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Anecdotal Shakespeare

Paul Menzer

DOI: 10.5040/9781472576194

ISBN: 9781472576156

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Shakespeare's four-hundred-year performance history is full of anecdotes – ribald, trivial, frequently funny, sometimes disturbing, and always but loosely allegiant to fact. Such anecdotes are nevertheless a vital index to the ways that Shakespeare's plays have generated meaning across varied times and in varied places. Furthermore, particular plays have produced particular anecdotes – stories of a real skull in Hamlet, superstitions about the name Macbeth, toga troubles in Julius Caesar – and therefore express something embedded in the plays they attend.

Anecdotes constitute then not just a vital component of a play's performance history but a form of vernacular criticism by the personnel most intimately involved in their production: actors. These anecdotes are therefore every bit as responsive to and expressive of a play's meanings across time as the equally rich history of Shakespearean criticism or indeed the very performances these anecdotes treat.

Anecdotal Shakespeare provides a history of post-Renaissance Shakespeare and performance, one not based in fact but no less full of truth

'[Menzer] has carried out considerable research to present detailed analysis of anecdotes surrounding five of Shakespeare's most high-profile plays ... Quirky ... [and] enjoyable.' British Theatre Guide

'How does Menzer establish this grand reading of idle words on plays? Mostly through plays on words. Menzer is a writer sure never to shun a pun or fail to say oui to a bon mot. … The narrative calls attention to the act of impersonation, the doubled reality of the stage.' First Things