Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ugh. This one took me awhile. Re-watching all of Lost is not conduscive to getting anything done other than re-watching all of Lost...

Book number 14 (only 14! ouch) is Contested Will by James Shapiro. As you may have gathered from this blog by now, I'm a bit of a Shakespeare groupie. Not only do I love reading and watching his plays, but I also really enjoy reading scholarly works about him and his plays. Yes, this is a hold over from my university degree of choice. I'm usually open to all sorts of theories about Shakespeare, or different interpretations of his plays, but if there is one thing I refuse to believe, or give much credit to, it is the (various) theories that someone (or someones) other than Shakespeare wrote his plays. And that is what this book is about.

Normally, I wouldn't have given a book like this a second look, my dislike of the authorship question is so great, but I knew Shapiro was coming at it from a place I could comfortably get behind: Shapiro himself believes that Shakespeare wrote his plays (and yes, some of them were collaberative, but he still had his hand in them), but he gives the history and some of the reasoning why people believe that there is no way a 'simple man from Stratford' could have written all those magnificent works.

Shapiro goes through the main candidates; Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe, etc., and also talks about some of the famous people who have bought into the authorship controversy (such as Freud, Helen Keller, Mark Twain and Henry James) and lays out their evidence (or rather the lack thereof as far as I'm concerned) and the history of each of these movements. I did find it interesting on how the arguments really do lack any hard proof (which is usually also a main resoning of why they believe William of Stratford didn't write the plays; there's no 'proof'), and that they refute Shakespeare because 'he just couldn't have'. Even though I thought Shapiro was being as fair as he could be towards these theories, they still sound like crackpot theories often devised by crackpots. Despite all the evidence Shapiro lays out, I came nowhere near believing that Shakespeare didn't write his plays.

Shapiro also gives, of course, a defending chapter on Shakespeare. It actually seems remarkably slim, and that's because there isn't a lot of hard evidence that the detractors seem to want. But there are poems from contemporaries such as Ben Jonson who basically tell us that William Shakespeare of Stratford was the playwrite. Shakespeare's place in the world of Elizabethan/Jacobean theatre was well assured. He had powerful patrons (including James I) and obviously made a good living from the theatre. His plays were collected after his death and published in a manner that few things were published in at the time (an expensive folio edition), because the publishers knew the plays had to be preserved and that there was a market for them. Also, these were men who knew Shakespeare personally.

Overall, for me, this book just reiterated what I always believed, that no one else but Shakespeare could've written his plays. So I will continue to be endlessly annoyed when anyone brings up the whole 'what about the theory that such and such wrote Shakespeare's plays?' Pure bunk as far as I'm concerned.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Lucky number 13 has been reached. (Note to self, never start three, very large books nearly simulataneously. You don't get any of them done quickly, and one you had to return to the library before you finished it because you couldn't renew it...) Book 13 is The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt. This book didn't grab me at first, but it became so... brutal that it basically bludgeoned me into liking it. It is a very Dickensian by way of steam-punk kinda novel. Hunt's world feels very much like Victorian England, mixed with magic and ancient Aztek-like gods trying to make a comeback under the guise of a communist (or rather communityist) type uprising. It's all terribly intricate and quite intreguiging.

The main characters are two young orphans, Oliver Brooks and Molly Templar. Both seem, at first glance to be unremarkable, but both are being hunted for unknown reasons. The reasons are later revealed, and both are extremely important to, not only the survival of their country (the Land of Jackals), but basically the entire world. A revolution has begun in Jackals, one of increadible brutality and bloodshed, and it is up to the two youngsters to help end it, along with the motley crue of allies they've picked up along the way. There is, like with any Victorian-type novel, a huge cast of characters. Some were quite interesting and I wished they'd stuck around more.

Sometimes I find steam-punk buckles under it's own technobabble, but I didn't find it too bad here. There is still quite a bit of technobabble, especially when it comes to the sentient steammen machines who alive in their own right, but it fits the world and doesn't seem too bad.

There is a lot of political upheavel in this book, and one would think Hunt is definitely not a fan of communism, or else he just took it one hugely off-kilter step further.

The bad guys in this book are all terribly bad, there are no shades of grey here, and when they are defeated, it is a big relief.

The book wrapped up a little too quickly in my mind; I would've liked to have understood some of the more immediate aftermath of the revolution, but Hunt didn't really explain it. Ah well, maybe he's thinking sequels.