A THE TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR 2019
'The best introduction to the plays I've read, perhaps the best book on Shakespeare, full stop' Alex Preston, Observer
'It makes you impatient to see or re-read the plays at once' Hilary Mantel
A genius and prophet whose timeless works encapsulate the human condition like no others. A writer who surpassed his contemporaries in vision, originality and literary mastery. Who wrote like an angel, putting it all so much better than anyone else.
Is this Shakespeare? Well, sort of.
But it doesn't really tell us the whole truth. So much of what we say about Shakespeare is either not true, or just not relevant, deflecting us from investigating the challenges of his inconsistencies and flaws. This electrifying new book thrives on revealing, not resolving, the ambiguities of Shakespeare's plays and their changing topicality. It introduces an intellectually, theatrically and ethically exciting writer who engages with intersectionality as much as with Ovid, with economics as much as poetry: who writes in strikingly modern ways about individual agency, privacy, politics, celebrity and sex. It takes us into a world of politicking and copy-catting, as we watch him emulating the blockbusters of Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd, the Spielberg and Tarantino of their day; flirting with and skirting round the cut-throat issues of succession politics, religious upheaval and technological change. The Shakespeare in this book poses awkward questions rather than offering bland answers, always implicating us in working out what it might mean.
This is Shakespeare. And he needs your attention.
The best introduction to the plays I've read, perhaps the best book on Shakespeare, full stop. This is a model of unpretentious, deeply researched, profoundly approachable criticism. It's a book to give to anyone who loves Shakespeare, but particularly to those who think they don't ... What This Is Shakespeare gives the reader most of all, though, is a licence to enjoy the plays without the cultural and historical baggage they so often carry
The question that hangs over every new book on Shakespeare is, "Why read this one?" The short answer is, because it is very good indeed. There is no shortage of eminent Shakespeare scholars, and in her role as professor of Shakespeare studies at Oxford, Smith certainly ranks among them; but more importantly for a book like this, she is perhaps the pre-eminent Shakespeare communicator working today ... This is Shakespeare cuts through the accumulated crust of "schoolroom platitudes", cant and literary piety in order to dust Shakespeare off and see him as he is, was, and might be
I like this book very much. It explains accessibly, with learning lightly worn, why Shakespeare retains such a hold in our culture. Smith has done an exemplary job of restoring the greatest of English writers to his own time, and explaining why he then speaks to ours ... An invigorating examination of the pre-eminence of the most revered figure of English letters
Quirky, brilliant ... what's most bracing about Smith's book is the way she sees the plays as almost organic: not only contradictory but alive
This is Shakespeare wears its learning very lightly, although there are clear signs of that learning in every chapter ... Sane, sensible and suitably woke ... original and provocative analysis
Thought-provoking, fizzing with jokes ... Smith is celebrating a Shakespeare who talks to the present. She does it all with such a light touch you barely notice how much you're learning ... Anyone who doesn't understand what the fuss is all about should read This Is Shakespeare
An outstanding book ... a distillation of intricate conceptual and textual cruces into readable prose ... lively and unexpectedly moving ... curious and passionate ... [It reminds me] why I came to enjoy Shakespeare so much in the first place
Intriguing ... Smith argues that the defining characteristic of Shakespeare's plays is their 'permissive gappiness'. This must also surely be the first book on Shakespeare to use the slang term 'woke'
A joy to read, full of questions, surprises, and new ideas. Smith brings us remarkable new readings of Shakespeare, and a sense of how his work lives on the stage. A wonderful book
If I were asked to recommend one guide for readers keen on discovering what's at stake in Shakespeare's plays, This Is Shakespeare would be it. Deeply informed, never dogmatic, and alert to how performance matters, Emma Smith understands that Shakespeare's plays prompt questions rather than provide answers. Her elegantly written and sharply observed book is richly rewarding.
We asked you to share your reading highlights from this year. Here's what you couldn't put down.
To Shakespeare or not to Shakespeare? Professor of Shakespeare Studies, Emma Smith, argues why Leonardo Di Caprio, queer desire and references to S&M make the Bard relevant reading. This is Shakespeare as you’ve never seen him before…