Monday, April 16, 2007


I know I promised last month to move away from my obsession with Shakespeare and I figured that my completion of Will in the World would go a long way toward accomplishing that feat. But Philip Lopate’s LA Times review of The Shakespeare Riots by Nigel Cliff makes keeping that promise very hard indeed. The premise of Cliff’s The Shakespeare Riots:

One evening in May 1849, hundreds of stone-throwing rioters clashed with New York City police and state militiamen outside the Astor Place Opera House, leaving more than 20 people dead and scores wounded...Clashing fans of two Shakespearean actors, the American Edwin Forrest and the Englishman William Charles Macready, became so overwrought that they put their bodies on the line for their thespian idols.

If the riot itself isn’t intriguing enough, Cliff explores the underlaying tensions which sparked the riots. Lopate writes:
...we are given separate chapters on the hazards facing English troupes that toured America in the early 19th century, the reputation of actors as unsavory and licentious (sometimes quite justified), the literary accounts of English travelers who profited by insulting America as an uncouth wasteland, and the mounting ill will between England and her former colony. There were tensions over the Northwest Territories' boundary ("Fifty-four Forty or Fight!"), repudiation (the refusal of Pennsylvania and other states to pay their debts to English banks), the Mexican-American War and America's clinging to slavery long after England abolished it. These excursions into social and political history, crammed with entertaining nuggets, are still only the backdrop for the heart of the matter: a thwarted friendship between Forrest and Macready involving America's favorite playwright, William Shakespeare.

The Shakespeare Riots is set to be released tomorrow. I know where my next $20 on books is going.