Read Shakespeare by Mark Van Doren David Lehman Online


This legendary book by an esteemed poet and beloved professor at Columbia University features a series of smart, witty, deeply perceptive essays about each of Shakespeare's plays, together with a further discussion of the poems. Writing with an incomparable knowledge of his subject but without a hint of pedantry, Van Doren elucidates both the astonishing boldness and myriaThis legendary book by an esteemed poet and beloved professor at Columbia University features a series of smart, witty, deeply perceptive essays about each of Shakespeare's plays, together with a further discussion of the poems. Writing with an incomparable knowledge of his subject but without a hint of pedantry, Van Doren elucidates both the astonishing boldness and myriad subtleties of Shakespeare's protean art. His Shakespeare is a book to be treasured by both new and longtime students of the Bard....

Title : Shakespeare
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ISBN : 9781590171684
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 302 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Shakespeare Reviews

  • Kelly
    2018-10-16 08:56

    I am going to come back and finish this when I've read the rest of the plays, and perhaps write a real review. I've read all the essays for all the plays I've read so far. For now, for those of you thinking about reading this, you absolutely should. And I hope all these quotes I have below convince you of why:Round I:On the sonnets: "By so much does the caliber of the sonnets at their best surpass in interest the crux of the occasion. At their poorest they are perhaps quite personal in the biographer's sense of the term. At their richest, when the volume of their sound suggests a deep, an almost subterranean hum of energy coming from the dark center of all the power there is, they may be personal too; but they are personal at such times rather to the artist than to the man. Shakespeare had found his subject..."On Richard III: "Attractive as his brilliance makes him, and close to us as he sometimes comes through the sheer lonely force of his wit, he is nevertheless a murderer by nature, he likes to kill. Shakespeare has not yet discovered the secret of true success in fables of this kind. For true success the villain must be a hero too, must be a better man than we at the same time as he is worse... The great stories of murder are about men who could not have done it but who did...Richard is only stunning in his craft, a serpent whose movements we follow for their own sake, because in themselves they have strength and beauty."On Comedy of Errors: "... these are plays in which, obedient to the laws governing such matters, he confines his interest, or almost confines it, to physical predicament- to things that happen to certain persons not because of who they are but because of what they are...... If Shakespeare's spirit reposed in comedy it was not in this kind of comedy. He could write it very well and it is hugely funny, but the heart of his interest was elsewhere- the poet had abdicated."On Taming of the Shrew: "Petruchio is hero of farce, not of romance. Comedy is made once more from situation... a certain callousness will be induced to form in the sensibilities of the beholder so that whereas in another case he would be outraged he will now laugh freely and steadily for two hours. The practitioner in farce, no less than the practitioner in melodrama, must possess the art of insulating his audience's heart so that it cannot be shocked while the machinery hums.""A play in which a heroine can be called devil, a wench, a field of hell, a rotten apple, a thing to be boarded, an irksome scold... has in fact been saved, but saved as farce. How otherwise could we behold so callously the wringing of ears and the knocking of heads which appear to be Petruchio's natural habits?... In the end, she has been tamed, and the logic of farce is that she should say so."On Love's Labor's Lost: "Biron is the only inhabitant of Love's Labor's Lost who talks like a person of this world. Shakespeare obviously likes him and sees more life in him thant he play can use. He will reappear in better plays and indeed there will be something of him in Shakespeare's finest poets- Hotspur and Hamlet."On Romeo and Juliet: "Romeo and Juliet is still a youthful play, its author, no less than its hero and heroine, is furiously literary. He has written at last a tragedy which is crowded with life.""Few other plays, even by Shakespeare, engage the audience so intimately. The hearts of the hearers, surrendered early, are handled with the greatest care until the end, and with the greatest human respect. No distinction of Shakespeare is so hard to define as this distinction of his which consists of knowing the spectator through and through, and of valuing what is there.""At least it is clear that one who has witnessed 'Romeo and Juliet' has been taken apart and put together again; has been strangely and normally moved; has learned a variety of good things about himself; and has been steadily happy in the knowledge."Round II:On Midsummer:"The world of this play is both veritable and large. It is not the tiny toy-shop that most such spectacles present, with quaint little people scampering on dry little errands... There is room here for mortals no less than for fairies; both classes are at home, both groups move freely in a wide world where indeed they seem to have sometimes exchanged functions with one another... The buisness may be trivial, but the world is as big as any world we know.""Dr. Johnson and Hazlitt copied Addison in saying that if there could be persons like this they would act like this. Dryden's tribute to its charm:But Shakespeare's magic could not copied be;Within that circle none durst walk but he.... has an identical source: wonder that such things can be at all and be so genuine."Richard II:"There can be no question as to Shakespeare's affection for the hero of his new historical play. But he has not made a great man of him. He has made a poet, a great minor poet. The author of "Richard II" is perhaps more interested in poetry than he will ever be again...It is the work of an awakening genius who has fallen in love with the language he writes. The subject of "Richard II" is the reign and deposition of an English king. It is also the beauty of the English language considered as an instrument upon which music can be made.""Richard is Shakespeare's finest poet thus far and in spite of everything he is a touching person. He is not a great man, nor is the play in consequence a considerable tragedy. But as a performer on the lyre Richard has no match among Shakespeare's many people. And as dramatizer of himself he will be tutor to a long posterity, though none of his pupils- Hamlet is the best known- will be exactly like him. As for his favorite subject, sorrow, there will be Constance in King John to explore it even farther than he has explored it..." Merchant of Venice: (this one's starts a bit rough, guys) "Where Shakespeare's sympathies lay it has long since been useless to inquire. His gentlemen within the code are as harsh to Shylock as Shylock is to them; however much love they have, they cannot love him. Nor has Shakespeare made the least inch of him lovely. He would seem in fact to have attempted a monster, one whose question whether a Jew hath eyes, hands organs, dimensions, senses and passions would reveal its rhetorical form, the answer being no. Yet Shylock is not a monster. He is a man thrust into a world bound not to endure him. In such a world he necessarily looks and sounds ugly. In other universe his voice might have its properties and its uses. Here it can issue as nothing but a snarl, an animal cry sounding outrageously among the flute and recorder voices of persons whose very names, unlike his own, are flowing musical phrases. The contrast between harmony and hate, love and discord, is here complete, and Shakespeare for the time being is content to resolve it in comedy. Even in its tragedies it cannot be more complete."Henry IV: "No play of Shakespeare's is better than 'Henry IV'. Certain subsequent ones may show him more settled in maturity which he here attains almost at a single bound, but nothing he wrote is more crowded with life or happier in its imitation of human talk. The pen that moves across these pages is perfectly free of itself. The host of persons assembled for our pleasure can say anything for their author he wants to say."

