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.
In a new Book Review format designed to highlight a few critical classics to add to the shelves, Sheldrake outlines the relative merits of Professor Jonathan Bate’s acclaimed 1997 book The Genius of Shakespeare.
Shakespeare nicked stuff from everywhere; prose narratives, history books, other plays. Sheldrake rattles through a few of the old chestnuts and a few of the lesser-known borrowings, showing Shakespeare as a great adapter of stories.
Testing the patience of listeners once again by talking about someone who isn’t Shakespeare, Sheldrake investigates the peculiar career of John Marston; satirist, dramatist, tragicomedian. He had some great successes, then there was a bit of a lean patch, then he appears to have thrown in the towel. Why? In one word – tragicomedy.
The soliloquy is one of Shakespeare’s most recognisable and distinctive theatrical devices. It is in no small part responsible for his fame as a dramatist of human psychology. Was Julius Caesar the gateway in Shakespeare’s soliloquising art between the 1590s and the 1600s? Sheldrake takes a close look at a few speeches from the play.
How do we know when Shakespeare wrote each of his plays? Well, there are several methods of dating a play. Sheldrake rattles through them, taking in a couple of 1590s Michael Billingtons along the way.
Shakespeare’s Sonnets are things you nearly always read alone. But there is a rich seam of drama and conversation to be mined from them, as Sheldrake found recently when he saw them read aloud at the Royal Festival Hall.
If you think Shakespeare was a purely natural genius, the words spilling out from a free spirit of a mind, think again. Shakespeare’s rigorous education at school primed him in all sorts of crucial ways for his later career. Sheldrake explains how at breakneck speed.