indeed, it is by better understanding Shakespeare's role in American life, Shapiro argues, that we might begin to mend our bitterly divided land.

Shakespeare in a Divided America Details

TitleShakespeare in a Divided America
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMar 10th, 2020
PublisherPenguin Press
ISBN-139780525522294
Rating
GenreNonfiction, History, Politics, Writing, Books About Books, Literature

Shakespeare in a Divided America Review

  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    From BBC Radio 4:Leading scholar James Shapiro makes a timely exploration of what Shakespeares plays reveal about deep divisions in the United States - from revolutionary times to the present day.The plays of William Shakespeare are rare common ground in the United States. They are read at school by almost every student, staged in theatres across the country, and valued by conservatives and liberals alike. For well over two centuries, Americans of all stripes - presidents and activists, writers From BBC Radio 4:Leading scholar James Shapiro makes a timely exploration of what Shakespeare’s plays reveal about deep divisions in the United States - from revolutionary times to the present day.The plays of William Shakespeare are rare common ground in the United States. They are read at school by almost every student, staged in theatres across the country, and valued by conservatives and liberals alike. For well over two centuries, Americans of all stripes - presidents and activists, writers and soldiers - have turned to Shakespeare’s works to explore the nation’s fault lines, including issues such as race, gender, immigration, and free speech.In a narrative arching across the centuries, from revolutionary times to the present day, James Shapiro traces the unparalleled role of Shakespeare’s 400 year-old tragedies and comedies in illuminating the concerns on which American identity has turned. No writer has been more closely embraced by Americans, or has shed more light on the pressing issues in their history. Shapiro argues it is by better understanding Shakespeare’s role in American life that Americans might begin to mend their bitterly divided land.Written by James ShapiroRead by Kerry ShaleAbridged by Kerry Shale and Jill WatersProducer: Lizzie DaviesA Waters Company production for BBC Radio 4https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000...
    more
  • Jason Wilson
    January 1, 1970
    Via Audible. Ever since the west began colonising America , the nation has had a love affair with Shakespeare, whose linguistic similarity to the King James Bible gave it almost the status of a secular scripture. Shapiro, an American Professor whose two books on years in Shakespeares career are both excellent, here holds up various moments from U.S. history when the plays have both mirrored and been embroiled in cultural redefinition. An early American President, John Quincy Adams, despite Via Audible. Ever since the west began colonising America , the nation has had a love affair with Shakespeare, whose linguistic similarity to the King James Bible gave it almost the status of a secular scripture. Shapiro, an American Professor whose two books on years in Shakespeare’s career are both excellent, here holds up various moments from U.S. history when the plays have both mirrored and been embroiled in cultural redefinition. An early American President, John Quincy Adams, despite hailing from Massachusetts which had abolished slavery decades before the Civil War, uses Othello to explore whether black and white races should intermingle. On the eve of the Civil War, as the theatre is one of the few classless places, a dispute between two actors shows the deep divisions in society. As Wilkes Booth assassinates Lincoln, a self educated president who loved Shakespeare, he casts himself as Brutus and Lincoln as Caesar while Lincoln’s supporters see him as Duncan from Macbeth. The Taming of the Shrew is embroiled in changing conceptions of gender roles : look beneath the jollity of its musical adaption Kiss me Kate and beneath the surface of the jaunty number Brush up your Shakespeare is a comical treatment of domestic violence. A production of Julius Caesar showing Trump as the assassinated dictator violently polarises his supporters and critics leading to attempts to disrupt performances with paintball guns, as in an anti-Obama reaction colour blind casting and diversity are seen as left wing political correctness. These and other moments are brilliantly explored and we are left with the prospect of Shakespeare being finally rejected as liberal and elitist by the American right. This is a thoughtful dossier.
    more
  • Emma
    January 1, 1970
    A gripping, intriguing look into how the works of Shakespeare have shaped and reflected the development of the United States. The first few chapters build on primary documents provided in Shapiros Shakespeare in America anthology. By the time he gets to the Astor Place Riot, the narrative moves swiftly and cinematically, fully engrossing. The chapter about the development of the musical Kiss Me Kate and its reflections of post WWII marital relations was my favorite. The whole book moves at a A gripping, intriguing look into how the works of Shakespeare have shaped and reflected the development of the United States. The first few chapters build on primary documents provided in Shapiro’s Shakespeare in America anthology. By the time he gets to the Astor Place Riot, the narrative moves swiftly and cinematically, fully engrossing. The chapter about the development of the musical Kiss Me Kate and it’s reflections of post WWII marital relations was my favorite. The whole book moves at a quick pace, with interesting analysis and quality research. If you’re going to read one Shakespeare book this year, this is the one to choose.
    more
  • Greg Talbot
    January 1, 1970
