Yesterday was Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday, and in honor of him, today’s book is Shakespeare’s Restless World.
I was lucky enough to visit the British Museum and see this exhibit a year or so ago. Only twenty objects in it, and I could have spent hours there. There were video clips showing top actors speaking key speeches. John Dee’s magical scrying mirror, with which the gifted mathematician spoke to angels, reveals a twilight mind straddling magic and science. A rapier and dagger found on the banks of the Thames unfurls a more violent time than you might imagine, unless you’ve watched all of the Tudors, of course. There’s even Henry V’s supposed battle gear, including his helmet. From a single fork tossed into the river an entire banquet of Elizabethan snacks unfolds.
Each chapter in this book was a room in the exhibit. Authored by the man behind The History of the World in 100 objects, this volume will take you from microcosm to macrocosm. If you ever wanted to step back in time to Elizabethan England, without getting the plague or all the other ills that flesh was heir to, here’s your time machine!
Here’s how the book starts:
Can this cockpit hold
the vasty fields of France? Or may we cram
within this wooden O the very casques
that did affright the air at Agincourt?
I love the way Shakespeare uses ‘casques,’ the French word for ‘helmet,’ for Agincourt is in France. He brings you to his setting right away. That kind of wordplay makes me geek out.
This text from the Prologue of “Henry V” is telling. Yes, Neil MacGregor can cram it in, reading an entire civilization deeply from just twenty artifacts.
What do you think? Are you a Shakespeare fan? Have you ever seen one of his plays?
Did I mention that Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing Richard III in the upcoming series of history plays from the folks who brought you The Hollow Crown: The Complete Series?
Excited? Me, too!
What’s your favorite Shakespeare play and why? Let me know below.