The Shakespeare Wars
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by Ron Rosenbaum
When Ron Rosenbaum finished writing the book Explaining Hitler in the late 1990s, he sank into a profound depression. He had spent years trying to understand Hitler’s inner world, interviewing scholars, victims, and apologists. By the time it was over, Rosenbaum knew all about Hitler’s childhood and family, his sexuality and neuroses. He’d pondered the instinct to mythologize evil as well as the compulsion to explain it away. The book was a success, but the author was left feeling gloomy and enervated.
What finally cured Rosenbaum’s malaise was not medicine or psychotherapy, but the language of William Shakespeare. Rosenbaum took to wandering the streets of New York with headphones on, listening to Shakespearean plays and feeling strangely invigorated. He maintains that this life-giving force radiated not from the plots or characters, themes or morals, but from the words themselves—the “untold levels of resonance compressed within” each line. He began writing again, this time dwelling on a subject that enthralled and delighted him: the incantatory power within Shakespeare’s words.
Interviews: "Ranting Against Cant" (July 16, 2003)
Harold Bloom, a staunch defender of the Western literary tradition, returns to Shakespeare, "the true multicultural author."
Flashbacks: "Looking for Shakespeare" (February 13, 1999)
Did Shakespeare actually write the plays and poems he's famous for? In 1991 The Atlantic published a debate of sorts on the topic.
If Explaining Hitler was Rosenbaum’s inferno, his newest book, The Shakespeare Wars, is his journey through ethereal realms. The spirits he meets there—professors, directors, anthologizers—are unified in their devotion to the Bard, but they occupy different spheres. Some are fixated on Shakespeare’s spelling, or the proper way to read iambic pentameter. Others are preoccupied with small differences between the 1604 Quarto and 1623 Folio editions of Shakespeare’s plays—the question, for instance, of whether Hamlet’s last utterance is “O, o, o, o.” (In the Folio, but not the Quarto, these syllables follow the immortal phrase, “The rest is silence.”)