Think you know Shakespeare? Think again . . . Was a real skull used in the first performance of Hamlet? Were Shakespeare's plays Elizabethan blockbusters? How much do we really know about the playwright's life? And what of his notorious relationship with his wife? Exploring and exploding 30 popular myths about the great playwright, this illuminating new book evaluates all the evidence to show how historical material—or its absence—can be interpreted and misinterpreted, and what this reveals about our own personal investment in the stories we tell.
Introduction 1 Myth 1 Shakespeare was the most popular writer of his time 6 Myth 2 Shakespeare was not well educated 11 Myth 3 Shakespeare’s plays should be performed in Elizabethan dress 18 Myth 4 Shakespeare was not interested in having his plays printed 26 Myth 5 Shakespeare never traveled 34 Myth 6 Shakespeare’s plays are politically incorrect 40 Myth 7 Shakespeare was a Catholic 47 Myth 8 Shakespeare’s plays had no scenery 54 Myth 9 Shakespeare’s tragedies are more serious than his comedies 60 Myth 10 Shakespeare hated his wife 66 Myth 11 Shakespeare wrote in the rhythms of everyday speech 72 Myth 12 Hamlet was named after Shakespeare’s son 80 Myth 13 The coarse bits of Shakespeare are for the groundlings; the philosophy is for the upper classes 86 Myth 14 Shakespeare was a Stratford playwright 94 Myth 15 Shakespeare was a plagiarist 99 Myth 16 We don’t know much about Shakespeare’s life 106 Myth 17 Shakespeare wrote alone 113 Myth 18 Shakespeare’s sonnets are autobiographical 119 Myth 19 If Shakespeare were writing now, he’d be writing forHollywood 125 Myth 20 The Tempest was Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage 130 Myth 21 Shakespeare had a huge vocabulary 137 Myth 22 Shakespeare’s plays are timeless 143 Myth 23 Macbeth is jinxed in the theater 150 Myth 24 Shakespeare did not revise his plays 156 Myth 25 Boy actors played women’s roles 163 Myth 26 Shakespeare’s plays don’t work as movies 169 Myth 27 Yorick’s skull was real 175 Myth 28 Queen Elizabeth loved Shakespeare’s plays 183 Myth 29 Shakespeare’s characters are like real people 190 Myth 30 Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare 196 Coda 202 Further Reading 207 Index 211
"Laurie Maguire and Emma Smith's 30 Great Myths About Shakespeare is a thought-provoking myth-buster ... It entertains the reader with new material and detective-like connections ... A huge amount of research, work and selection lies behind this book, and it pays off. Not just students, but every academic should take note." (Times Literary Supplement, 29 November 2013) "Lively, enjoyable and sensible throughout." (London Review of Books, 5 December 2013) "The myth that Macbeth is jinxed in the theatre, is, says Maguire, a 'self-fulfilling prophecy based on a hoax.' And so it is, and delightfully so, but you’ll have to read the book to find out why." (Irish Examiner, 5 June 2013). "This is a good book by trustworthy Shakespeareans ... The individual myths, structured into moderate-length essays (thus you do not have to read them in order), can be excellent for discussions in the classroom or lecture-room. Though the book obviously targets readership already into Shakespeare, every novice will enjoy finding satisfactory answers to the myths they are bothered with." (Huffington Post, 24 April 2013) "The value of this little book lies in its ceaseless exploration." (Times Higher Education, 7 March 2013) "Even if you know Shakespeare well, this delightful book will offer thought-provoking new angles." (The Scotsman, 2 March 2013) "A book that manages the rare feat of exercising scholarly caution...while still providing a highly entertaining portrait of the man himself." (Sunday Times, 24 February 2013)
Laurie Maguire is Professor of English at the University of Oxford, tutorial fellow at Magdalen College, and the author or editor of seven books. She is a regular theater reviewer for the TLS and has lectured widely across the UK and the USA. Emma Smith is tutorial fellow at Hertford College, Oxford. She is the author or editor of six books, a regular reviewer for the TLS, and has lectured widely across the UK and the USA. The authors have previously collaborated together on articles on Middleton and Shakespeare and on graduate courses at the University of Oxford.
Was a real skull used in the first performances of Hamlet? Were Shakespeare’s plays Elizabethan blockbusters? How much do we really know about the playwright’s life? And what of his notorious relationship with his wife? Through a series of short essays that engage the most potent concerns of recent scholarship, 30 Great Myths about Shakespeare throws new light on these and other common questions about Shakespeare and his works. Myths regarding Shakespeare abound for a variety of reasons: because of half-remembered or out-of-date scholarship; because Shakespeare is such an elusive and charismatic historical figure; and because, more than any other literary figure, the controversies of Shakespeare studies make headlines. Exploring and exploding 30 popular myths about the great playwright, this illuminating new book evaluates evidence to show how historical material – or its absence – can be interpreted and misinterpreted, and what this reveals about our own personal investment in the stories we tell. Offering a highly engaging narrative, 30 Great Myths about Shakespeare covers the big issues that excite the popular imagination around the man, the theater, and the texts of Shakespeare. Thought Shakespeare was a Stratford playwright, or that Macbeth is jinxed? Think again …
“Learned and enjoyable (that rarest of combinations), 30 Great Myths is a brilliant exploration of the truth behind popular assumptions about Shakespeare. Some of these myths turn out to be true, some false and some impossible to be decisive about. But these mini-essays are always at once fascinating, provoking and fun.”—Peter Holland, University of Notre Dame “This is a fresh, learned, thoughtful and generous-spirited review of the more-or-less received ideas we so often invoke when we talk about Shakespeare. Written with wit and verve by two outstanding experts in the field, it will entertain and inform experienced readers and playgoers as well as those approaching the plays and poems for the first time.”—Russell Jackson, University of Birmingham “30 Great Myths About Shakespeare is superb. Laurie Maguire and Emma Smith have written an incisive, witty, and open-minded book, one that uses popular myths as a point of entry into the profound and vexing questions raised by Shakespeare’s art. Scholars, actors, and general readers will find themselves in their debt.”—James Shapiro, Columbia University