August 19th, 2009


August Books 35) Soul of the Age: the Life, Mind and World of William Shakespeare, by Jonathan Bate

I read Bates' earlier book, The Genius of Shakespeare, at the end of last year, and very much enjoyed it; this didn't grab me quite as much, but is still very good, concentrating on what Shakespeare's works tell us about his environment - cultural, political and intellectual - rather than on the man and his legacy as in the earlier book. It is organised around the Seven Ages of Man speech, which gives a nice thematic progression. The chapters on the Essex rebellion of 1601, and on Shakespeare's education and philosophy, are particularly worth reading. (It is certainly a book where you can dip in and out for particular chapters.)

I was puzzled therefore by a couple of gaps in the story. There is a good discussion of astrology and astronomy (Shakespeare was clearly a sceptic of horoscopes), but no mention of witchcraft or other aspects of the supernatural, which is a pretty huge lacuna - from Joan La Pucelle and the sorcerous Duchess in Henry VI 1 and 2, to the deities performing in The Tempest, unearthly powers are never far away. The other area which struck me listening especially to the later plays (though perhaps it doesn't fit Bate's intellectual scheme) is Shakespeare's use of music, song and dance as an integral part of the play.

Still, a useful addition to the Shakespeare section of the bookshelf.

August Books 36) Ringside Seats: An Insider's View of the Crisis in Northern Ireland - Robert Ramsay

Soon after I moved to Brussels in 1999, I was having lunch with John Cushnahan (then a Fine Gael MEP, and a former leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland) in the European Parliament, when he briefly broke off our conversation to greet Robert Ramsay as he passed by. Cushnahan, not a political lightweight in any sense of the word, is a somewhat acerbic personality, so I was struck by the respect he clearly had for our fellow-countryman, a senior European Parliament official, who I frankly had never heard of before.

Well, I know about him now. Collapse )

There are some irritating errors with foreign names, including one appalling footnote about NATO which is probably libellous, but in general it is a much more interesting book than the title and rather drab cover would suggest.