Dan Sandman

02: Shakespeare’s Restless World by Neil MacGregor

In Books, History, Non-Fiction on 09/01/2015 at 12:00 pm

Shakespeare's Restless World by Neil MacGregorNeil MacGregor is director of The British Museum and a BBC Radio 4 broadcaster. He writes popular books that inform and entertain in equal measure. The engaging prose, both authoritative and conversational, draws on MacGregor’s personal knowledge and the expertise of his colleagues. This is the work of a well connected and powerful supporter of academia, but it will appeal equally to readers with a non-academic background.

The book is a general overview of Elizabethan and Jacobean society, as seen through the poetic lens of Shakespeare’s plays. In concise chapters, the writing focuses on one topic at a time, highlighting an object taken from a particular museum or place – e.g. Henry V’s funeral arrangements located in Westminster Abbey (chapter six). The object(s) is discussed by MacGregor, alongside spliced interviews from experts, with Shakespeare’s language being referred to throughout. The poetry helps give the history a bit more spark, by framing it within a playful context. Topics include time (silver clock / A Winter’s Tale) and witchcraft (bewitched ship / Macbeth), and in total twenty objects alongside Shakespeare quotes a-plenty. The fact that Shakespeare can be used in such a way, and that people will still flock to buy the book / listened to the radio broadcasts, shows how popular the bard remains.

I think this book provides a fun and informative way of learning about Shakespeare’s time, and I will be recommending it to friends and family. It turns out that London used to have many problems that have long since disappeared. These days we do not have to worry about the black plague, public executions or witch burnings. The world has now been fully mapped and runs like clockwork. Everything in London is still restless, but at least now we have antibiotics and do not burn people based on superstitious beliefs. History teaches us to hold a mirror up to past, learn from what we see, and notice how it has shaped the present moment. When I watch or read a Shakespeare history play, it is clear to me that the bard was examining his own restless world, and commenting upon the ascension crises present in England during his own times. This book places emphasis on this theory by cleverly referencing objects and poetry.

The perfect book to dip into for fifteen minute time slots.


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