Book Review: How to Read Shakespeare by Maurice Charney

Charney begins with the presupposition — one that I agree with — that any intelligent person can read, understand, and appreciate the work of Shakespeare. This short and interesting book is Charney’s attempt to help that intelligent potential reader of Shakespeare along the way in the process of reading, understanding, and appreciating.

To anyone who had read, watched, and/or performed in more than a couple of Shakespeare plays most of what this book contains will not be new. For the potential or new reader, watcher, or performer of Shakespeare, however, this book will give you all in one dose the wisdom many of us have had to take a great deal of time and careful study to acquire.

While serving as a good brief introduction to the appreciation of Shakespeare, one must also be careful with some of Charney’s judgments, which are indeed his own. His treatment of character and psychology in Shakespeare is, for example, I believe, off the mark. He insists, for instance, that when characters behave in ways that might otherwise seem contrary to their personality as presented in the drama up to that point this is an indication that Shakespeare is communicating something else through them or has caused a rapid and necessarily unexplained development in character. On the contrary, I think Shakespeare was an acute enough observer of human nature to know that humans are inconsistent if they are anything at all, and so these character inconsistencies in his plays are altogether natural.

Nonetheless, Charney does here offer an introduction to Shakespeare that will be appreciated by anyone who wishes to approach the Bard’s work and will, in turn, aid in the development of an appreciation for that work.

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