Book Review by Sarah Boslaugh
Book Review by Sarah Boslaugh
Dominic Dromgoole's latest book, Will & Me, should more properly be called Me and Will ... And More about Me since there's quite a bit more Dromgoole than Shakespeare in these pages. Not to worry, however: Dromgoole has earned the right to our attention on matters Shakespearean with an impressive resume including his current post as the Artistic Director of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London and previous service as new plays director at the Old Vic and as director of the Bush Theater. In this memoir, which intertwines his own life experiences with musings on Shakespeare's life and works, Dromgoole has provided enough insights to make it more than worth the time of anyone concerned about Shakespeare's place in the modern world.
The title does give a fair representation of the contents of this book in a different sense. The Shakespeare in these pages is not the Immortal Bard of Avon whose works are inflicted upon unwilling schoolchildren and about whom academics write ponderous volumes: he's Will, the young man from the provinces whose talent for pleasing audiences propelled him to success in the commercial theatre of his day. Clearly, Dromgoole the practical man of the theatre considers Shakespeare to be a kindred spirit in this regard, a refreshing perspective in the sometimes overheated world of Shakespeare interpretation and criticism.
Dromgoole has an even more personal relationship with Shakespeare, however, whose writings have served him over the years as a guide to life: in fact, Dromgoole has almost adopted the Complete Works as his secular bible. Almost every major event of his existence seems to have included a Shakespearean element, a fact which may seem less remarkable given his family background (his father was a theater director, his mother an actress, and his grandparents devoted theatrical amateurs) as well as his chosen profession. But beyond his personal experiences, Dromgoole advocates for Shakespeare as a teller of universal truths and an examiner of universal experiences, whose words illuminate the most fundamental aspects of human life. His Shakespeare is not an elitist creating puzzles for the erudite to solve, but a benign presence whose works can be understood and enjoyed equally by the scholar and the tradesman.
Will & Me is divided into two parts. The first is an autobiographical reminiscence illuminated by Dromgoole's experiences with and reflections upon Shakespeare, with some attention to the Bard's place in British life and consciousness as well. If the latter is somewhat arguable (were the lives of bricklayers' children really as permeated by Shakespeare as those whose parents made their living upon the stage?), this flaw is amply compensated for by the author's enthusiasm and disarming manner. The second (and much shorter) part relates a walking trip Dromgoole and several friends took from Stratford on Avon to London, tracing what they believe might have been the path trod some 400 years previously by Will himself.
The travelogue section is squarely from the "it's all about me and my blisters" school of travel writing; those who enjoy that sort of thing will find it charming, while those who don't may find it tiresome. Personally, I could have lived the rest of my life quite happily without knowing that Mr. Dromgoole was "a mildly podgy and squat 40-year-old" when he undertook this walk, and I do not find his speculations on Shakespeare's knowledge of the occult or his marital happiness or lack thereof particularly illuminating.
However, the first part of the Will & Me alone is worth the purchase price. It's a great read and communicates the author's passion for and changing understanding of Shakespeare over the years. In addition, it provides an intensely personal, and not always complimentary, perspective on Shakespearean interpretation and performance through much of the 20th century.
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