It is summer and I finally get a chance to read for pleasure. So what do I do? Buy another book about Shakespeare, of course. But not just any Shakespeare book, but Reduced Shakespeare, by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, heads of the Reduced Shakespeare Company.
Everyone knows and loves the Reduced Shakespeare Company, creators of the The Compleat Wrks of Wlm Shkspr (abridged). Having skewered Shakespearean performance, they now set their sights on Shakespearean scholarship with this. The book's thesis is explained in this quote from the book jacket:
So what do you need to know about Shakespeare? Just this: The entire Shakespeare industry consists of people simply guessing about who Shakespeare was and what he wrote. Not knowing much about Shakespeare’s life hasn’t stopped everyone from cashing in, filling in the blanks with scholarly supposition when they can, and simply making it up when they can’t. It’s a shocking record, and we’re proud to be part of it.
While they destroy the Greenblattian school of Shakespearean biography and criticism with their typical style, they also cut through the bardolatry to provide a good deal of information, both on the plays and the biography (having hashed through the biographical details, they sum up Shakespeare's three primary preoccupations as "money, social standing, and money"). They also skewer bardolatry in their criticism of the plays. Explaining that some critics interpret Kate's speech at the end of the extremely misogynistic Taming of the Shrew as ironic, they ask, in an "Essay Question", "How much in denial are they?"
For all of their humor, anyone who has seen an RSC production know that they are seriously in love with the theatre, and the chapters on Shakespeare in performance are more serious (relatively speaking). The book's best chapter is the overview of Shakespearean films. It is in fact one of the best run-downs of Shakespearean film available for the casual viewer. Going play by play, they review and rate all of the classics, and also give serious consideration to offshoots ranging from 10 Things I Hate About You to Vincent Price's Theatre of Blood. If you are a Shakespeare fan looking for a rental, it's the best guide you can buy.