Shakespeare's Restless World: An Unexpected History In Twenty Objects
- Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date:
- 27 September 2012
Showing 1-2 out of 2 reviews.
This book was a gift: I am not sure that I would have bought it for myself, but I am very glad that it came into my hands. It comes in a plain red cover bearing the title,'Shakespeare's Restless World', in silver lettering. This outward show of modesty belies a sumptuous interior, lavished with beautiful photographs and illustrations which, when ingested with the excellent commentary provided by Neil MacGregor , really brings the age of Shakespeare to life.William Shakespeare set his plays in many far off places and across the panoply of historic time but, his tales were written to capture the attention of an audience around the cusp of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These were violent times and, had he tackled contemporary issues head on, he may well have ended his days head off! When Caesar bestrides the Roman Senate, Shakespeare's audience would have understood that the plot really concerned current political difficulties. The passing of four hundred years means that, to all but a few history buffs, the machinations to which Shakespeare refers are long forgotten. This wonderful book reawakens an understanding of the contemporary aspects of his work, whilst allowing that one of the truly amazing things about these plays, is their ability to resonate in a modern era.This is a book that, I would imagine, any Shakespeare aficionado would be proud to own but, it is more; it is a torch shining light upon the plays for people, such as myself, who wish to enhance their enjoyment of his work and know more about a fascinating period in English history.
This book follows a fascinating premise: what are the influences that inspired Shakespeare‘s plays? To really appreciate this book one has to understand that the Elizabethan and Jacobean plays were, quite revolutionary, not just accessible to the nobleman or an eminent personage at court, but to the general public, and as such also served another purpose apart from mere entertainment: that is, to educate about history, politics and national and international news.This is a gorgeously produced hardcover brimming with the quality of its writing and of the astonishingly detailed photographs of the twenty objects featured, as well as the reproductions of numerous contemporaneous maps, woodcuts, paintings, coins and other written documents that really bring history alive. Anyone who has listened to him on Radio 4 knows what a clear voice Neil MacGregor has, and his writing is just as clear and easily understandable considering such a complex topic, illustrated by excerpts from the plays and contemporary quotations. Here he continues with his winning formula first encountered during A History of the World in 100 Objects, and yet again he achieves an easy rapport with his readership and has it follow his every word with keen interest. He augments his close examination of the various objects with comments from a variety of experts and scholars to convey as much understanding as possible to the reader. This is an eminently readable historic literary detective story that offers us a fascinating insight into the momentous changes that occurred during Shakespeare’s lifetime and shows how topical he was. The nineteen early modern objects featured here (plus the Complete Works that sustained the Robben Island prisoners in South Africa during the Apartheid) - among them a lost iron fork, a woollen cap, a silver cup and a wooden ship model, some of them actually housed at the British Museum - represent the turmoil that affected nearly each area of life of the ordinary citizen during the Elizabethan and early Jacobean age, offering the reader a captivating glance into their minds and mindsets. As Neil MacGregor himself states in his introduction, “They aim instead to take us immediately to a particular person or place, to a way of thinking and of acting which may be difficult to recover if we work only from texts, or look top-down at broader historical currents. They are a physical starting point for a three-way conversation between the objects themselves, the people who used or looked at them, and the words of the playwright which have become such an embedded part of our language and our lives.” As Mark Forsyth remarked in the epilogue of The Horologicon, people write about the things they know, and Shakespeare did just that: the world of the Elizabethans and Jacobeans is contained within his plays and more than four hundred years later we can still find relevance in them; they are, as Ben Jonson said, “not of an age, but for all time”. To understand Shakespeare, one also has to understand his time and environment. Unmissable.(This review was originally written as part of Amazon's Vine programme.)
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