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   SHAKESPEARE IN A DIVIDED AMERICA

US edition, forthcoming March 2020

 
Read at school by almost every student, staged in theaters across the land, and long highly valued highly by both conservatives and liberals alike, Shakespeare's plays are rare common ground in the United States. For well over two centuries now, Americans of all stripes—presidents and activists, writers and soldiers—have turned to Shakespeare's works to address the nation's political fault lines, such as manifest destiny, race, gender, immigration, and free speech. 

 

In a narrative arching across the centuries, James Shapiro traces the unparalleled role of Shakespeare's 400-year-old tragedies and comedies in making sense of so many of these issues,on which theAmerican identity has turned. Reflecting on how Shakespeare has been invoked—and at times weaponized—at pivotal moments in our past, Shapiro takes us from President John Quincy Adams's disgust with Desdemona's interracial marriage to Othello,to Abraham Lincoln's and his assassin John Wilkes Booth's competing obsessions with the plays, up through the fraught debates over marriage and same-sex love at the heart of the celebrated adaptations Kiss Me,Kate and Shakespeare in Love. His narrative culminates in the 2017 controversy over the staging of Julius Caesar in Central Park, in which a Trump-like leader is assassinated.
 

Shakespeare in a Divided America shows that no writer has been more closely embraced by Americans, or has shed more light on the hot-button issues in our history. Indeed, it is by better understanding Shakespeare's role in American life, Shapiro argues, that we might begin to mend our bitterly divided land.

 

 

 

 

 

(Simon & Schuster, 2015)

 

*Winner of the James Tait Black Prize for Biography
*Winner of the Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography
*Finalist for the George Freedley Memorial Award
*Short-listed for the PBK Christian Gauss Award
*Short-listed for the Theatre Book Prize
*Short-listed for the PEN Hessell–Tiltman History Prize

 

Listed among the best books of the year in The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Telegraph, The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Spectator, The Daily Beast, The Observer, The Daily Express, The London Evening Standard, The International Business Times, The Dallas Morning News, and The New Statesman.

SHAKESPEARE IN AMERICA: A LITERARY ANTHOLOGY FROM THE REVOLUTION TO NOW, ed. by James Shapiro with a foreword by President Bill Clinton

 

The history of Shakespeare in America is also the history of America itself. Shakespeare in America reveals how, for over two centuries, the plays have been a prism through which crucial American issues—revolution, slavery, war, social justice—were refracted, debated, and understood. Shapiro traces the rich and suprising story of how Americans made Shakespeare their own through a wide range of genres—poetry, fiction, essays, plays, memoirs, songs, speeches, letters, movie reviews, and comedy routines—and a remarkable roster of American writers.

"'Shakespeare in America'...offers amazing variety--genres, authors, styles, and contexts--all placed in conversation with each other. The result is a wide-ranging of America's ongoing relationship with Shakespeare, uses and abuses alike."
--Virginia Vaughan, Times Literary Supplement

"There are discoveries and surprises along the way, like Lord Buckley’s beat-era “Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger-Poppin’ Daddies,” an extended riff on Shakespeare’s most famous speeches (“I came here to lay Caesar out, Not to hip you to him”), and “Shakespeares of 1922,” a vaudeville sketch by Lorenz Hart and Morrie Ryskind. But for many readers the real eye opener will be the heated love affair, richly documented by Professor Shapiro, between ordinary Americans and the most exalted writer in the English language."
--William Grimes, The New York Times

“The Library of America has brought out a volume dedicated, unusually, to the influence on America of a non-American figure. . . . The collection is delightfully varied. . . . It makes an implicit argument for a distinctly American Shakespeare.”
–Noah Millman, The New York Times Book Review






SHAKESPEARE: THE KING'S MAN

First aired in April 2012 as a BBC4 3-hour documentary: “The King and the Playwright: A Jacobean History." Directed by Steven Clarke. Short-listed for the Grierson Award for the Best Historical Documentary, 2012. Now available as a DVD for North American viewers.


“Were I to offer an introductory course in the Bard, one could not ask to do much better than SHAKESPEARE: THE KING'S MAN. [Shapiro’s] smart, sharp and succinct analysis of sixteen plays or so a true joy to experience--he presents them all in a particularly inspired manner, oftentimes highlighted by fantastic live performance footage that manage to expertly capture much of the themes, feel and mood of many of these admittedly tough-to-grasp later plays composed by the King's Man. Indeed, Shapiro's insight into the history of the time and his vast knowledge of the supposed history of the man behind the play himself is thorough and thoughtful to a fault--consistently engaging and never veering too far from the various topics under discussion, with some illuminating location visits and conversations with other historians; the focus always remains firmly set on the second half of Shakespeare's career and the historical circumstances surrounding the creation of the plays themselves. And, who could honestly ask for a better overview?” (Pat Cerasaro, Broadwayworld.com)


"'Shakespeare: The King’s Man' was an absolute delight from start to finish. I’m a fan of Shakespeare, but admittedly don’t know a whole lot about the plays he wrote during his time as “the King’s Man,” when he and company became the “King’s Players,” officially working at the King’s pleasure. This fascinating documentary will appeal to both seasoned historians and general audiences. Scholar James Shapiro deftly guides the viewer through the turbulence of life in the Jacobean court. From the Gunpowder Plot to the writing of the King James Bible, Shaprio illustrates how Shakespeare was influenced by James and how James was influenced by Shakespeare…..This is a great addition to any DVD collection as it appeals to both general and specialized audiences." --Anglotopia.net

American edition: Simon and Schuster, 2010





A New York Times "Notable Book" for 2010


BOOK DESCRIPTION

For two hundred years after Shakespeare's death, no one thought to argue that somebody else had written his plays. Since then dozens of rival candidates - including Sir Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford - have been proposed as their true author. "Contested Will" unravels the mystery of when and why so many people began to question whether Shakespeare wrote the plays (among them such leading writers and artists as Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Orson Welles, and Sir Derek Jacobi). If "Contested Will" does not end the authorship question once and for all, it will nonetheless irrevocably change the nature of the debate by confronting what's really contested: are the plays and poems of Shakespeare autobiographical, and if so, do they hold the key to the question of who wrote them?

UK edition: Faber & Faber





WINNER OF THE SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE (Best non-fiction book published in Britain) Also awarded: THE THEATRE BOOK PRIZE