The Shakespeare Wars
Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascos, Palace Coups
Random House, $35, 624 pp.
At the outset of The Shakespeare Wars, Ron Rosenbaum promises readers a different sort of Shakespeare book, and there is no doubt that he delivers. Rosenbaum distinguishes his work from the spate of recent Shakespeare biographies by pointing out that his concern is not Shakespeare the man but rather the body of work that is properly called “Shakespearean.” Indeed, Rosenbaum wants to know what is “Shakespearean” about Shakespeare. Rosenbaum does not eschew biography altogether; it’s just that the biography that matters here is Rosenbaum’s, not Shakespeare’s. Indeed, one of the things that make this deeply personal book truly different is the way in which it intertwines autobiography with a lively account of recent work on Shakespeare.
Engaging and idiosyncratic, Rosenbaum comes across as an enthusiastic and opinionated, if not always reliable, guide to a broad range of seemingly arcane issues, such as textual theory and the proper pronunciation of blank verse. Not only does Rosenbaum make these recondite issues accessible to the general reader, he also makes a compelling argument for their importance, insisting that everyone who claims an interest in Shakespeare must grapple with the scholarly developments discussed in the book.
With a chip on his shoulder and his heart on his sleeve, Rosenbaum opens the book by recounting the events that ignited his passion for Shakespeare. First,...