    If we wish to know the force of human genius we should read Shakespeare. If we wish to see the insignificance of human learning we may study his commentators." --William Hazlitt"The Mousetrap. Marry, how? Tropically. This play is the image of a murder done in Vienna. Gonzago is the dukes name, his wife Baptista. You shall see anon. 'Tis a knavish piece of work, but what o' that? Your majesty and we that have free souls, it touches us not. Let the galled jade wince, our withers are unwrung." - “If we wish to know the force of human genius we should read Shakespeare. If we wish to see the insignificance of human learning we may study his commentators." --William Hazlitt"The Mousetrap. Marry, how? Tropically. This play is the image of a murder done in Vienna. Gonzago is the duke’s name, his wife Baptista. You shall see anon. 'Tis a knavish piece of work, but what o' that? Your majesty and we that have free souls, it touches us not. Let the galled jade wince, our withers are unwrung." - Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2Every performance is an interaction. Actors and text. Actors and actors. Actors and audience. Audience to Audience. And to audiences beyond the theater - to dining rooms or more likely Twitter feed comments. Given Shakespeare's appeal in the culture or by common core standards (91% of high school sophomores encountering him), it's no surprise that his work still provokes the passions today.Shapiro, having brilliantly written about the mayhem of the gunpowder plot in 1606 ("The Year of Lear"), here looks at American cultural wrestling with Shakepeare's works. Juilius Ceasar, a play about using undemocratic means to preserve democracy, caused a national outrage when performed shortly after the Trump inaugration the summer of 2017. Oskar Eustis's play, never naming it's character outright, but presently the boorish and brash demagogue as a Trump-stand in. And proceeds to height the play with a ruthless assassination scene and audience actors as protestors to heighten the sense of paranoia to the audience. The same play enticed the passions of the actor John Wilkes Booth and his anti-Lincoln sentiments which would produce a historical murder of Shakespearean proportion.Although Shakesperae's historical plays and trajedies have bucketloads to say about power. Shapiro writes about the fault lines of social power. With the ever-confrontational "Taming of the Shrew". Shakespeare's lines of love's temperance by Kate and submission to her partner were as inflammatory in Shakespeare's time. "Fair looks and true obedience—Too little payment for so great a debt.Such duty as the subject owes the prince,Even such a woman oweth to her husband"Without a similar commitment to his wife, unearned domination by Petruchio brings out gleeful subversive interpretations, didactic feminist ones, and creative comedic interpretations. Recalling a Shakespeare class I took in college, I remember a broken beatdown interpretation of Kate losing her agency and submitting to her new husband. And still I have enjoyed the text, and seen intepretations that suggest a mutual playfulness between the two like in the teenage rom-com "10 things I hate about you".American attitudes toward homosexuality or deviations from traditional male-female courtship can be tried in the most traditional readings of comedies like "As you Like It" and "Twelth Knight". Men falling in love with drag-dressed women can be dismissed as farcical, but presented on stage it's quite powerful. Shapiro acknowledges the drastic changes that the majority of Americans feel toward homosexual relationships, but he details the pains to which Tom Stoppard and other writers were forced to blandly create an Oscar-worthy Shakespeare love story that fit american attitudes toward romance ("Shakespeare in Love"). Homosexual desire of the poet was cleaned up, as was the heterosexual infidelity outside of marriage that provoked feelings in this protagonist. Harold Bloom once called Shakespeare's canon the secular Bible, and as holy in his estimation as the King James Bible. Genius is throw around loosely in the arts...but i can think of no other author who has created the language and stories around identity that permeate our culture toward. Every performance is an interpretation. Every conversation reveals his work, and our ears. And as long as find a piece of ourselves in these words, we'll continue to find a way to hear it.
    more
  • Tom
    January 1, 1970
    I really loved this book. It examines the ways in which Shakespeare has been interpreted in America at times of great cultural division. This is a fascinating topic, and Shapiro presents it very well. A secondary pleasure of the book is that each chapter centers on one production, so each can be read out of order or at different times without you losing the thread. Although this is an odd comment coming from someone who read the whole thing in a day and intends to read it again.Anyone even I really loved this book. It examines the ways in which Shakespeare has been interpreted in America at times of great cultural division. This is a fascinating topic, and Shapiro presents it very well. A secondary pleasure of the book is that each chapter centers on one production, so each can be read out of order or at different times without you losing the thread. Although this is an odd comment coming from someone who read the whole thing in a day and intends to read it again.Anyone even slightly acquainted with this man's writing will know that he does good work. I recommend it to the rest of you too.
    more
  • Sarah Dunsbee
    January 1, 1970
    Interesting,only heard the abridged radio version, which was good but mostly the modern eras, from the two other excellent reviews already written by others who have read the actual book it's clear that it's more balanced in full.
  • Sherman
    January 1, 1970
    Strong review in NY Times Book Review: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/11/bo...
  • Sophiescott
    January 1, 1970
    Must read book talking about English literature
Write a review