What are you reading? – 16 November 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

November 16, 2017
Pile of books
Source: iStock

Peter J. Smith, reader in Renaissance literature, Nottingham Trent University, is reading Edward St Aubyn’s Dunbar (Hogarth Shakespeare, 2017). “You wait months for a King Lear and then, like double-decker buses, a string of them show up. Onstage, Glenda Jackson at the Old Vic, Kevin R. McNally at the Globe, Antony Sher at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Ian McKellen at the Minerva – and, in fiction, St Aubyn’s darkly comic updating. Henry Dunbar is a media mogul with all the sinister clout of Murdoch and all the puerile crassness of Trump. He finds himself in a Lake District rest home while his two elder daughters plot to take over his remaining shares. Peter, an alcoholic 1970s TV impersonator, is the Fool; Dr Bob, writing his own bent prescriptions, is a junkie Edmund. The intertextual prompts are nimble, and Dunbar’s painful wanderings through the snow re-enact something of the heath…an ambitious ‘take’ on Shakespeare’s greatest play.”

R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, is reading Isaac Stephens’ The Gentlewoman’s Remembrance: Patriarchy, Piety, and Singlehood in Early Stuart England (Manchester University Press, 2016). “This is chiefly a searching analysis of a single text, the long-forgotten spiritual autobiography of the Northamptonshire spinster Elizabeth Isham (1609-54), and the window it opens on to 17th-century familial and gender relations and the religious spectrum of the period. Almost erased from memory by the male members of her family and by later male custodians of the family archive, for whom singlehood was at best an embarrassment, Isham’s diary proves an immensely rewarding quarry for Stephens to mine. Its author, a ‘Puritan Nun’ and ‘Prayer Book Puritan’, compels historians to refine many accepted generalisations about women’s history and religious history and recognise that ‘exceptions’ were often the ‘norm’.”

Maria Delgado, professor and director of research, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, is reading Clare Finburgh’s Watching War on the Twenty-First Century Stage: Spectacles of Conflict (Bloomsbury, 2017). “For Finburgh, theatre in the 21st century has provided a way of interrogating how spectacle and rhetoric have been deployed by those who wage wars. From Mark Ravenhill’s epic Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat (2008) to Richard Norton-Taylor’s verbatim Tactical Questioning: The Baha Mousa Inquiry (2011), she shows how the art of warfare, conflict and weaponry are re-presented and reframed through stage practices and productions, embodying Jean Baudrillard’s observation that ‘the spectacle of terrorism forces the terrorism of spectacle upon us’. Watching War covers both the work of British theatre-makers and international figures whose productions have been seen in the UK, as with Kuwaiti Sulayman Al-Bassam’s inventive 2007 Richard III and Argentine Lola Arias’ moving Campo Minado/Minefield (2016), a reflection on the Falklands/Malvinas conflict realised with veterans from both sides.”

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