Title: Shakespeare’s Restless World
Author: Neil MacGregor
Number of pages: 336
Started: 24 September 2012
Finished: 29 September 2012
Opening words (from chapter 10):
ALL: Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
ALL: Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
Shakespeare opens Macbeth by bringing us face to face with three extremely dangerous Scottish witches. Throughout the play these Weird Sisters cause mayhem on land and sea, and it was probably this kind of malevolent witchly chaos that lay behind the building of a finely crafted ship put on display in Leith towards the end of the sixteenth century, and now kept in the National Museum of Scotland.
The objects themselves range from the grand (such as the hoard of gold coins that make up the Salcombe treasure) to the very humble, like the battered trunk and worn garments of an unknown pedlar. But in each case, they allow MacGregor to explore issues as diverse as piracy and Islam, Catholicism and disguise. MacGregor weaves the histories of objects into the words of Shakespeare's plays themselves to suggest to us where his ideas about religion, national identity, the history of England and the world, human nature itself, may have come from. The result is a fresh and thrilling evocation of Shakespeare's world.
What I thought:
I don’t generally read much non-fiction, but gave this book a go. It is a book that through a series of objects describes what influenced Shakespeare’s writing and his audiences.
It was a good read, although some chapters were better than others. MacGregor was like an old friend guiding the reader through a world of social history. Very readable – although a few of the chapters didn’t seem entirely worthy of inclusion because they were about things that don’t feature in Shakespeare’s plays. I suspect a lot of things would meet that criteria. It was interesting though and there were lots of pictures to illustrate the points that were being made. Accessible history.