Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us about Our Past and Future

Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us about Our Past and Future

From leading scholar James Shapiro, a timely exploration of what Shakespeare's plays reveal about our divided land, from Revolutionary times to the present day

Read at school by almost every student, staged in theaters across the land, and long highly valued by both conservatives and liberals alike, Shakespeare's plays are rare common ground in the United States. For well over two centuries now, Americans of all stripes--presidents and activists, writers and soldiers--have turned to Shakespeare's works to address the nation's political fault lines, such as manifest destiny, race, gender, immigration, and free speech. In a narrative arching across the centuries, James Shapiro traces the unparalleled role of Shakespeare's 400-year-old tragedies and comedies in making sense of so many of these issues on which American identity has turned. Reflecting on how Shakespeare has been invoked--and at times weaponized--at pivotal moments in our past, Shapiro takes us from President John Quincy Adams's disgust with Desdemona's interracial marriage to Othello, to Abraham Lincoln's and his assassin John Wilkes Booth's competing obsessions with the plays, up through the fraught debates over marriage and same-sex love at the heart of the celebrated adaptations Kiss Me Kate and Shakespeare in Love. His narrative culminates in the 2017 controversy over the staging of Julius Caesar in Central Park, in which a Trump-like leader is assassinated.

Extraordinarily researched, Shakespeare in a Divided America shows that no writer has been more closely embraced by Americans, or has shed more light on the hot-button issues in our history. Indeed, it is by better understanding Shakespeare's role in American life, Shapiro argues, that we might begin to mend our bitterly divided land.

Title:Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us about Our Past and Future
Edition Language:English
ISBN:9780525522294
Format Type:

    Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us about Our Past and Future Reviews

  • Ken

    Two points of interest: This book was selected by the New York Times as one of the "Ten Best Books of 2020." Very cool. Also, everything I wrote below was written under the influence of Trump (as Divi...

  • David

    I finished this book just as the United States Capitol Building was reclaimed following a brief but alarming and seditious siege at the hands of fellow Americans. In that context, this passage from th...

  • Alex

    I wouldn't have read this if it hadn't appeared on the New York Times Best Books of 2020 but thankful I did. A remarkable examination of how Shakespeare as a cultural product has been used across the ...

  • Bruce Katz

    Extremely interesting, engaging, and thoughtful. Shapiro looks at a number of stress points in American culture -- race, immigration, class, nationalism, gender, etc. -- and explores how those stresso...

  • Inkspill

    I picked this one up because it had Shakespeare in the title, I had no clues what the book was about. You could say this was an impulsive buy. What an interesting read, I wasn’t sure how much I woul...

  • Donald Powell

    A creative view of Shakespeare in America. The author is a Shakespeare expert. My understanding of of the plays (I have yet to even read them all) is evident in following the analysis. It was an inter...

  • Emma

    A gripping, intriguing look into how the works of Shakespeare have shaped and reflected the development of the United States. The first few chapters build on primary documents provided in Shapiro’s ...

  • Laura

    From BBC Radio 4:Leading scholar James Shapiro makes a timely exploration of what Shakespeare’s plays reveal about deep divisions in the United States - from revolutionary times to the present day.T...

  • Charles Phillips

    Shapiro's Shakespeare studies have often been attacked for their inaccuracies and glibness (in fact, an entire tome was produced to rebut his Year of Lear book), but I enjoy them still. And this one i...

  • Mehrsa

    What a fascinating thread to follow thru American history. It starts with the Trump/Caesar show in central park and winds its way thru American history using reactions to Shakespeare. The most tedious...