Shakespeare in America: An Anthology from the Revolution to Now
“I think Americans will be fascinated to learn of our deep and early connection to the Bard, how he inspired presidents and incited mobs, and how vivid the legacy of one Englishman’s imagination still sits within the consciousness of our country. Like Shakespeare’s own plays, this anthology is full of enthralling stories and weird coincidences, and it’s a treasure.”—Meryl Streep
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“The history of Shakespeare in America,” writes James Shapiro in his introduction to this groundbreaking anthology, “is also the history of America itself.” From our beginnings as a nation, Shakespeare has been a central, inescapable part of our literary heritage, a figure so widely revered that, as Tocqueville noted in the 1830s, there was “hardly a pioneer’s hut” without a volume or two. 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 surprising 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: from Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Mark Twain, and Henry James to James Agee, John Berryman, Pauline Kael, Isaac Asimov, Adrienne Rich, and Jane Smiley. American statesmen and presidents from John Adams to Bill Clinton (in a foreword written for this volume) offer their own testimonies to Shakespeare’s profound and enduring influence.
The anthology also tracks the multitude of ways in which American theater and film have been indelibly marked by Shakespeare: actors from Charlotte Cushman and Edwin Booth to John Barrymore, Paul Robeson, and Marlon Brando reinterpret Shakespeare for each new era; the legendary productions of New York’s Yiddish theater are evoked in Cynthia Ozick’s story “Actors”; in the Depression years, Orson Welles revolutionizes Shakespearean performance with his landmark productions of Macbeth and Julius Caesar; the creators of Kiss Me, Kate and West Side Story write Shakespeare into the history of the classic American musical theater; and Joseph Papp, renewing a once-flourishing popular taste for the plays, establishes a New York tradition with Shakespeare in the Park.
Internationally acclaimed Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro introduces each piece with a lively and informative headnote to guide the reader through the fascinating record of our 250-year-long engagement with Shakespeare and his works—from the perennial interest in the birthplace at Stratford-upon-Avon to the uniquely American obsession with the question of who really wrote the plays—and supplements the texts with a sixteen-page illustration insert.
James Shapiro, editor, is Larry Miller Professor of English at Columbia University. His books include Rival Playwrights, Shakespeare and the Jews, Oberammergau, 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, and Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? Most recently, he was co-author and presenter of the three-part BBC series Shakespeare: The King’s Man.
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