We will be hearing a lot about Shakespeare between now and the 400th anniversary of his death on April 23 next year (April 23 is also generally taken to be his birthday, his 452nd in this case, but we do love a round number). One of the big books will be James Shapiro’s 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear, due from Faber next month. 1606 considers the period in Shakespeare’s life in which he wrote King Lear and, in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot and with James I on the throne, started on Macbeth. Shapiro is a Shakespeare specialist at Columbia University and this book follows his award-winning 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, which covered the Bard’s annus mirabilis: Henry V, As You Like It, Julius Caesar and Hamlet. The new book is receiving strong notices in Britain and will be reviewed here soon.
I’m also looking forward to the rollout of the Hogarth Shakespeare project, in which wellknown writers turn the plays into novels. First unto the breach is Jeanette Winterson with the just-published The Gap of Time, based on The Winter’s Tale. It too will be reviewed here soon. In the queue are Anne Tyler ( The Taming of the Shrew), Margaret Atwood ( The Tempest), Howard Jacobson ( The Merchant of Venice), Tracy Chevalier ( Othello) and the two I am keenest to see, Nordic crime writer Jo Nesbo (Macbeth) and Gillian Gone Girl Flynn ( Hamlet).
As befits the subject, there will also be a fair bit of Shakespearean silliness, and quick out of the blocks in this regard are American academics Caroline Bicks and Michelle Ephraim with Shakespeare, Not Stirred: Cocktails For Your Everyday Dramas, published by Scribe next month. This amusing hardback is full of drinks recipes based on Shakespeare’s plays and characters, along with light scholarly discussion of same. I dipped into it last weekend and assembled the following tasting menu: to start, Et Tu, Brut, a basic champagne cocktail, followed by the gin-based Richard’s Gimlet, then a couple of whisky concoctions, Lady Macbeth’s G Spot and Henry VIII’s Whisky Slash, and then, because tequila is something only alcohol emboldens one to drink, Prince Hal’s Tequila Son-Rise. After all of that I needed a few Et Tu, Bruts to freshen up. I’m looking forward to reading more of this one. Quote of the week: A bit of background first: the following is from The Man with the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters, reviewed on this page. The letter in question is mentioned in the review but I want to quote it in full. It’s to the 007 creator from his Jamaican neighbour Noel Coward, who may just be the wittiest man ever (other suggestions entertained).
“This is just to inform you that I have read Dr No from cover to cover and thoroughly enjoyed every moment. But as the gentleman in Oklahoma! sings about Kansas City: ‘You’ve gone about as fur as you ken go.’ I am willing to accept the centipede, the tarantulas, the land crabs, the giant squid. I am even willing to forgive your reckless use of invented verbs — ‘I inch, Thou inch, He snakes, I snake, We palp, They palp, etc.’ But what I will neither accept nor forgive is the highly inaccurate statement that when it is 11am in Jamaica, it is 6am in dear old England.
“This, dear boy, not to put too fine a point on it, is a f..king lie. When it is 11am in Jamaica, it is 4pm in dear old England and it is carelessness of this kind that makes my eyes steel slits of blue. I was also slightly shocked by the lascivious announcement that Honeychile’s bottom was like a boy’s! I know that we are all becoming progressively more broadminded nowadays, but really old chap, what could you have been thinking of?
“I am snaking off to New York on Thursday where I shall be for two weeks, and then I inch to Cannes.’’