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Book Review: ‘Shakespeare on Theatre’ by Nick de Somogy

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Theater in Shakespeare’s day was like the cinema now: It was the entertainment of choice. Whether in traveling bands of players or established groups playing in real theaters and palaces and private homes, the actors were celebrities and so were certain playwrights, such as Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe, and especially William Shakespeare. Theater buffs wrote down lines from plays in their notebooks, and actors like Richard Burbage and the comedian Will Kemp had their own devoted followings just as Brad Pitt or George Clooney do today.

shakespeare

There has been some controversy over whether Shakespeare actually wrote his plays or not. Without specifically setting out to do so, Shakespeare on Theatre may help to settle that debate. Shakespeare was not only a writer but an actor, and his plays are riddled with references to the theater and the acting profession. The argument that is sometimes made is that Shakespeare would not have had the education to have written the plays because he had not gone to University. But the argument can also be made, based on this book, that the University scholars would not have had the intimate knowledge of the stage that appears again and again in Shakespeare’s work.

Shakespeare on Theater is a highly interesting and entertaining book for anyone with an interest in Shakespeare and the theater of his time. De Somogy’s commentary enhances the selected pieces from Shakespeare’s plays and a few others of the same time period, passages which deal strictly with acting and the theater and shed a great deal of light on the nature of the actor’s life during the time the plays were written. The plays themselves include both dramas and comedy and the scenes are touching and, especially in the case of Midsummer Night’s Dream, very funny indeed. There is an extensive glossary to aid in understanding the language that belonged specifically to Shakespeare’s time.

There is never a dull moment in the book and it would be a great gift for students studying English literature, as well as for theater buffs, actors, writers and lovers of Shakespeare who will cherish it and no doubt return to it again and again. Many people who may have thought Shakespeare too hard to understand may be surprised at how much they enjoy Shakespeare on Theatre.

About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, and Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.
  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    Some of these questions can be resolved definitively by comparing the writing in his personal letters to the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. This would be a beginning point.Next, researchers could examine the writings of theater critics at the time. Certainly, these issues must have been discussed at length.

    • Shelphi

      There are no extant letters for Shakspeare, but there are many letters available written by Edward de Vere with clear stylistic links to the Works. Also an education in the classics did not have to necessarily be only through a university and does not preclude heavy involvement in theater, especially that for the very frequent private and court performances. A writer who had both an intimate knowledge of the stage and had access the resources that built the plays (not available to the general public or translated into English at the time) was the author. Find out how iittle we know about the mythical bard…

      • psi2u2

        As Shelphi indicates, there is a currently a paradigm shift brewing in Shakespeare studies.