James Shapiro's Review

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0182  Monday, 23 April 2018


From:        David Bishop <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 22, 2018 at 10:45:51 PM EDT

Subject:    James Shapiro's Review


In response to James Shapiro’s review of Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness by Rhodri Lewis I sent this letter to the NYR:


James Shapiro’s history of Hamlet criticism leaves out what might be called moral criticism: how Hamlet feels the pull of conflicting duties. 


Part of Hamlet is a believing Christian, with a duty to leave vengeance to God. Part of him also believes a son has a duty to revenge his murdered father. Each belief is sincere—he can’t rid himself of it—but incomplete. We all face the question of what to do about being insulted or attacked: to revenge, or not to revenge? You don’t have to be a Christian to be against revenge. You can be an atheist and still believe revenge is wrong, while also believing you can be wrong not to retaliate. Satisfy one conscience, the other makes you guilty.


Hamlet’s third ineradicable duty is to uphold the order of the state, first of all by not killing the king. This is any subject’s duty but especially that of a prince, who’s responsible for “the sanity and health of this whole state.” The king’s duty is justice: he’s delegated by God to punish criminals. But what if the king is the criminal? You can’t impeach a king. And you can’t kill the king without risking chaos and death. Laertes, in a parallel situation, charges in to revenge his father’s murder—as he thinks. He knows what duties he has to jettison to do it: “To hell, allegiance!...I dare damnation.” He hasn’t heard about the horror of damnation firsthand from his father’s ghost.


Hamlet responds by faking an insanity that comes close to being real. This might give him an excuse for killing the king—we still recognize temporary insanity as a possible defense. But he expends this excuse on Polonius (thinking he’s Claudius). To sanely punish the king for his crime, Hamlet needs public evidence, not just the private word of a ghost. At the end he gets proof, in the dying testimony of Gertrude and Laertes, and in the death of Claudius, killed with his own poison. Hamlet’s proto-justice—trying and punishing the king—is a move away from rule by kings toward the rule of law. But proto-law is not yet law, so Hamlet can’t live on after killing the king. He does his patriotic duty by passing the kingdom to the nearest successor: Fortinbras.


Hamlet’s final duty is to the truth: what Nietzsche called intellectual conscience. This leads him to the absolute skepticism beloved of postmodern critics like Professor Lewis. Confronted with the bones we’ll soon be reduced to, foundations crumble and we discover there’s no such thing as a duty and nothing is real but power: predator and prey. But like most of us, including theoretical skeptics, Hamlet can’t come to rest in this curious consideration. His other duties will not die.


Our “moral order” does not collapse under the weight of its contradictions. We live with them. That’s the human condition, exemplified by Hamlet.


Best wishes,

David Bishop




Jo Nesbo Sculpts ‘Macbeth’ Into Shadowy Crime Noir

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0181  Monday, 23 April 2018


From:        Hardy Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 22, 2018 at 7:39:37 AM EDT

Subject:    Jo Nesbo Sculpts ‘Macbeth’ Into Shadowy Crime Noir


The Norwegian crime writer turns Shakespeare’s tragedy into a fast-paced thriller about murder and corruption in 1970s Glasgow.




Jo Nesbo Sculpts ‘Macbeth’ Into Shadowy Crime Noir



APRIL 16, 2018



By Jo Nesbo 

Translated by Don Bartlett

446 pp. Hogarth. $27.


In 1937, The New Yorker published James Thurber’s “The Macbeth Murder Mystery,” about an avid reader of Agatha Christie who picks up a paperback copy of “Macbeth,” mistakenly assuming it’s a detective story. She soon discovers it’s a Shakespeare play but is already hooked and reads it as a whodunit. It takes her a while to identify who killed Duncan, after initially refusing to believe the Macbeths were responsible: “You suspect them the most, of course, but those are the ones that are never guilty — or shouldn’t be, anyway.” Her prime suspect had been Banquo, but “then, of course, he was the second person killed. That was good right in there, that part. The person you suspect of the first murder should always be the second victim.”


It’s a very funny story and an insightful one, for Thurber shows how closely Shakespeare’s tragedy follows the contours of detective fiction. Thurber wasn’t the first to draw such connections; over a century earlier, in a brilliant essay about the play — “On the Knocking at the Gate in ‘Macbeth’” — Thomas De Quincey had reflected on how deeply Shakespeare understood the interplay of murder and suspense. If the many allusions to “Macbeth” in the works of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, P. D. James and other crime writers are any indication, Shakespeare’s play may be seen as one of the great progenitors of the genre, making Jo Nesbo, the celebrated Norwegian writer of thrillers, an ideal choice to update the play for Hogarth Shakespeare, a series in which best-selling novelists turn Shakespeare’s works into contemporary fiction.0


Nesbo has spoken of finding himself on familiar terrain here, arguing that “Macbeth” is essentially a “thriller about the struggle for power” that takes place “in a gloomy, stormy crime noir-like setting and in a dark, paranoid human mind.” True enough, yet many features of this 400-year-old tragedy don’t easily fit the demands of a modern, realistic thriller. One of the pleasures of reading this book is watching Nesbo meet the formidable challenge of assimilating elements of the play unsuited to realistic crime fiction, especially the supernatural: the witches, prophecies, visions, and the mysterious figure of Hecate.


