Reading Shapiro’s 1599

This is an excellent introduction to the plays that Shakespeare wrote in this very productive year. The fascinating account begins with a description of the theatre moving down from Shoreditch to the Southbank and its subsequent reconstruction. There is a useful summary of some of the leading actors among the Chamberlain’s Men.

There is a linkage between the major incidents of the times such as; Elizabeth’s Court, another possible invasion from another Armada and the troubles in Ireland including the attempts of Essex to deal with the situation. (It would be good to re-read Elisabeth and Essex by Lytton Strachey to consider how his account differs.)

Shapiro is also excellent on the individual plays and ther connections with the period. How As You Like It is informed by the destruction of the forests like Arden-linked by name to the Ardennes. The effect of the enclosures and rural poverty are considered which of course comes up again in Coriolanus. The evolution of Hamlet is connected with the development of Brutus in Julius Caesar. Also there is much of interest about the development of the soliloquies under the influence of the Essay form from Montaigne but moderated by early English essayists. A compelling read and for further reviews there are:-  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/jun/04/classics.highereducation and http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/21451/part_2/in-the-shadow-of-the-queen.thtml

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