Showing posts with label The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Book of William - Act II...Bye bye, Love!

Much as I enjoyed Act I of Paul Collins's The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World, which detailed the creation and dissemination of the First Folio of 1623 and its successors, Act II is even better. Herein we learn about Alexander Pope's disastrous and overwhelmingly arrogant attempt to produce a new edition of the collected works of William Shakespeare after the Fourth Folio, his war with upstart Lewis Theobald, who gleefully pointed out Pope's manifold and egregious errors in his work, Shakespeare Restored**, and how the lives and the careers of Samuel Johnson and David Garrick resulted in the canonization of Shakespeare as England's literary saint.

**The full title is Shakespeare Restored: or, A Specimen of the Many Errors, As Well Committed, As Unamended, by Mr. Pope in His Late Edition of this Poet. :)

Collins has a wonderfully fresh and droll way of telling the various stories that make up Act II and I cannot urge you enough to get a copy for yourself...if only for various pieces of doggerel that the protagonists flung at each other as they waged war over Shakespeare's works.

And if your appetite is not yet fully whetted, you have only to read how tantalizingly close we were to actually having a copy of Shakespeare's The History of Cardenio, which was last seen in Theobald's apartment off Great Russell Street where he had the gall to rewrite it (aka to "fix" it), and only preserved the horribly garbled version. Theobald may have tweaked Pope but he lost Cardenio!

Fun Fact: two publishers squabbled in the 1730s over ownership of copyright to Shakespeare's plays, and engaged in a ferocious price war in which they flooded the market, making "Shakespeare available to everyone with a few pennies in their pocket." Although Shakespeare's plays were attended by all ranks of people during his lifetime, the price of the first several folios put him out of the reaches of most of the population, until Misters Tonson and Walker started churning the plays out faster than people could buy them.

Fun Quote about David Garrick: "His rookie portrayal of Richard III had made him a name; his King Lear made him a star; his Hamlet made him immortal."

Best Thing I've Learned So Far: Samuel Johnson tackled Shakespeare after his Dictionary, and his introduction to the collected works has become the definitive introduction to Shakespeare. Somehow I was never asked to read this in school and I haven't encountered it on my own, but rest assured that it's on its way from Amazon even as we speak. The following passage, in which Collins discusses the Johnson introduction, made my heart sing...

What set Shakespeare apart from virtually every other playwright, Johnson pointed out, was that his plays were not about love. True, love was a fine thing--"But love is only one of many passions; and as it has no great influence upon the sum of life, it has little operation in the dramas of a poet who caught his ideas from the living world and exhibited only what he saw before him." And true to the world, heroes were difficult to discern in these plays. "Shakespeare has no heroes," Johnson pronounced, "his scenes are occupied only by men." These two elements--a love plot and a central hero--were the veritable oxygen and gravity in the worlds that most playwrights inhabited. But that was not Shakespeare's world. His world was our world--and this...was why Shakespeare had taken his place among the world's great writers. p.99


My soapbox topic recently has been that Hollywood (i.e., the collective entertainment industry) seeks to relieve us of our money by turning every story into a love story without recognizing that "love is only one of many passions." I'm still not sure I can say that "it has no great influence upon the sum of life," but it's startling to think about Shakespeare as not writing about love...especially with all those love quotes from Shakespeare floating around.

FYI, I blogged about Act I of The Book of William here.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

George Eliot and The Book of William and Book Blog Holiday Swap

We woke up to six inches of powder this morning. Love winter. Love snow. Fell on ice in parking lot this afternoon. Still love winter, not so crazy about black ice.

To begin with the last item in the post title, I want to thank my lovely Secret Santa whose gift arrived today. I know this sounds so girly, but I did squeal and shout for family members to come and see the single best Secret Santa gift I have ever very own Jane Austen action figure!

I have known about and lusted after these for years now, and my Austen shelf now boasts one. Thanks also for the terrific Literary Christmas card (the kids particularly liked "Eleven-Year-Old Wizards Flying" though my favorite is "Two Diverging Roads"). The crafty Christmasy bookmarks are also appreciated and will be treasured. What a great idea, this Book Blogger Holiday Swap! Thanks, Santa!

Now on to what I'm reading. I started two wonderful books this week, and anticipate reading them slowly.

The first will take the longest as it's Jenny Uglow's biography of George Eliot. It's a far smaller book than Uglow's bio of Gaskell, and hence not nearly as detailed, particularly in the part covering Eliot's first 25 or so years. According to the introduction, Uglow originally wrote the book in the 1980s and then revisited it in 2007. It may be small be it is still dense with insights that are beautifully expressed. Here is my favorite passage so far:

George Eliot's fictional world seems so weighty and ballasted by details of landscape, behavior, intricate social codes and practices but, like the stable Warwickshire community she grew up in, and like the carefully packed routine of her early life, it is a structure built on sand. What gives her fiction its eternal appeal is the balance of forces experienced by her heroes and heroines within the books, and by the author herself, who knows that the solidity of her meticulous realist novels, like the social systems they demonstrate, is mere illusion, created by the sorcery of words. p.40

I was astounded to learn that Maryann Evans (aka George Eliot) by age 25 had "a firm base for her evolving personal philosophy and a public reputation as the translator of Strauss's Das Leben Jesu, one of the most influential books of the century." I had to resort to Wikipedia to read up on David Strauss and his The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined. I also called my library and requested a copy via interlibrary loan. All along, I had assumed the first Eliot book I would read would be Scenes of Clerical Life, but I can't very well do a full read of Eliot without starting with her translation of Das Leben Jesu, can I?

