Twelfth Night seems to be everyone’s favourite Shakespeare play. Why is this the case? Could it be something to do with the fact that it is a play about playing? This play is a hymn to the pleasure and virtue of playing and play wins over anti-play, though of course the real motto is that it’s the taking part that counts.
This is not the first time genre has been used as a critical tool for understanding Shakespeare’s process and plays, but Sheldrake – never one to dismiss an idea merely because it has been heard before – draws together some big ideas about comedy and tragedy and shows the way that Shakespeare messes about with them.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona is not a play many people have read. Though were they to read it, they might think they have, because it reads like an anthology of Shakespeare in the 1590s. Sheldrake takes the opportunity to hold the mirror up to comedy by reading in parallel with Romeo and Juliet, Love’s Labour’s Lost and As You Like It, along the way outlining some rules of the Shakespearean world.
As You Like It is liked by audiences, disliked by academics. What then does this tell us about how crucial performance is to the success of the text? Consequently, Sheldrake argues, engaging with the performance of this play and others should be not only a pleasure for the serious Shakespearean, but also a duty.