Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Taking arms against a sea of biographies

Have you ever noticed how the minute you read or learn about something new, you suddenly start seeing it everywhere? As though the Universe were conspiring to give you as much exposure to it as possible? I'm sure there's a reason for the phenomenon, something, doubtless, to do with attention (Kundera talks about this somewhere - I think it's in Unbearable Lightness - something about how coincidence is just what we happen to notice), but it still always strikes me as uncanny. [1]

At any rate, my new word for the day yesterday (courtesy of Ash over at DP [2]) was fisking and the next thing I read is this delightful NYRB article by Anne Barton reviewing a bunch of new Shakespeare 'biographies'[3]. I particularly loved the bits where she tears into Clare Asquith. It's wonderful how scathing Barton manages to be, how entirely dismissive (she ends the review of Asquith's book by suggesting, politely, that she focus her future literary endeavours on Southwell, and leave Shakespeare alone!) while still being logical and objective. Make no mistake - under the thin veneer of scholarship this is a rant, but it's a classy, academic rant, and that's what makes it so delicious.

Oh, and don't miss the end of the article either - the bit where Barton outlines, citing the book by David Ellis that she's reviewing, the six strategies for writing Shakespeare biographies. And concludes with:

"Looking at the seemingly never-ending flow of new Shakespeare biographies over the last decade, it is hard not to feel that (barring the unlikely emergence of any important new information) a moratorium on such works really ought to be imposed. There may still be a book to write about just why lives of Shakespeare continue to proliferate—and to sell—as there is for a proper investigation of the psychology uniting all those continued attempts to demonstrate that he was only the front man for the true author, whether Marlowe, Edward de Vere, Bacon, Sir Henry Neville, or Mary Sidney."

P.S. Meanwhile, in Falstaff land, Shakespeare month continues. Coming up: a week's worth of passages from Shakespeare on Poi-tre. Watch that space.


[1] Oh, and in case you've never noticed this before, don't worry. If there's anything in the theory, you should start observing the phenomenon right about now.

[2] Another day, another DP reference. Ho hum.

[3]Personally, I've never seen the point of all this speculation about the 'real' Shakespeare anyway. Who cares? I'd much rather re-read the plays

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Anonymous said...

Hehe, glad to have introduced you to a new hobby !

Falstaff said...

Ash: hardly a new hobby. I've been doing this stuff for years - I just never realised it had a name. Talk about fisk-al responsibility.

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