The second of my new books is The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World by Paul Collins. It's a joy to read, pure and simple. Instead of being divided into chapters, it's divided into Acts and Scenes, which is kind of cute.

Act I is about how the First Folio came into being--i.e., how fellow actors and colleagues of Shakespeare's, John Heminge and Henry Condell, rounded up the various plays they knew to be Shakespeare's and arranged to have them printed in a folio. Collins writes movingly about how this action on their part is really the only reason we know about Shakespeare, as many of the plays weren't wildy popular and had disappeared from the stage by the time Shakespeare died. In the course of describing the birth of the First Folio, Collins imparts tons of info about the 17th century publishing trade.

Fun Fact: the Great Fire of 1666, which diarist Samuel Pepys chronicles so well, not only destroyed many of the copies of the First Folio, it also almost entirely wiped out the country's booksellers and publishers. "The newly printed Third Folio fared worst of all; innumerable unsold copies went up in flames, ironically making the Third a rarer Folio today than even the First."

Fun Fact: the Second Folio, produced nine years after the First, corrected nearly seventeen hundred errors that were in the First, which comes out to about two per page...not bad, according to Collins.

I'm not planning on racing through this book, reading and savoring it is just too enjoyable.

Now it's time for me to try to squeeze in episode 12 of House of Elliot before the witching hour.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


How did a week go by without a post? Oh, yeah, it was Thanksgiving week here in the U.S.

What have I been doing? Well, for starters, we invited my parents up for the holiday. They live about 100 miles south of us--just 1.5 hours or so if the traffic is light. They are 86 and 88 and since our house is full of stairs, we all decided that a Courtyard Marriott would be sleeping quarters for them. Between picking them up Wednesday, cooking a wonderful dinner Wednesday night, shuttling them back and forth between our house and the Marriott for much needed naps while they were visiting, cooking a fabulous Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, teaching my mom how to make coffee in the hotel room, teaching my mom how to deal with those new-fangled plastic key cards, watching several episodes of Animal Planet, catching up on all the family doings, taking them back home on Friday, I'm just glad we have leftovers to last for awhile!

On the reading front, I have started and given up on Bronteby Glyn Hughes. It was better than The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, but on the whole rather flat really little more than dramatizing well-worn tales from Bronte lore. I'm not quite sure what I expected but I found myself growing impatient and rolling my eyes, so I figured this book wasn't a good way to spend my precious reading time.

I've also been plowing my way through the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery series by Julia Spencer-Fleming. I reached book five, All Mortal Flesh yesterday and was shocked to find that the series had jumped the shark! ****SPOILERS**** skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to learn that Spencer-Fleming did a cardinal no-no in my opinion. She killed off Russ's wife, Linda. Maybe some day I will read the novel and find out why, but I was so ticked off that Spencer-Fleming betrayed my trust as a reader that I returned the book to the library and will Clare and Russ a rest for awhile. Maybe I was irked because book four, To Darkness and to Death, was so terrific--the whole novel took place in one day and it was really well-written and interesting in that the mystery wasn't figuring out which dastardly arch villain was orchestrating the mayhem but instead was a study in how ordinary people can find themselves going down very dark psychological alleys when pushed hard enough. I was thinking how marvelous Spencer-Fleming was developing as an author, and then she pulled that cheap trick in book five.

So, I started Paul Collins's The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World. So far so good. Collins is an excellent writer--I've learned three new words and I've only read the first 50 pages--and the subject matter is compelling. Learning tons about the publishing industry in the early 1600s in London right now, and anticipating learning even more about Shakespeare, his colleagues, life in London, and how the First Folio conquered the world. BTW, I did finish A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare and need to find time to do my last blog on it...Hamlet. This was definitely my favorite book of 2009.

I also just started Jenny Uglow's bio of George Eliot. I enjoyed her bio of Gaskell so much that I have decided to read about Eliot while reading her works.

I did read another Henry James story--The Romance of Certain Old Clothes--and was again disappointed in James and the story. Nothing particularly wonderful in the way it was written, and the subject matter has been done to death. Sisters who are jealous rivals, and one haunts the other. Grim, misogynistic, uninspired. I am going to have to read Daisy Miller so I can give James his due.

Finally, I did read the first installment of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I am on the email list for the installments, following the same publication schedule as the serialization of the novel 150 years ago. This is a reread for me, but I read the original so fast for plot years ago that I don't remember a lot of it.

On the adaptation front, I am on episode 11 of the first season of The House of Elliot. Evie and Bea are friends again, Jack is courting Bea, and Lydia is desperate to get back into London society. So much has happened in the first 10 episodes that it almost seems like several seasons worth of plot. I wonder whether this season was actually cancelled or if the producers simply ran out of steam after running so hard so fast. I'm still loving it, thinking about bobbing my hair, and dressing exclusively in 1920's fashions, including the hats! V. chic.