January Books 10) How To Read Shakespeare, by Nicholas Royle

Picked this up yesterday in the bargain bin at Sterling for a euro, and it was money very well spent. Apparently this is part of a series of “How to Read” books; other topics addressed include Foucault, Derrida, Hitler and the Bible. This must demand a certain variety of approach from the authors.

Royle takes seven short dialogues from seven Shakespeare plays (The Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and Anthony and Cleopatra) and hangs a short essay on each of them explaining what Shakespeare is doing in the dialogue, in the play, and more broadly in his work, in particular concentrating on the words that are used. It’s a very good illumination of that particulat aspect of encountering Shakespeare, and I was particularly pleased that his take on Hamlet coincided pretty closely with my own (so he must be a very sensible chap).

However, he doesn’t really make enough of the important consideration that these plays were not intended as texts to be read – indeed, the title of the book asks the wrong question. It’s also rather striking that none of the English history plays are among the chosen seven. I would have been happier with the book if Royle had acknowledged these gaps.

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