Claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

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.’’

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