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1606 by James Shapiro

I’m a lover of history and everything historical, including history books. I picked this one up at some bookstore (now forgotten), out of curiosity. The subject appealed to me. It is about Shakespeare (whose books I have never read, no, not even in school/college), it is set in the 1600s, a favourite time-period when it comes to exploring history, and it discusses how literature, of the time, was shaped by the contemporary political situation.

King James arrived from Scotland to take up the mantle of England’s monarch, after the death of Queen Elizabeth. It appeared as if Shakespeare’s best work was behind him already, as nothing new was being produced by him. But in 1606, at the age of forty-two, he came back with a bang, so to speak. He wrote three tragedies that year – King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra.

In all honesty, though, the book was a tedious read. While it was nice to know how the three plays were conceived, I was interested in knowing how Shakespeare and his troupe changed status from the Queen’s Men to the King’s Men. The court style changed, the demands on the performers were different and James I was more a Scottish King than an English one. I was drawn more to the Gunpowder Plot and Guy Fawkes than other happenings that year. I think that is a telling sign; for a reader to be engrossed in a theme that isn’t the main one. There is no doubt that Shapiro has researched his material meticulously, but every small detail makes its way into the book, and somehow that detracts.

It might have helped if I had read King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, before reading this discourse (of sorts). I know their plots, but I haven’t read the literature, so mayhap this was a handicap of mine, going in. However, there are other historical books I’ve read with no knowledge of that particular bit of history and have had a completely immersive, enjoyable experience, which this book did not deliver. It slowed down for me so much, that I almost speed-read the second half of the book.

Verdict: I wasn’t quite enamoured by the book.

Rating: 3/5 | Read from 04 – 29 Dec ’16 | Pages: 448

History | Literary Criticism | Non-fiction

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