This Is Shakespeare

Pantheon. Apr. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9781524748548. $28.95. LIT
Smith (Shakespeare studies, Oxford Univ.; Shakespeare’s First Folio) here expands on her podcast Approaching Shakespeare to consider 20 plays arranged in chronological order from The Taming of the Shrew to The Tempest. Unlike other introductions to the plays, such as Marjorie Garber’s Shakespeare After All and Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, which tell readers what to think, Smith highlights ambiguities in the Bard’s works. Does Kate’s last speech in The Taming of the Shrew show that her spirit has been broken? Or is Kate being ironic? Does Richard II endorse or criticize the deposing of the king? How does Isabella in Measure for Measure respond to the duke’s marriage proposal? Is A Midsummer Night’s Dream a romantic comedy or a parody of one? Some chapters view the plays from an oblique angle, treating them as anamorphic paintings. Thus, in discussing Twelfth Night, Smith focuses on the minor character Antonio, and concentrates on Don John in examining Much Ado About Nothing.
VERDICT Smith wears her learning lightly and writes in an accessible, conversational style, making this an excellent work for those eager to brush up their Shakespeare, forsooth.
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