Free Reading Friday: Soul of the Age

ShakespeareThis post is a little late today. My best friend has been visiting me from Georgia and instead of doing the responsible thing and writing this blog the night before so it would publish at exactly 8 am, I stayed up until just before midnight watching old Friends reruns and talking with her. Probably the greatest thing about my best friend is that we never have to plan anything big or grand to do together. We can just sit together in a room, watch old reruns and chat. And we can do this for hours. In our 20 some year friendship, I have never once run out of things to say to her. That’s why she’s my best friend.

Alas, this morning she left for the next leg of her journey: a visit to her parents in Missouri. It was a pretty darn sad morning. Not only was I bemoaning the fact that she had to leave, but my kids were trying to find ways to make her stay just a little longer. My daughter was trying to convince us all that we needed to go to our favorite coffee shop one more time. She ran down the hall to her bedroom only to emerge about 30 seconds later fully dressed. This a feat my daughter has never before accomplished. But I understand as desperate times call for desperate measures…even being dressed before 9 on a summer morning.

Now that we are done crying and I have resolved myself to the fact that I won’t see her again until mid-September, I figured I should probably write this blog.

So this blog is tribute, of sorts, to my darling best friend. Although she is a Victorian scholar rather than a Shakespearean one, she did teach a Shakespeare class last semester and it was really fun because we got to collaborate a bit. Sure, I teach high school students about good ol’ Will, and her students were all at least college sophomores, but I’ve taught a variety of his plays over the last 20 years and it was fun comparing activities, essays and source materials. Like me, she went beyond mere readings of his plays to look not only at performances, but also the way Shakespeare has invaded pop culture and the world around us. Not many writers have had the kind of influence Willy has, and it is fun to introduce students to his works and lasting influence.

One of my best Shakespeare related memories was seeing a performance of Romeo and Juliet in London at the Globe with my best friend. We stood as groundlings, despite the rather outrageous heat (London was having a freak heatwave), trying to keep 10 students, who were not all convinced they wanted to see a play, much less a Shakespearean play, happy while we waited for the actors to take the stage. Thankfully, for the most part, my students were captivated. Even those most vocal about not wanting to go to the play admitted they’d liked it.

As part of my love for the Bard, I’ve read my fair share of historical works about both his life and times and his plays. All historians tend to agree that much of what we know about Shakespeare is conjecture as few of his remaining documents exist. This does not stop me from reading books about him though. One of my favorite is Bill Bryson’s book titled Shakespeare The World as Stage. Last summer I added another book about my dear friend William to my bookshelf:  Soul of the Age.

Although I bought the book a year ago, it wasn’t until this summer that I really had the time to dedicate to it.

This is a well-written, well-researched book on Shakespeare and his works. I like that it is part biography and part analysis. I also like that Bate makes it very clear when he is making assumptions about Shakespeare’s life and that those assumptions are grounded. The author does a good job of dispelling misconceptions by providing thorough historical context as well as source material in Shakespeare’s own works and those of his contemporaries.

I’ve read quite a bit about Shakespeare over the years and this book aligns itself with other Shakespearean scholars I trust and admire. I think what sets this book apart from others I’ve read on the Bard is the in-depth readings of his own plays within this book. I also really appreciated the inclusion of the actual annotations early readers of Shakespeare made within their copies of his plays. That is something I had not see before.

This book is a good read, but not for those without a real academic interest in Shakespeare and his work. It was great for me, but I know there is no way I’ll get my students to read it.



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