  • Patrick
    2018-10-19 12:05

    This is a wonderful work, but one that I can only recommend to people who have read Shakespeare's complete works. Reading these one at a time would hardly be beneficial, as much of his evaluation of Shakespeare's early plays and poetry rests heavily on references to their similarities to his later works. Van Doren's prose is both pretty and effective, never plain but never quite crossing over into overwriting. I found his essay on Hamlet to be at first a bit disappointing, but one of its main points is that it is impossible to summarize Hamlet or to analyze any one piece of it without all the rest, so I find it now to have been satisfactory.Van Doren's opinions of certain plays, especially Henry V, are very different from mine. However, I don't read things in order to agree with them, so I do not dislike his work for our disagreements. Also, his reasoning is so compelling that I suspect that my opinions after my second readings will line up more with Van Doren's evaluations than with mine upon my initial readings. More often than not, however, his evaluations agree with mine, especially his sincere appreciation for Romeo and Juliet, his proposal of a satiric interpretation of Titus Andronicus, and his perplexed admiration for Cymbeline, but in many other cases, too.It is unfortunate that Van Doren did not have access to current scholarship, which opens holes in his work. For instance, it makes no mention of Edward III (which, however, I appreciated, since I have not read it), and I suspect, if he were writing today, his opinion of the authorship (if not quality) of Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen would have been different. I also would have liked to read his opinion of Double Falsehood. In the end, however, I obviously cannot fault Van Doren for existing only during his lifetime.Again, I recommend this to anyone who has read Shakespeare's complete works, but sadly, I suspect that its full splendor will only be available to that small crowd.Also, it's worth noting that I read the first edition of this, not NYRB's, but the first edition is not listed on Goodreads, and the page count does not differ too much, so I left it with NYRB's.

