For many, Shakespeare
is synonymous with summer (or vice versa), with performances nationwide filling
outdoor stages and parks for productions of his most popular plays. The Shakespeare Center in Los
Angeles may have cancelled their summer show this year, but in New York, Central
Park is the location of choice with The
Winter’s Tale and The Merchant of
has Othello; Twelfth Night in DC; and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing for Houston, to
name a few.
One of the
most mysterious literary figures in any language, Shakespeare, for his
ambiguity, has for centuries received the praise and attention of many. Over
the ages, he has been regarded as a “modern” visionary, with the plurality of his
meanings reappropriated by general readers, critics, and scholars for various
causes to promote their beliefs and reinforce his plays as being for all time. Naturally,
different productions of each play have distinct interpretations of how to
present Shakespeare’s characters and themes: whether by portraying Ariel from The Tempest as male or female, or casting
Shylock as a black capitalist in The Merchant
of Venice, modern audiences have the delight of seeing how Shakespeare’s
work can be applied to contemporary social and political situations, even
without changing a word from the lines.
Tainted Muse endeavors to capture Shakespeare in his own time, focusing
Brustein’s acuminous lens on the cultural and social aspects of Shakespeare’s
plays in the context of popular perception in Elizabethan and Jacobean England.
The six chapters cover Shakespeare’s misogyny; effemiphobia; machismo; class
elitism; racialism; and intelligent design, in brilliant form that does not diminish
what others have read in Shakespeare’s messages, but rather adds to the
appreciation of his universality by closely inspecting its origins. Brustein’s
invaluable contribution to Shakespearean discourse serves as a great reminder
of how so much has (or has not) changed since the time of everyone’s favorite
To read up
on your favorite plays before seeing them on stage, check out the Yale Annotated
Shakespeare series, each volume edited by Burton Raffel with a critical
essay from Harold Bloom.