This will be the final entry in the blog for 2017, as I soon depart for a land beyond the reach of the internet, more or less. Which will be like going back in time. To a time I cannot help but be envious of, those innocent days when the planet was still a place to roam free, with all the risk and adventure which that implied.
Of course, I am guilty of hyperbole. The planet, or at least our anthropocene planet, has gone through various revolutions of technology and communication. Globe describes one of them. Having read more than a few Shakespeare books of late, this one stands out for the way in which the author places the playwright within the context of his times. Not least making it clear what a young, pristine craft the art of playwrighting was when he arrived on the scene. The pioneers were also the definers; it could be argued that the learning curve in playwrighting is all wrong. The craft reached a peak in this country within fifty years of being initiated and it’s never scaled those heights again. Which might be a little harsh on the likes of Shaw, Pinter, Churchill and their ilk, but there’s no denying the glory of the Elizabethan stage, an explosion of creativity, shaped by ambitious, competitive young men desperate to make their mark.
Arnold’s book navigates the tricky task of writing about an elusive subject with efficiency. Unlike Shapiro, she doesn’t speculate too much on his motives or the subtexts of his plays. Instead, she carefully lays the groundwork for an understanding of the socio-cultural environment Shakespeare belonged to. A clear love for London helps in this; she reserves her greatest flights of fancy for a re-imagining of the city as it might have been then. The book also does a fine job of tracing the links between Shakespeare and his contemporaries Greene, Marlowe and Johnson. All in all it’s an engaging read and an excellent introduction for anyone wanting to get a handle on who the mysterious genius might have been, he who surfed the net of his new art form with such remarkable agility.