a book that changed me

SIR PETER HALL on Jonathan Bate's `The Genius of Shakespeare'
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
When and why did you first read it? It must have been something over a year ago. I keep up in a not very efficient, and rather desultory way, with Shakespeare scholarship. As more and more mountains of books come off the press, it's pretty near impossible. I heard about this book as an extraordinary monument of common sense in a sea of nonsense. The problem of Shakespearean scholarship is that in this age of deconstruction and theorising and textual criticism, the fact that they are plays gets completely forgotten.

Why did it strike you so much? Bate amasses all the facts about Shakespeare that are incontrovertible. For instance, I've had a lot of trouble in my life from idiots who come up to me and explain that the plays were really written by Marlowe, or by Bacon, and Bate points out that there were actually 50 references to William Shakespeare, Actor, of Stratford- upon-Avon in the records office as he was a rather litigious gentleman. This is a breath of fresh air. It's a funny book because it shows what idiots successive generations have made of themselves in writing about Shakespeare. Every age sees Shakespeare to some extent in their own image, which is inevitable, and what I loved about this is that he's saying: what do we know about Shakespeare, what is proven, what is factual, what can we deduce from it without being in any sense fanciful or complex?

As far as the Arts and Education are concerned I'm a passionate anti- Thatcherite because of the damage she did and there's a wonderful bit where Bate talks about the High Tory idea in the last Government that the poor little buggers must have a set book of Shakespeare. It's national. Shakespeare is England. Shakespeare is patriotic. And he makes the point that if you apply the market force theory to the syllabus then they all ought to read Frederick Forsyth instead. He also reminds us that Shakespeare's father was illiterate, but his son went to a grammar school - without such schools we would not have had Shakespeare.

Do you recommend it? Of course. It's a very accessible, extremely humorous, sophisticated piece of scholarship and a jolly good guidebook.

The Peter Hall Company are staging `Major Barbara' and `The Misanthrope' at The Piccadilly 0171 3691734

Comments