Michael Alexander: Reading Shakespeare (Palgrave Macmillan)
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Review: Brian Morton
It's said that all the known facts about Shakespeare can be written on a single sheet of A4. There are 37 plays in the canon, counting Henry IV Parts One and Two, and Henry VI Parts One, Two and Three as separate works. In modern terminology, they divide into 12 tragedies, 10 histories and 16 comedies. Early 20th-century criticism preferred to consider one of the blacker comedies (Measure For Measure) and one of the more farcical of the tragedies (Troilus And Cressida) as "problem plays". Seven of the plays are thought to incorporate work by other hands. There are a couple of lost plays, Love's Labours Won and Cardenio, perhaps co-written with John Fletcher. And there is a body of poetry, of which only the sonnets and their "mysterious" personal subtexts are palatable today. Shakespeare was baptised in 1564 and died in 1616. We owe his literary survival to the decision by two colleagues, John Heminges and Henry Condell, to publish the "complete works" in a handsome folio. And yet, it is also said that a book about Shakespeare, this man of whom we know so very little, is published in one of the world's languages every single day.
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