Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Shakespeare: His Life and Times

by Ari Berk and Kristen McDermott

It's funny how many people so often come to Shakespeare thinking he's boring or dull or whatever, even before they've heard or read a word of what he wrote. This delightful introduction, presented both in and out of character, should go a long way to changing that. The Shakespeare in these pages is a real person, full of life, joys, and sorrows. On the eve of retirement, he writes a letter to his daughter Judith, waiting for him at home in Stratford, and describes the England he knows and especially the great city of London where he has spent most of his career. This book, for the most part, is that letter. (It begins in the very first envelope on the title page. Don't miss it!)

The voice is warm, friendly, and fatherly--the Elizabethan tone is suggested more than anything else. Pull-outs, fold-outs, and envelopes add interest with proverbs, advice, theatre hand-bills, and other bits and pieces you won't find at a Renaissance festival. The beautifully illustrated double-pages are a scrap-book of the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean world that will give any reader a pleasant taste of what Shakespeare and his contemporaries, peasants and peers, thought and believed about the world, and how they lived in it, too. Love and family life, plays and the theatre, war and science, even what they ate, drank, and laughed at are all represented. 

The brilliant Ari Berk never ceases to delight, and this time--writing in partnership with his wife, the equally talented Kristen McDermott--is no exception. Together, the authors have given us a rare life and times, a book that shows us Shakespeare not as the Great Bard but as a husband and father, working writer and actor, looking forward to coming home. It's a joy to read and page through, and will doubtless become a treasured book even after the reader has "out-grown" it.

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