Things as They Are
(The Guardian, 1990)
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PEOPLE have been quoting, misquoting, and mangling Shakespeare like this, for their own ends, so long that it's surprising no one until now has seized on the obvious—well, obvious now—business opportunity.
Michael Macrone, who teaches English and Elizabethan drama at Berkeley, California, has produced the ultimate handbook for Shakespeare bores—“Brush Up Your Shakespeare”—newly-published here by Pavilion Books.
A true embarrassment of riches, as he says. Every worthwhile quote extracted, explained, and, where habitually mangled, corrected. Macrone was so embarrassed by his riches when seeking a title that he lifted Cole Porter's hit song instead—“Brush up your Shakespeare, Start quoting him now—Brush up your Shakespeare And the women you will wow.” Alas, there was no escape. The title is from the 1948 musical “Kiss Me Kate,” which is itself a lift from “The Taming of the Shrew.”
The bard is revealed in all his 20th-century pervasiveness. The book is as jolly an encapsulation of his impact on England as you could be “at one fell swoop,” as Macduff said in a grizzlier context.
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First published in the Chicago Tribune (July 2, 1995)