BOOK REVIEW: JAMES SHAPIRO – SHAKESPEARE IN A DIVIDED AMERICA

Today, it’s a short review of a brilliant non-fiction book I read recently. It’s Shakespeare in a Divided America by James Shapiro.

If there’s one thing to know about me is that I’m a big Shakespeare nerd but more on that  below but first, what’s the book about? Here’s the synopsis:

Shakespeare’s position as England’s national poet is established and unquestionable.

But as James Shapiro illuminates in this revelatory new history, Shakespeare has long held an essential place in American culture. Why, though, would a proudly independent republic embrace England’s greatest writer? Especially when his works enact so many of America’s darkest nightmares: interracial marriage, cross-dressing, same-sex love, tyranny, and assassination?

Investigating a selection of defining moments in American history – drilling into issues of race, miscegenation, gender, patriotism and immigration; encountering Presidents, activists, writers and actors – Shapiro leads us to fascinating answers and uncovers rich and startling stories.

But perhaps most pressingly, we learn how, in Trump’s America, the staging of his work has provoked threats of violence and has become a battleground for freedom of speech.

Sounds interesting, right? As I’ve already said, I’m a big Shakespeare nerd. He was what I studied the most throughout my time at university and I just find it interesting how we can use Shakespeare to explore and examine the modern world and society. And that’s what this book is doing, too. I’ve never read anything from Shapiro before but I was really intrigued when I saw this was about to be published. The cover especially caught my eye…

There’s a lot to discuss about this book but I think it’s best left to be read as I’ll probably go off a tangent (or two). I found this really interesting and insightful. We often associate Shakespeare to be very British, very English but what about American culture? That’s what Shapiro explores – Shakespeare’s place in American culture; especially when Shakespeare’s works explore interracial marriage, cross-dressing, same-sex love, assassination, and more.

Shapiro is a great writer – it’s very informative but he writes it in a way that makes you want to know more and more. I loved the themes he explores and investigates in the book from: race, gender, immigration, sexuality, and so on. I’m personally really interested in same-sex relationships in Shakespeare’s plays and I took a lot from this book with a series of notes with it, too. I also liked when Shapiro explored how Shakespeare’s plays are staged in the era of Trump in America and the question of freedom of speech. I would have liked to see this explored further and look at into a more modern context but perhaps that’s another book to write.

Overall, I found this a great insightful, interesting exploration of Shakespeare in American society and culture. I loved the exploration of themes of race, religion, sexuality, immigration and how Shakespeare is seen at the age of Trump’s America. I would love to see more from Shapiro on the subject and I’m going to go and read a lot more of Shapiro in the future. It also made me want to explore certain ideas further and just made me even more passionate about Shakespeare and why I care about these issues in the first place.

Have you read Shakespeare in a Divided America? What did you think? What’s your favourite Shakespeare play? I think mine has to be Twelfth Night. Let me know in the comments!

Thank you,

Corey.

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