In Print : An expert's insight into Shakespeare
"The Tainted Muse, Prejudice and Presumption in Shakespeare and His Time," by Robert Brustein, Yale University Press, 2009, 288 pages. $26.
Once again, Robert Brustein, theater personage exemplar, has put his finger in the fires of intellectual controversy. And once again, it is a dangerous if irresistible reach. There is probably not a competition among academics on the Island about who can publish the most, as they actually continue to have new and important concepts to consider. Such literary fecundity is to the advantage, pleasure, edification, and challenge of their many curious readers.
Professor Brustein has throughout his professional life read passionately and with particular insight, into the writings, poems and plays, of the Bard of Avon. In his latest book, "The Tainted Muse," Mr. Brustein, with considerable evidence, perceives, through the characters and the tenor of Elizabethan times, the mind of William Shakespeare..
This is a shocker, its message aptly, if forbiddingly, pictured by Mr. Brustein in Hamlet's tumorous metaphor 'imposthume'.
William Shakespeare has been lionized by teachers and theater directors often to the point of idealized stupor: William Shakespeare, sainted genius with a quill. This adoration, although justifiable, can be intimidating and blinding, turning away us mere humans. Some critics have spoken of Shakespeare's humanity, but always in reference to the complexity of the characters he has drawn. Mr. Brustein humanizes Shakespeare in a radical way. He attributes several points of view of the verses' characters to their creator's world view. These points of view are not always altogether admirable, but they certainly are recognizably, fallibly human.
There may be none more qualified to delve into Shakespeare's essence than Mr. Brustein. He is a Renaissance man of theater: playwright of 11 adaptations and seven original plays, the penultimate's having perhaps the cleverest pun title on the American stage, "The English Channel;" artistic director of both the Yale Repertory and the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University; director of numerous plays, and actor in almost as many; professor of theater at both institutions; long-time theater critic for the New Republic; author of, to date, 16 books; member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and recently and rightly, the theater Hall of Fame.