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Andrew Dickson – Worlds Elsewhere

May 23, 2017

LibraryThing Early ReviewersDNF. Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys Around Shakespeare’s Globe by Andrew Dickson (2016)

Length: 512 pages (of which I read 127)
Genre: Non-Fiction

Started: 07 March 2016
Finished: Nope! (I finally admitted defeat on 18 December 2016, but it had mostly just sat on my nightstand since May.)

Where did it come from? LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Why do I have it? I love Shakespeare, and I thought the premise sounded super-interesting.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 15 January 2016.

Shakespeare never left
England, but his influence
has traveled the world.

Summary: Shakespeare is of course well-beloved in his native England, but his work is read and loved around the globe. In this book, Dickson looks at how Shakespeare’s plays and his influence have spread in the four centuries since his death, and how each country and each era that encounters his works adapts them to fit its own cultural ends. This book is organized into five geographical sections: Europe (focusing mostly on Poland and Germany), America, India, South Africa, and China.

Review: I really wanted to love this book. I love Shakespeare, and I love travelogue-style journalistic non-fiction, so the premise of an author traveling around the world to look at how Shakespeare has been seen and adapted and used by different cultures was a fantastically compelling promise. However, this book was a huge struggle for me, and I ultimately didn’t finish it — I made it through the Germany section, and read a little bit of the America section before finally admitting defeat. While the premise is really good, I had a hard time with Dickson’s writing. It’s incredibly dense (not helped by the tiny typeface), with long wordy sentences that often contained so many asides and parentheticals that it was easy to lose track of what the sentence was actually about. The sections themselves were similarly long and dense, and not particularly well-organized, lacking chapter breaks or any other kinds of signposts about where we were in history or in the story. My favorite kinds of non-fiction are typically narrative non-fiction, and this didn’t have enough of a narrative thread to hold all of the (incredibly detailed and obviously well-researched) individual pieces together, leaving it to feel kind of dry. And ultimately, while there is clearly a lot of information packed into this book, it didn’t do a particularly great job at conveying that information in a memorable way to a non-academic reader (at least not this reader), which is truly a shame. 2 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: As I said, the premise is fantastic, and there are certainly likely to be people out there who get along with Dickson’s writing style better than I did, so if you’re a fan of Shakespeare and the various incarnations of his work, it’s probably worth a shot.

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First Line: The theatre was packed, people jostling for room.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. xi: “They were decently dressed, if perhaps a little shabby: long perahan tunics in grey and mud-brown, loose trousers, jackets, rubber sandals.” – male clothing worn by men in north western Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, wide and loose with the sleeves also worn loose and pendent from the arms.
  • p. 2: “Determined not to lose face, the Stratford committee announces an impressive line-up including ‘Dramatic Readings and Representations, – a déjeûner – A Grand Miscellaneous Concert, – An Oratorio, – Excursions to various places in the neighbourhood in connexion with the Poet’s life and history, – A Banquet and Grand Fancy Ball”.” – the morning meal.
  • p. 32: “A rumbustious account in no fewer than fifty-six scenes of the medieval knight and mercenary Gottfried of Berlichingen (famous for having had his hand shot away and replaced by an iron fist), it was a crazily ambitious undertaking.” – Uncontrollably exuberant; unruly.
  • p. 35: “His ducal responsibilities in Weimar had begun to wear him down, along with an ill-starred relationship a little too close to the fiction he was writing (this time with the wife of Karl August’s equerry).” – An officer charged with supervision of the horses belonging to a royal or noble household.
  • p. 44: “In 1977, the great American editor Horace Howard Furness, for many years a member of the Shakspere Society of Philadelphia, published the latest volume of his gargantuan variorum edition of Shakespeare – a monument of nineteenth-century text in eye-straining, mind-numbing detail.” – An edition containing various versions of a text.
  • p. 45: “Why not Richard II or Antony and Cleopatra, both plays that dwelt just as insistently on the semiotics of poetic inaction?” – The theory and study of signs and symbols, especially as elements of language or other systems of communication, and comprising semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics.
  • p. 96: “Two decades later, a pair of ambitious young tyros, Walter Murray and Thomas Kean, founded a theatre company in Philadelphia; forced by the mistrustful authorities to relocate to New York, they performed Richard III in March 1750.” – A beginner in learning something.

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