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1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear by James Shapiro

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In the autumn of 1605, Shakespeare took an anonymous Elizabethan play, The Chronicle History of King Leir, and transformed it into his most searing tragedy, King Lear.

1606 proved to be an especially grim year for England, which witnessed the bloody aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, divisions over the Union of England and Scotland, and an outbreak of plague. But it turned out to be an exceptional one for Shakespeare, unrivaled at identifying the fault-lines of his cultural moment, who before the year was out went on to complete two other great Jacobean tragedies that spoke directly to these fraught times: Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra.

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Author: James Shapiro

Format: Paperback

Size: 126 mm x 198 mm

Pages: 464

Staff Review

A really readable and engaging combination of history and literary criticism that cleverly connects the plays of 1606 with explosive events of that year which made me view King Lear, Macbeth and Anthony and Cleopatra in a new light.

Shapiro describes historical events like a story, pulling you in, and then seamlessly integrates expertly selected quotes from the text to analyse the play - still keeping you engaged.

I found it really interesting to consider Shakespeare as a Jacobean playwright as opposed to the Elizabethan one he is known as, and Shapiro makes a strong case for recognising Shakespeare’s importance in shaping the Stuarts as much as the Tudors.

If you’re interested in witchcraft, the Gunpowder plot, Jacobean society, and of course Shakespeare, then you’ve just found your next read.

Review by Hannah (Visitor Operations Assistant)