Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Neil MacGregor's Shakespeare's Restless World

I don't often review or recommend books I read in my study of Shakespeare, but I want to make an exception for Neil MacGregor's excellent Shakespeare's Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects, which has just recently been published in paperback.

It is one of the very best books I have ever read regarding Shakespeare's life and plays. It does a wonderful job of transporting us backwards in time to Shakespeare's world through 20 objects Mr. MacGregor has carefully chosen, all of which act as something like time-travelling talismans.

Neil MacGregor with one of the 20 objects

Every individual chapter is worth the price of the book. The book covers so many topics and synthesizes so much information that I would recommend it highly to anyone (especially a High School or College student) who wants just one single book to read as an introduction to Shakespeare. But even if you consider yourself a veteran Shakespeare buff, you will invariably find much that will surprise and entertain you.

The book dives into Shakespeare's life, the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James, and brings their world to life like nothing I have ever read. 

There are so many wonderful pictures throughout the book. They not only complement the individual chapters, but they are powerful examples of what a living breathing man named William Shakespeare saw and thought about during his lifetime, as an Englishman, and as a playwright. 

In a sense, with a book as good and effective as this, we can more easily imagine that there was a man named William Shakespeare, and we can more easily relate to him as a real historical person.

Mr. MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, has chosen 20 objects to explain the world in which Shakespeare lived, and what kinds of influences he had when Shakespeare sat down to write a play.

Sir Francis Drake's Circumnavigation Medal

Some of the objects are what you might expect, like Sir Francis Drake's Circumnavigation Medal, which helps us understand the spirit of adventure in an England that was just beginning to dominate the world; or Lucas de Heere's painting Allegory of the Tudor Succession, which shows Henry VIII together with his successors, most of all Elizabeth, as the culmination of the Tudor dynasty.

Dr. John Dee's Mirror

But most of the objects are not what you might expect, like a magical mirror which belonged to Dr. John Dee, who was a famous occultist and scientific polymath, and who famously told fortunes for Queen Elizabeth; or a pedlar's trunk whose significance goes far beyond the fact that it was used by recusant Catholics.

A pedlar's trunk

Perhaps what I enjoyed the most about Mr. MacGregor's approach to these objects is that while he does a masterful job of explaining the individual objects themselves, he takes you on an exciting journey beyond the object itself, and covers so much Elizabethan and Jacobean history. With every object he introduces, you never quite know where the discussion of that object will go.

He also does a wonderful job of connecting these objects to Shakespeare's plays. The book is full of direct quotes from the plays, which refer to many of these objects. 

A dagger found on the shore of the Thames

For example, one of the objects he has chosen is a dagger which was discovered on the banks of the Thames. Using this object as his starting point, he explores the styles of fencing in London at the time (Vincentio Saviolo's Italian style versus George Silver's English style) and how Shakespeare's character Mercutio referred to this in Romeo and Juliet.

I should warn you however. There is one great flaw to this book. It is too short, and you may be upset when you are done reading it. It really should be expanded to more objects in Shakespeare’s life. Mr. MacGregor is such an entertaining and knowledgeable guide that you don’t want the tour to end.


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