Bardís influence on modern life
B. L. Chakoo

Shakespeare After All
by Marjorie Garber. Anchor Books, New York. Pages 989. $18.

"EVERY age creates its own Shakespeare. What is often described as the timelessness of Shakespeare, the transcendent qualities for which his plays have been praised around the world and across the centuries, is perhaps understood as an uncanny timelessness, a capacity to speak directly to circumstances, the playwright could have anticipated or foreseen. Like a portrait whose eyes seem to follow you around the room, engaging your glance from every angle, the plays and their characters seem always to be modern, always to be us."

Shakespeare After All opens with this compelling imaginative observation. Indeed, "both of an age" and "for all time" Shakespeare is "the defining figure of the English Renaissance." The world in which man lives today and thinks and philosophises is to use Ralph Waldo Emersonís word "Shakespearised." "I have a smack of Hamlet myself, if do say so," wrote Sigmund Taylor Coleridge. Goethe thought so, too, and so did Sigmund Freud and Iris Murdoch.

From the Romantic era on, Hamlet has been established as the frenzied Western "performance" of consciousness. The Macbeths have become "emblems of ambition," Othello a great sign of jealous love, Lear "a paradigm of neglected old age and its neglected nobilities," Cleopatra "a pattern of erotic and powerful womanhood," Prospero in The Tempest "a model of the artist as philosopher, and ruler," Romeo and Juliet are subliminally great examples of love, its romance and imagination. Undoubtedly, Shakespeareís characters and their language have given a unique existence to "a lexicon of modernity."

A sophisticated and companionable tour through all the 38 plays, Shakespeare After All is fundamentally devoted to exploring the phenomenal omnipresence of Shakespeare in "our times." It draws on the writerís (Professor Marjorie Garberís) immensely popular lecture courses at Yale and Harvard over the past three decades.

The introductory chapter is impossibly full, comprehensive, ambitious, stimulating and humming with cerebral sagacity. Eminently useful, it not only provides an originally insightful account of what is known about Shakespeare and how his work has been read and interpreted through the centuries, but also argues convincingly that "Shakespeare is in away always two playwrights, not one, the playwright of his time, the late 16th and early 17th century in England, and the playwright of our time, whatever time that is." For example, King Lear, Garber examines, was concerned with pressing questions of absolute monarchy and "royal succession and obligations of vassals" in the 17th century. For most people of the 21st century, "King" is an archaic title, as it certainly was not for the subjects of James I, under whose "patronage" Shakespeareís company, the Kingís Man, performed and flourished. Mid-20th-century readers thought of "King" as "father," seeing the play "as one centered on the family rather than realm." In fact, at various moments, Lear became a symbol of involuntary male power, of "the pathos of aging," even of the essence of existentialism.

Agreeably combative in tone, Garber believes that almost all characters have a potentially powerful cultural life, and are today cultural "icons," cited by politicians, legislators, philosophers, literary persons, therapists and gerontologists.

The introduction is followed by wise and revealing readings of Shakespeareís plays in a chronological sequence from The Two Gentlemen of Verona to Two Noble Kinsmen. The individual essays, particularly on Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and The Tempest, are cogent enough on their own, but the grouping of these related and yet quite various essays gives them an echoic relation that is mutually enhancing. In each essay, Garber keeps her eye on the goal, to explicate, to illuminate "the experience of reading and seeing." And each essay, including the one on The Tempest, serve to "reinforce" her careful observation about "changing and growing nature of the plays and their place as cultural shifters," expanding their interpretations as they intersect with new readers and new situations in the world. For her, and probably for the reader as well, Shakespeare is, today, "more likely to be a citation, a tagline, an adage or a slogan." However, all the essays, including the ones on Measure for Measure, The Merchant. of Venice, As You Like It, The Winter Tale, successfully attempt to show that Shakespeare serves a wide variety of cultural seriousness from "political nationalism" around the world to modern-day interaction on issues of importance, such as politics, religion, philosophy, morality, history, business and corporate culture. In fact, it is Garberís interpretative intelligence, her almost perfectly close reading and unusual talent for research and exposition to Shakespeare and modem times that gives them their greatest value.

Speaking briefly, the book guides the reader towards a fresh understanding of Shakespeare as man of the modem world, challenging many long-established views and laying foundation for a reassessment of his role as a playwright in todayís world. Reading it is to undergo an experience with something remarkableóbe it an interpretation, scholarship or language.