  • Eric
    2018-09-23 10:51

    In Quiz Show, one of my favorite movies, Paul Scofield played Mark Van Doren as the epitome of kindly, bemused, genial learning, a scrupulous, drolly cultivated mind in humanist tweed (as opposed to the TV executives, all sheathed in sharkish blues, teals and grays). The scene where he finds out that his son cheated on the show is heartbreaking. Anyway, I love this book because reading it I hear and picture Scofield-as-Van Doren professing in an old Columbia lecture hall, a profound love of and lifelong familiarity with Shakespeare having smoothed his lectures to graceful yarns, delivered note-less, thrilling revelations coming at you on a stream of easy, cultured talk. Van Doren's first book, on Dryden, the one that is the occasion for T.S. Eliot's famous essay-review, is awe-inspiring but doesn't have this book's warm-hued patina.

  • Crito
    2018-09-24 12:09

    I will flat out recommend this to anyone who has just read the complete works, this is exactly what I wanted. Mark Van Doren gets down to business. Here is a collection of essays on average 10 pages dedicated to each play dedicating the same eye to each one. He focuses on language, character, and mood roughly in that order and how each relate to the other. He gives everything just enough attention, he doesn't dwell too long and he doesn't skimp either while delivering in readable yet eloquent prose. This consistently perfect balance is what makes this impressive. He dissects but never butchers; you get a peak at how the parts move but the intrigue and mystique of each play is not only preserved but intensified. The only thing he assumes of the reader is having read the complete works, nothing else. And even then there isn't any heavy cross reference between essays, at most he'll refer to plays 4 essays forward and 4 essays back. He never comes close into falling into the Harold Bloom snare of drowning the critique with mounds of namedropping and referencing. And it helps that Van Doren doesn't absolutely deify Shakespeare. He'll gush over Hamlet and Henry IV and then later drop something like "If Aristotle was right when he called plot the soul of tragedy, 'Timon of Athens' has no soul." (p. 249) Fuckin, owch. He is with his personal tastes and never claims otherwise. For example he somehow likes Pericles, and as much as that confounds me I still respect that he can articulate why. The only time I feel he showed a little academic arrogance was when he bestowed an implied dismissal of the collaborative plays Henry VIII and Two Noble Kinsmen of any of Shakespeare's involvement. He didn't "say it" but he said it and only made faint reference to the scholars who would disagree. And speaking of academically divisive, this book has a particular structure, it follows an arc of what Van Doren holds to be the chronological order of the plays. It is why this is a book to be read all at once after reading the complete works, not one essay at a time as you complete each play. Though we have a good idea, from what I understand the chronology still isn't 100% perfect and proven. Despite this, Van Doren weaves a fairly convincing thread through these essays, showing how one play might anticipate the next, how Shakespeare as an artist may have developed himself. Which is funny considering his self proclaimed efforts of focusing explicitly on the texts and not the man who wrote them. Overall I'll say this book is good as an accessible entry into a larger world, reminding you that just simply having read the plays once is not enough. I can't speak for seasoned vets if they'd get anything new out of this but it was enjoyable as survey and review.

