Shakespeare in America
The Library of America
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"The immortal bard . . . is really one of us ."
What could be more American than a play by William Shakespeare? In Shakespeare in America, editor James Shapiro has collected a wide range of poems, essays, short stories, parodies and theatrical critiques from our country’s beginning to the present day from an even wider range of personalities—Washington Irving, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, James Thurber, Isaac Asimov and Pauline Kael to name a few. To understand how a 16th century English playwright’s work could become so loved, studied and produced in America we need only look at our past.
Our country’s history of race relations are reflected in Othello, which president John Quincy Adams, an abolitionist, critiqued as evidence of the horrors of interracial marriage. However, actor Paul Robeson’s great portrayal of Othello in 1943 and the “Voodoo Macbeth” staged in 1936 in Harlem demonstrate how civil rights also found a strong voice in Shakespearean drama. With multitudes of “Shakespeare Societies”, rural and urban Americans from all backgrounds enjoyed his plays throughout the 19th century, leading to popular 20th century musicals like Kiss Me Kate and West Side Story, along with Orson Welles’s powerful Julius Caesar set in the fascist Italy of 1937.
As Henry Cabot Lodge claimed “Americanisms” aren’t a debasement of the language as the British decry, but evidence of how close to Shakespeare’s tongue the original English colonists spoke. The immortal bard, who made just two brief mentions of the New World in his works, is really one of us. We can never have enough of him.
Reviewer: Cindy A. Matthews
Categorised in: Book Reviews
This post was written by Cynthianna Matthews