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26 June 2011

Book Review The Tragedy of Arthur

The Tragedy of Arthur by William Shakespeare: The First Modern Edition of His Lost Play, with an Introduction and Notes by Arthur PhillipsThe Tragedy of Arthur by William Shakespeare: The First Modern Edition of His Lost Play, with an Introduction and Notes by Arthur Phillips by Arthur Phillips
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hmmmm.  An author named Arthur writes a book narrated by an author named Arthur who has two sons, as does the author named Arthur.  The narrator Arthur the author names the books he has published, which are the same as the author Arthur.  So when the narrator Arthur writes about his twin sister, his convict-forger father and his dissolving marriage one wonders if author Arthur has a twin sister, convict-forger father and a dissolving marriage.


So one spends a lot of time wondering how meta this book really is and marveling at the conceit of the book; an author named Arthur writes a book about an author named Arthur whose father, Arthur may or may not have forged a "found" Shakespeare play about, you guessed it, King Arthur.


The bulk of the book is an "introduction" to the first publication of this found play.  What it is is a memoir (though narrator Arthur spends much energy making fun of the memoir genre, even while gleefully buying into the concept)  Following the introduction is the "new" "Shakespeare" play.


I must confess by the time I got to the play, I was worn out.  And though I tried to read it, just to see how many inside jokes and meta references and ironic twists and mentions might be in it, I soon gave up and acquitted myself to a surface skim.


But one really doesn't need the play at all; one is sated by the introduction (though near the end, I found myself gasping in exasperation at the plot stretches and the actions of people who had seemed mostly like people until they were required to do and say things just to fit into plot).  Arthur Phillips is a clever chap;  his Anti-Stratfordian theory, though entirely tongue-in-cheek and presented as an idea his twin came up with, and developed over many years, just to anger their convict-forger father, could be propped up to actually hold water (save for a couple of details) in academic circles.  His ponderings, though narrator author, Arthur, about what makes Shakespeare great or, rather, why we have all spent endless energy throughout western civilization creating the myth that Shakespeare was great, even though he wasn't, is thoughtful and rather brilliant.  "(A) We judge him the best.  Or (B) He has survived all this time.  But really, what if it's the other way around?  Is he who we've got because he's good, or do we judge him good because he's who we've got?"


And Phillips writes so well;  at one point, a young, female public defender is trying to talk some sense into Arthur Phillips senior, the convict forger;  "Well, okay, so we've come to the plea phase?  And it's like they're saying, 'So what do you say for yourself, mister?'  I know, I mean, obviously, I know that you know all this, but just to square our T's.  Now, I don't want you to say anything to me yet.  Let's just lay out what they're all lining up against you?  Their side of the story?  And then we can see what sort of answer is the best one for us?  To make?"  One needs no further description to see and hear this young lawyer with utter clarity.


Describing an assignation with a stranger; "... I put the thought out of my mind that she and I were already off on disparate adventures with diverging lessons and retroactive importance, only sex and scenery in common."


Describing his dissolving marriage; "The next morning, on my way out of the apartment to the airport, my wife and I had one of those fights that are entirely unnecessary, in which everyone is simply reciting lines scripted by their worst impulses, a dull sequel to old fights, a dull prologue to later fights, a DVD frozen on the same stupid mid-blink face of a normally good-looking actor."


A very enjoyable read with enough fluff to make it light and enough depth to make it dark;  chiaroscuro, though one can read it just from the chiaro perspective.  Or just the scuro.


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