Nesbo’s most consequential decision was when and where to set his story. While he follows Shakespeare in locating it in Scotland, rather than taking us back to the 11th century he places it in the early 1970s. He doesn’t name the city, though there are many hints that it’s Glasgow. This choice signals Nesbo’s ambitions for his novel, giving it a sharp social edge as well as a timely political resonance. The Glasgow of that era was a desperately grim place, not unlike those parts of America now ravaged by the opioid crisis: It was staggered by alcoholism, environmental hazards, high suicide rates, corruption, gang warfare, the loss of industrial jobs and a significant rise in drug abuse. Things were so bad that historians speak of the “Glasgow effect” to account for why Glaswegians died younger and suffered more than those who lived in comparable places.


[ . . . ]




April 23 . . .

From:        Shakespeare at Rhodes <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 23, 2018 at 12:29:22 PM EDT

Subject:    April 23 . . . 


Happy birth / death / book day from the Pearce Shakespeare Endowment!


In 2017-18, we hosted Marc Shell and Ayanna Thompson; conducted a pedagogical workshop for local teachers; led a seminar on The Tempest at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary; co-sponsored a lecture about the Reformation as well as a performance of “Shakespeare’s Women” directed by Leslie Reddick '82; and judged over 200 entries for Rhodes' inaugural Sonnet Contest. The two winning sonnets were published in The Southwestern Review and The Commercial Appeal:




We were also elated to welcome to Rhodes Stephanie Elsky, an accomplished teacher-scholar with interests in law and literature; the history of political thought; gender and women’s writing; the origins of colonialism; the reception of the classical past; and the history of the material text. 


Save the date: Professor Elsky will host Michelle Dowd for a lecture on Thursday, February 21, 2019. Professor Dowd directs the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies at the University of Alabama, where Theodore Nollert ’16 is currently enrolled, and from where Will Roudabush ’15 (now at SMU) graduated. 


Other recent Rhodes English alumni pursuing early modern studies include Jeremy Culver '13, NYU Team Coordinator for the Early Novels Database; Maggie McGowan ’14, who presented “Cultivating Skill in William Cowper's The Task” at the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (where she caught up with Professor Rudy); Andrew Miller ’11, whose Spenser essay was accepted for publication in English Literary History; Samantha Smith '14, now Education and Development Coordinator for the Atlanta Shakespeare Company; and Katherine Watkins '07, who teaches Shakespeare in Millington and won the 2017 Milken Educator Award.


Scott Newstok looks forward to commencing his sabbatical by teaching in Rhodes’ London program, visiting longtime Pearce collaborator Nick Hutchison, and researching Orson Welles at the Folger Shakespeare Library.




Launch of New Edition of ShakespearesWords.com

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0179  Monday, 23 April 2018


From:        David Crystal <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 22, 2018 at 4:12:24 PM EDT

Subject:    Launch of New Edition of ShakespearesWords.com





Launching April 23rd 2018


ShakespearesWords.com 3.0


Exploring Shakespeare’s Works like never before…



We are thrilled to announce the launch of ShakespearesWords.com version 3.0! 


We’ve received many suggestions for new features over the past decade, and all are now implemented in the 3.0 edition of the site. 


These include:

  • The site now runs up to ten times faster than before
  • All texts are shown in a First Folio or Quarto edition alongside the modern text
  • All Folio & Quarto spellings of words are now in the Glossary
  • The Relationship Circles are now interactive: click on a name to see that character's Part in the play
  • We've rebuilt the search engine, and added auto-completion functionality for word-search and character-search - start typing a word…
  • You can now search for words used by individual characters and in individual plays or poems
  • With rebuilt advanced search function, it’s easy to see if a particular word is being used nearby your search word
  • And most importantly, the site is now mobile-adaptive, so people can explore it on their cell-phone or tablet. Shakespeare’s Words is now pocket-sized!

In order to meet the substantial costs incurred in developing this new site we've introduced a ticketing model: after a limited free exploration, those who wish to carry on using the site can purchase access for a day, a month, a year, or a decade. 


And, as ever, once running costs are covered, we intend to make donations to theatre companies that receive no public subscription.


For further information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


David and Ben Crystal




The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 29.0178  Thursday, 19 April 2018


From:        Sally-Beth McClean <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         April 18, 2018 at 12:56:46 PM EDT

Subject:    REED News


REED: Berkshire, ed. Alexandra F. Johnston, Launched!


Announcing REED’s second digital edition, for the county of Berkshire, edited by Alexandra F. Johnston. Now freely available at REED Online: https://ereed.library.utoronto.ca/.


We are pleased to make available the long-awaited records for Berkshire and equally delighted that for the first time users will be able to search across two collections for locations, people and a wide range of topics, such as summer games or the King’s Men. We anticipate an ever-growing list of results as more collections are published online.


The REED: Berkshire records illustrate a rich popular entertainment tradition. The most prominent details of mimetic activity come from the parish of St Laurence, Reading, which has preserved records running from 1498 to 1573, among the fullest and richest in England. Virtually every kind of mimetic activity is featured--an Easter play with evidence from 1498 to 1537, an early sixteenth-century Creation play, a Robin Hood game, morris dancing, church ales, maypoles, and Hock gatherings. Reading was a stopping place for all kinds of late medieval travelling entertainers as well as for some of the most prominent professional companies, including Queen Elizabeth’s, the earl of Leicester’s, and King James’ players, along with those of other royal family members in the early seventeenth century. Noble households are also well represented in the collection, which includes an edition of “The Entertainment of Queen Elizabeth” by Lady Elizabeth Russell at Bisham in 1592.



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