Book Review: Shakespeare’s Art from a Comparative Perspective by Wendell M. Aycock (ed.)

Each of the essays in this book explores the works and world of Shakespeare from a point a different perspective, each illuminating some aspect of Shakespeare, his works, and/or the production of his plays. Each opens up the reader to a new and insightful way of viewing the greatest literary works of the English language — perhaps of human history: the works of Shakespeare.

Barroll’s treatment of the effects of the plague in the years preceding Shakespeare and during his lifetime provide insight into the way that medical and social factors shaped the Bard’s life and work. Bevington provides a fascinating insight into the similarity between Greek and Elizabethan drama with his thesis that the similarity does not arise from the latter imitating the former so much as from a shared set of social conditions. Booth opens a path into an exploration of Shakespeare’s use of the word and idea of “bear” throughout his plays, an avenue which invites the reader to search the Bard’s work for further instances of such wordplay.

Both Brebach and Hardison discuss Shakespeare on film, though from quite different perspectives. Brebach looks specifically at two very different film productions of Hamlet, comparing and contrasting the two. Hardison takes a wider approach, discussing the importance and potential use of the developing Shakespeare film canon. Both equally illustrate the continued relevance of the works of Shakespeare and the way his plays continue to grow and change over time, being adapting to a great variety of historical and social circumstances while nonetheless remaining true to their origins.

Cook contrasts the practices of courting and wedding as they actually existed in Elizabethan England with Shakespeare’s presentation of the subject, exposing Shakespeare’s consistent creative approach to the world around him. Frye compares the works of Shakespeare with the works of his contemporaries and near-contemporaries in the visual arts, demonstrating the similarity between the written word and the painted image.

Roche’s essay is, to me, one of the most interesting. Roche asks the question “how Petrarchan is Shakespeare?,” by which he really means, ultimately, “how Christian are both Petrarch and Shakespeare?” What Frye, in his exploration of the sonnet tradition of the Renaissance, perhaps demonstrates above all else is the necessity of understanding Christian authors, authors whose lives were steeped in the Christian tradition, in a Christian sense and through the lens of their Christianity. This essay alone makes the entire book a necessary read for anyone interested in Shakespeare.

The final two essays, by Schoenbaum and Ringler, discuss Shakespeare in relation to the published book and Shakespeare’s works in relation to the actors he is known to have worked with, respectively. Both do a great deal to grant us insight into the mind the Bard himself and both are worthy reads.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the life and work of William Shakespeare, as well as anyone interested in literature and drama more generally.

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