Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future

Penguin Pr. Mar. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9780525522294. $27;. LIT
Shakespeare scholar Shapiro (literature, Columbia Univ.; Shakespeare and the Jews, 1599–1606) explores responses to the Bard’s works in American society from the 19th century to the present. He is fascinating on textual revisions and adaptations of popular plays, as with the 1948 stage version of Kiss Me, Kate, based on The Taming of the Shrew, which challenged traditional gender roles and featured a multiracial cast. When the film adaptation was released in 1953, America had taken a rightward turn, as evidenced by the production’s all-white cast and emphasis on the “re-domestication” of women. Script changes to the 1998 movie Shakespeare in Love also toned down the playwright’s gay attraction for the merchant’s daughter Viola (disguised as a boy) and his extramarital affair with her. Shapiro also discusses the Astor Place Opera House Riot (1849), Shakespeare lover Lincoln’s assassination by Shakespeare actor John Wilkes Booth, Percy MacKaye’s Caliban by the Yellow Sands (1916), and the 2017 Central Park production of Julius Caesar starring a Donald Trump look-alike. Extensive bibliographic essays round out the collection.
VERDICT Chock-full of approachable and engaging critical analyses, this work will pique the curiosity of both Shakespeareans and anyone interested in American culture.

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