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A War of Words

March 12, 2007

In the latest New York Review, Anne Barton has quite a few negative things to say about Ron Rosenbaum new book The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascos, and Palace Coups.

It has not been a pleasure to write this review. The Shakespeare Wars, however, has already been much praised, and is being widely read. It seems more than time someone pointed out that it is, in many respects, inaccurate and seriously misleading. The current state of Shakespeare scholarship and criticism is by no means as embattled as Rosenbaum tries to make out. There are healthy differences of opinion, of course, as there always have been—and indeed ought to be, revision theory being one. There are fairly dubious new ideas as well, for instance “Presentism,” the insistence on reading Shakespeare’s texts for what they may say about such current issues as global warming or the Iraq war. The dense Cimmerian darkness that Rosenbaum imagines enveloping the field is, however, a fantasy, and one that, unlike Logan Pearsall Smith, he seems to take seriously. It ought not to be credited.

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