Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Joseph Pearce's Quest for Shakespeare

When reading works by scholars who share their perspectives on the classic writers sometimes we discover, usually in retrospect, that the modern author provides flawed interpretation of the work. Pearce provides a text that does not interpret Shakespeare’s plays, but rather focuses on his life. There is very strong evidence that Shakespeare was Catholic. Anyone who is honest with the historical record must acknowledge this fact. Through the lens that Pearce provides, one can see that the majority of modern criticism on Shakespeare is at best irrelevant and at worst misleading. Earlier I reviewed Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human and gave it a qualified, positive review. After reading Pearce, I would change this review and suggest that Bloom’s methodology is entirely inappropriate and confuses rather than clarifies Shakespeare. The true value in Pearce’s work is that it provides the reader with a basis from which to grasp Shakespeare's vast writings. Although it may not provide a definitive method for interpreting the great playwright, a great strength of Pearce is his ability to show why modern literary criticism is inadequate means for approaching Shakespeare's work.

There is something of a dialogue between Pearce and Bloom in this work. Pearce examines Bloom’s interpretation directly in the book’s first appendix. Although he provides a criticism of Bloom, he holds back and is moderate in attack. Perhaps this is because of his respect for one of the most important contemporary literary critics. Pearce refrains from polemics in this critique, but his work is a direct challenge to Bloom.

The second appendix provides a preview of a future book where Pearce promises to interpret Shakespeare given the direct knowledge that he was a Catholic. Pearce does this by offering a brief interpretation of King Lear. The resultant book promises to be culturally important and interesting.

{Normally, I try to be more critical in the books I review on this blog. This book made me rethink my own ideas about Shakespeare and renewed my desire to reread his plays.}

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