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Gabriel Egan

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This book helps the reader make sense of the most commonly studied writer in the world. It starts with a brief explanation of how Shakespeare's writings have come down to us as a series of scripts for actors in the early modern theatre industry of London. The main chapters of the book approach the texts through a series of questions: 'what's changed since Shakespeare's time?', 'to what uses has Shakespeare been put?', and 'what value is there in Shakespeare?' These questions go to the heart of why we study Shakespeare at all, which question the book encourages the readers to answer for themselves in relation to their own critical writing.

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A note on style
How Shakespeare's works come down to us
Part One. Dramatic Genres
Chapter One. Comedies: A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595) and Much Ado About Nothing (1598)
Transformation, translation, and plays to pass the time
Much Ado About Nothing
Soldiers turned lovers
Determining genre
Dirty jokes and sexual mores
Chapter Two. Histories: Richard 2 and Henry 5
This England
Serialized history and the Tudor Myth
The order of composition
What kind of king is Henry 5?
Chapter Three. Tragedies: Hamlet and Othello
Large and small affairs in Hamlet
Sex, suicide, and scepticism
Testing the supernatural
The character of Othello in isolation
The character of Othello in the world
Racial difference -- cultural difference -- multiculturalism
Chapter Four. Problem plays and Romances: All's Well that Ends Well and The Winter's Tale
Not Hamlet in a dress, nor Helen in breeches
Choosing among the men
Helen's quest
Unsuitable husbands
Do Hermione and Polixenes paddle palms?
The Winter's Tale as proto-novel
Summer/Winter -- Man/Woman -- Land/Class
Part Two. Critical Approaches
Chapter Five. Authority and authorship: Measure for Measure
History: Then
Proposing to Isabella
Being a nun
Meaning: Now
Recovering Shakespeare's version
Chapter Six. Performance: Macbeth
The witches
The timing of exits and entrances
The bipolar stage
The apparitions
Chapter Seven. Identities: The Tempest
The identity of Caliban
The New World
Colonialism in general
Ariel as subaltern
Chapter Eight. Materialism: Timon of Athens
Base and superstructure
Timon as unaccommodated man
Money, gold, and g(u)ilt: Shakespearian alchemy
The second law of thermodynamics
The new materialism versus Gaia
Student Resources
Electronic Resources and Reference Resources
Guide to Further Reading.


In a series of direct, clear, unpatrionising chapters, Egan shows some of the ways in which questions of genre, authorship, context, performance and readers' preoccupations can enter into critical readings of Shakespeare's plays....'Shakespeare' can be genuinely useful for undergraduates, teachers who are not Shakespeare specialists, and some bright A level students.
- Use of English

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