The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 - James Shapiro

The Year of Lear (Simon & Schuster, $30) was also the year of Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, tragedies all, and focused on the fate of kings betrayed, betraying, or maddened—fates which necessarily imperiled whole kingdoms. In 1606, the Stuart kingdom was itself an uncertain entity: did James I reign over a united Britain (a word Shakespeare didn’t use until King Lear) or separately over England and Scotland? This was one of the topics in the air both on-stage and off, and James Shapiro enriches his reading of Shakespeare’s late work in the light of historical events. From the new rage for Court Masques to an unusual royal visit, these events included what happened yet was seldom mentioned in dramas of the time—the plague—and what didn’t happen, yet is commemorated still, the infamous Guy Fawkes conspiracy. Discovered before it could wipe out Parliament, the royals, decades’ worth of records, and a hefty chunk of London, the Gunpowder Plot led to widespread arguments over “possession, bewitching, and where evil originates,” and Shapiro traces Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters and other supernatural elements to contemporary tales of exorcism. He also reminds us how shocking King Lear was for its original audience, familiar with an earlier play of the same name—but in which “nobody dies…and all that is lost is restored.” As he did so brilliantly in A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, Shapiro reads history and literature with the sharp and realistic eye of a detective, forthright about how much information is lost but keen to learn what he can from the remaining clues to the Bard’s life and times.

The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 Cover Image
ISBN: 9781416541646
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Simon & Schuster - October 6th, 2015

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