Shakespearean: On Life and Language in Times of Disruption (Hardcover)
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* A Washington Post Best Book of the Year *
"A remarkable book that takes us to the heart of Shakespeare's art and influence."—James Shapiro
When Robert McCrum began his recovery from a life-changing stroke, he discovered that the only words that made sense to him were snatches of Shakespeare. Unable to travel or move as he used to, the First Folio became his "book of life"—an endless source of inspiration through which he could embark on "journeys of the mind" and see a reflection of our own disrupted times.
An acclaimed writer and journalist, McCrum has spent the last twenty-five years immersed in Shakespeare's work, on stage and on the page. During this prolonged exploration, Shakespeare’s poetry and plays, so vivid and contemporary, have become his guide and consolation. In Shakespearean he asks: why is it that we always return to Shakespeare, particularly in times of acute crisis and dislocation? What is the key to his hold on our imagination? And why do the collected works of an Elizabethan writer continue to speak to us as if they were written yesterday?
Shakespearean is a rich, brilliant and superbly drawn portrait of an extraordinary artist, one of the greatest writers who ever lived. Through an enthralling narrative, ranging widely in time and space, McCrum seeks to understand Shakespeare within his historical context while also exploring the secrets of literary inspiration, and examining the nature of creativity itself. Witty and insightful, he makes a passionate and deeply personal case that Shakespeare’s words and ideas are not just enduring in their relevance – they are nothing less than the eternal key to our shared humanity.
About the Author
Robert McCrum was born and educated in Cambridge. For nearly twenty years he was editor-in-chief of the publishers Faber & Faber, and then literary editor of the Observer from 1996 to 2008. He is now an associate editor of the Observer. He is the author of Every Third Thought, My Year Off, Wodehouse: A Life, six novels, and the co-author of the international bestseller, The Story of English.
"Using accessible prose and modern reference points, McCrum addresses how Shakespeare moves us — still — and how his fearless creativity grew out of a tumultuous era and personal history."
— Washington Post; 50 notable works of nonfiction in 2021
“In the wake of a tumultuous time comes Shakespearean, a deeply personal look at the most admired playwright and poet in history. An immensely stylish, entertaining, and informative book. Engrossing.”
— Jay Parini
“Magnificent. McCrum addresses how Shakespeare moves us (from dread to laughter), and how his fearless creativity grew out of his tumultuous era and personal history. Shakespearean is not only thought-provoking but also moving and inspirational. McCrum’s living and breathing book reminds us why the fire of literature warms the soul.”
— Michael Sims
“In this biography and literary analysis, McCrum finds plenty of parallels to contemporary events within Shakespeare’s life, poetry, and drama…Shakespeare fans will find this book engrossing, comprehensive, challenging, and thrilling.”
— Booklist, Starred Review
"Full of close readings and enlightening observations, this is a poignant immersion into 'Shakespeare’s extraordinary power.' McCrum delivers an amiable and informed take on Shakespeare’s everlasting impact in this fascinating account that wonders why it is that the Bard 'live[s] on as one of us, not merely in Britain, but across the globe.'"
— Publishers Weekly
“Novelist and former editor-in-chief of Faber & Faber, McCrum is a lifelong Shakespeare addict. At the heart of his book—a mix of biography, literary history, and memoir—is a profound pondering: ‘How was it…that he became, and still becomes, Shakespearean?’ Writing in lively, conversational prose, McCrum sets off to find an answer as he weaves his way through his subject’s life and works. [His] enthusiastic paean is a warm, welcoming place for Shakespeare novices and veterans alike… An affectionate, personal homage to the Bard.”
“Shakespearean is a remarkable book, an illuminating and personal journey that takes us to the heart of Shakespeare’s art and influence. From his account of the plays’ quintessential Englishness to his exploration of what he shrewdly terms their 'negligent ambiguity,' McCrum’s insights are hard-earned and deeply rewarding."
— James Shapiro
“I can’t think of anything better than listening to Robert McCrum talk about Shakespeare. Enchanting.”
— Sir Simon Russell Beale
“Shakespearean is a brilliant, wise, elegant, and profoundly moving book. Beautifully written, inspired and inspiring: a captivating portrait of Shakespeare and ourselves.”
— Joanna Kavenna, author of The Ice Museum
“If you ever had any doubts about the relevance of Shakespeare to the modern world, read this book!”
— Henry Marsh, author of Do No Harm
“Wonderful and inexhaustibly fascinating.”
— Richard Eyre
“Wonderful. . . . a beautiful personal testament to why Shakespeare continues to matter so much. Shakespearean is crammed with original insights, and springs equally from a deep knowledge of Shakespeare’s own world and a totally persuasive conviction that his plays speak to our own world, and our own selves, as cogently as they did to the Elizabethans. Compulsively readable.”
— Nicholas Hytner, theatre director
“Reading Shakespearean was a joy. By far the most accessible and erudite contemporary critique evoking with wit and profound insight that conscious (and subconscious) acknowledgement of the degrees to which Shakespeare‘s work continues to influence our cultural and political lives. It is also an essential entertaining book for anyone who like me shares a love of the great man’s plays and sonnets.”
— Don Boyd, film director
“McCrum writes brilliantly about writing . There is much here to stir the blood."
— The Times
“Engaging and animated. McCrum guides us rather like someone walking through a gallery."
— The New Statesman
“Robert McCrum beautifully connects Shakespeare to ourselves. love his curiosity. He seems to live each day as if he’s talked to Shakespeare on the phone that morning.”
— Michael Grandage, Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse
"‘Excellent . . . the winning combination of McCrum's own insights and sparkling language lifts Shakespearean to the must-read list . . . an ambitious and exhilarating ride’"
— The Daily Mail
"A beguiling mix of memoir, literary criticism and biography"