Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How Shakespeare Changed Everything

How Shakespeare Changed Everything
Stephen Marche
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Harper (May 10, 2011)
ARC reviewed courtesy of Amazon Vine program.
1/5 stars

I expectedHow Shakespeare Changed Everythingto be a lighthearted look at various ways that Shakespeare's influence can be found in the world today. What I did not expect was a near fanatical, quite serious, series of essays about, well, how Shakespeare changed everything.

The first line of Marche's introduction sets his tone: "William Shakespeare was the most influential person who ever lived."

Well, all right. . .

In his first essay, "the Fortunes of the Moor", Marche gives Shakespeare credit for the election of the first African American President. According to Marche, because Shakespeare wrote Othello, and because Paul Robeson acted the part in the 1940's, the United States has it's first African American President. I am not simplifying his argument. I suppose, for Marche, the entire Civil Rights Movement was unimportant?

In another essay, "Words, Words, Words", he credits Shakespeare with creating more words than any other author--any word not previously recorded prior to Shakespeare's writing it down is, according to Marche, a Shakespeare invention.  Marche seems to forget that Shakespeare was a man of the streets, and what he was writing down was slang.  Did the first journalist (or script writer) to use the word "noob" invent it?  No.  Did Shakespeare invent the words he wrote?  No.  Shakespeare was a writer of popular, low brow entrainment, the equivalent of a sitcom or soap opera writer today.  He was writing for his audience, using their words.  Bravo for Shakespeare for recording so many, but only a history-ignorant hero-worshiper could think that he invented them all.

In "Not Marbles, nor the Gilded Monuments", Marche states "the greater the artist, the more he or she was influenced by Shakespeare".  For blind fanaticism, this is a great line.  For truth about literary greatness, it doesn't even deserve a response.

One of Marche's arguments is that the introduction of Starlings to NYC came from Eugene Schieffelin's attempt to introduce all the birds of Shakespeare to the United States.  I was fascinated by this, actually giving Marche his due for a way that Shakespeare really did change the world, until I looked it up myself.  While it may be true, there is no factual evidence to prove that the given reason is more than the equivalent of an urban legend.

Marche, with the zeal of a school boy writing his first opinion essay, finds Shakespeare as the source for everything from the sexual revolution to the assassination of Lincoln, to the idea of teenagers to the use of skulls as decoration.  He often proved himself wrong with the few contrary facts he allows into his essays. An easy bit of research will show contrary views and facts for those that don't find his obsessive devotion easy to swallow.

Marche's mediocre writing does nothing to help his case.  Despite being a novelist and regular magazine contributor, his prose in How Shakespeare Changed Everything is juvenile, dull and overtly slanted.

I was unconvinced and thoroughly disappointed.  I had expected a lively, entertaining book and instead found a series of essays that might have been written for a high school English class.

Note: This is my opinion.  It does have a 3.6/5 star rating on Amazon.

No comments:

Post a Comment