Posts Tagged ‘William Shakespeare’

‘This is Shakespeare’ by Emma Smith

March 18th, 2020

WHO: Emma Smith


WHEN: Published by Pantheon April 1, 2020

WHERE: The author lives in Oxford, England.

WHY: “Entertaining and sagacious.
“Emma Smith, Oxford professor of Shakespeare studies, combines contemporary wit and verve with scholarly rigor to produce a refreshing study of the Bard’s plays. Smith aims to introduce ‘a Shakespeare you could have a drink and a good conversation with’ and isn’t afraid to deploy pop-culture references — such as comparing Falstaff to Homer Simpson — to achieve her goal. The effect isn’t to diminish the literary genius behind the 20 plays she examines but to open and explore the gaps Shakespeare left in each of his works.
“Smith begins with The Taming of the Shrew’s controversial treatment of gender relations. To show that the play’s ambiguities — its title character can be seen either as ‘feisty and independent… or strident and antisocial’ — aren’t just the result of changing attitudes, Smith draws comparisons to more straightforward works by Shakespeare’s contemporaries, demonstrating that the play challenged audiences from the very start. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, often adapted to serve as children’s introduction to Shakespeare, is revealed as a ‘darker, sexier play,’ in which animal desires collide against marital strictures.
“This work will spur readers who gave up on Shakespeare on first pass to approach his oeuvre with new eyes.” —PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

“An excellent work for those eager to brush up their Shakespeare, forsooth.”
—Joseph Rosenblum, LIBRARY JOURNAL

“I admire the freshness and attack of Smith’s writing, the passion and curiosity that light up the page.” —Hilary Mantel

. . . . .


Why should you read a book about Shakespeare?

Because he is a literary genius and prophet whose works speak to—more, they encapsulate—the human condition. Because he presents timeless values of tolerance and humanity. Because his writing is technically brilliant and endlessly verbally inventive. Because he put it all so much better than anyone else.


That’s not why; not at all. Sure, that’s what we always say about Shakespeare, but it doesn’t really get to the truth about the value of these works for the twenty-first century. The Shakespeare in this book is more questioning and ambiguous, more specific to the historical circumstances of his own time, more unexpectedly relevant to ours. Lots of what we trot out about Shakespeare and iambic pentameter and the divine right of kings and “Merrie England” and his enormous vocabulary blah blah blah is just not true, and just not important. They are the critical equivalent of “dead-catting” in a meeting or negotiation (placing a dead cat on the table to divert attention from more tricky or substantive issues). They deflect us from investigating the artistic and ideological implications of Shakespeare’s silences, inconsistencies and, above all, the sheer and permissive gappiness of his drama.

Jacket photo

Media Resources:
About the book and author | Download the jacket | Download the author photo

368 pages. $28.95 ISBN 978-1-5247-4854-8

To interview the author, contact: Kathy Zuckerman | 212-572-2105 |