  • Tony
    2018-10-22 11:04

    Van Doren, Mark. SHAKESPEARE. (1938). *****. Travel back with me to 1959, when I took an honors course in Shakespeare. The course was 17-weeks long and we read and studied seventeen of the plays. We spent more time on footnotes than we did on the main texts – which caused me to eschew Shakespeare for the rest of my life. What a treat it would have been to have taken Professor Van Doren’s course instead. This book, an essential reference work that belongs on everyone’s shelf, presents his course that he taught at Columbia. It included all the plays plus the poems and the sonnets. It presented Shakespeare not as an icon, but as a skilled playwright – mostly – who could strike at the heart of his topic with unerring skill. Van Doren captures us in his love for his subject. Highly recommended.

  • Nathan
    2018-09-27 13:11

    This book is actually kind of cool, especially if you've been out of school for awhile or haven't taken any adult education classes recently. It's sort of like having that stodgy, tweed-wearing lit. Prof. right there in your very hands. Sure, it's old school, but Van Doren knows his stuff. It's based on close reading and not some post-post-post whatever, where things start off interesting and then you end up asking yourself, "where am I? what does this have to do with Shakespeare? Why did I have to pay for a book that contains a conversation I could have at nearly any coffee shop or bar in Cambridge, MA?" So grab some Penguin Shakespeare paperbacks, youtube some old BBC plays, and read Van Doren for your own Shakespeare of charge.

  • Adam Floridia
    2018-10-09 10:52

    I love the introduction--Van Doren tells the reader exactly what his analyses will be: close readings and some reader response theory without a hint of biography, historical context, or any of the "isms" (marx, femin, formal, etc.). The handful of play analyses that I have read so far have given me new insights to Shakespeare's works. My only quibble is that each analysis is so short (an average of 10-15 pages) that I would love if he further developed many of his interpretations. He packs so many ideas in to that scant space that his readings are not always presented as fully as I would like. Because he covers all of Shakespeare's canon, though, anything longer would be unwieldy.

  • Jason Coleman
    2018-10-14 13:04

    Van Doren analyzes every one of the plays in under 350 pages, but this very concise work is never simplistic. Subtle, vigorous, evocative--if you want to understand Shakespeare's achievement, this book seems ideal to me. (Van Doren is most remembered these days as the father of his cheating quiz-show contestant son, but he was an accomplished poet and, as a Columbia prof, was teacher to a murders row of future scholars and poets.)

  • Steven Andersson
    2018-10-18 08:54

    A very clear thinker and careful writer, Van Doren boils down the essence of many Shakespearean themes in the volume of essays. Timeo Hominem Unius Libri (Terence). Be sure to read widely in Shakespearean criticism.

  • Steven
    2018-10-19 12:53

    Terrific preface; starts out with a bang; from which it plummets to unenlightening line readings.

  • Carolyn
    2018-09-23 10:08

    The essay on Hamlet is worth the price of the entire book. All lovers of Shakespeare need to read this book.

  • Aneece
    2018-10-05 13:47

    Part of my near-term project to read Shakespeare's collected works.Essays read:PoemsHenry VIRichard IIITitus AndronicusThe Comedy of Errors: "If Shakespeare's spirit reposed in comedy it was not in this kind of comedy."The Taming of the Shrew: "...even now (as in Much Ado About Nothing) he is master of the theme that lies in the war between love and pride, in the perhaps perversely fascinating spectacle of intellect and will being brought into line with instinct."

  • Jason Kinn
    2018-10-04 13:50

    My brain was able to retain little of this information. Reading this book did not bring me joy. I can see why others love this guy. His essays in this volume aren't long and you can read one during a lunch half hour, so I imagine the essay on a particular play would be the perfect thing after reading or seeing that play. But then again, maybe not. I read the book straight through, and it became tedious.

  • Nik Kane
    2018-10-02 10:49

    Seemed to me one of the most intolerably pretentious and hollow books I've ever read. Consists mostly of lists of antonym pairs (cold heat, lead feathers) or paradoxical statements (it soars in its depths) which the author takes for profound insight. After a few of the essays, when I saw that this pattern would persist through the entirety, I set the book aside unfinished.

  • Lynne Murray
    2018-10-20 14:53

    These essays opened up Shakespeare and eventually English literature as a whole to me.