I found Ron Rosenbaum’s book THE SHAKESPEARE WARS enthralling. I will use a lot of it. From college I knew the importance of the iambic pentameter line to an actor in communicating meaning to an audience. That didn’t mean I paid any attention to the important PAUSE, “that moment for breath, that delicate moment of hesitant stasis, that brief instant of intentional silence at the end of an iambic pentameter line;” but now as a director I can’t ignore it. In that PAUSE, I find so much that’s important to me: where a thinking performer night after night can give the illusion of the first time.
Shakespeare rewrote his plays, Rosenbaum, among many other important things, pulls this out of debates that still swirl around the Barb and his legacy: the “clashing” scholarship, “public fiascoes,” and “palace coups.” And there is evidence that he (Shakespeare) fussed over punctuation…even with printers…but I hadn’t realized the significance of this for me. Until now, punctuation hadn’t seemed that important. How a comma here or there totally chances the meaning of something. How the presence or absents of three O’s…O’, O’, O…as when Hamlet dies…can effort how one interprets the whole play. This opened up for me a whole new way of looking at my work. It gives me a new tool…punctuation. It gives more freedom. I could even use, if I wanted, my misspelling: see Rosenbaum’s chapter “The Spell of the Shakespearean in “ORIGINAL SPELLING.” Well, why not? (You could tell me that I live in an age after Webster and I should be concerned with satisfying readers.) Even at this late date, I’m learning.
Rosenbaum’s subject, even when he is focused on a cast of heroes and villains, is Shakespeare. We may have thought we knew Shakespeare before, or hadn’t put it all together. We may have been saturated with stuff about Shakespeare to the detriment of our curiosity. I thought I knew enough to get me by and had stopped concentrating on the man from Stratford. But now after reading THE SHAKESPEARE WARS, I want to reread it, use it and read it again. I now want to go back through the work of Shakespeare with bottomless wonder.
Ron Rosenbaum studied Shakespeare at Yale. His best-selling work of cultural history EXPLAINING HITLER has been translated into ten languages. His work has appeared in THE NEW YORK TIMES, HARPER’S, THE ATLANTIC, and THE NEW YORKER. He writes a column for THE NEW YORK OBSERVER and lives in New York City.
THE SHAKESPEARE WARS is published by RANDOM HOUSE New York
Copyright @ 2006 by Ron Rosenbaum
Dedicated: “To Peter Brook and the cast of Dream. For changing my life forever.”