The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606, by James Shapiro

1606I’ve been seeking out books about the early 1600s because I’m doing research for a book set in that era. Even though the concerns central to The Year of Lear — the court of King James and the impact of political events on Shakespeare’s plays — are far removed from the lives my characters are living, I still found this book informative in giving me a sense of the intellectual climate of the time. The author talks about the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 and its effects, and compares it to the long-term impact of 9/11 in the US — a terrorist incident whose impact echoed in people’s minds and fuelled divisions in society long after the actual events were over (and of course in the case of 1605, unlike 2001, there was no actual event — it was a thwarted plot that would have been devastating if it had gone ahead). Shapiro explores the impact this event and its aftermath, and the recent accession of Scottish King James I, may have had on Shakespeare’s King Lear and Macbeth, in particular. Of course, much of this is conjecture, because we know so little about Shakespeare’s private life and what was going through his mind when he wrote the plays. But Shapiro is able to uncover a surprising amount of information that helps put these plays, and others, into the context of what was happening in England and what other writers were writing during this time period. A well-researched, enjoyable and informative read.

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