Friday, 15 January 2016

1606 [james shapiro]

This is Shapiro’s sequel to 1599. Same idea, different year, in the life of the Shake-speare. Once again, Shapiro offers a comprehensive historical resume of the year in question, shaped by plague, the travails of the new king and the Gunpowder Plot, an axis point in British history. 1606 is the year of Lear, Macbeth and Antony & Cleopatra, so there’s no shortage of material for Shapiro to wrestle with. And wrestle with it he does, tracking down every available reference, exercising a prodigious use of contemporary accounts of witchcraft trials, court masques and much more besides. This is where the writer really earns his corn, wading through obscure texts so that you don’t have to in order to construct his portrayal of a precarious time, one where civil war was only a few decades away. The seeds of that war were present in James 1’s reign and Shapiro observes Shakespeare engaging with these conflicts within his texts. As a book, this reader found 1606 slightly less engaging that 1599, which represents a more accessible starting point, (as well as the chronological logic), with the author’s investigations becoming so immersed in the Jacobean world that Shakespeare himself sometimes seemed to slide out of focus. Nevertheless, for anyone with an interest in the three featured plays, or an advanced curiosity in the bard, Shapiro’s scholarship is an essential point of reference. 

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