SWEET WILLIAM (TWENTY THOUSAND HOURS WITH SHAKESPEARE):
Nick Hern Books
ISBN: 9 781854 595683
Shakespeare’s in Pennington’s blood as well as his brain.
Michael Pennington’s book is a terrific achievement; it’s a mightily detailed and enlightening exploration of Shakespeare’s plays. Many people have written such books, or course, but what marks out Pennington’s as something different is that he comes at his task from a different angle. He comes at is as a committed (and hugely experienced) hands-on theatre practitioner.
The more usual literary approach would be a writer’s close textual examination sitting alongside (and supported by) similar examinations by other writers. Pennington distances himself from his method (you may come to the conclusion that he actively dislikes those who engage in it); he closely examines the text but expands our understanding by relating his discoveries, as a man of the theatre, to aspects of Shakespeare’s life and experience, as a man of the theatre. Pennington’s approach appears casual, almost accidental, though serious and informed at the same time. It’s disconcerting but exciting – just as a good theatre production should be.
Very broadly speaking, the plays are grouped chronologically, and Pennington shakes out a logic from his approach that binds his arguments together. An opening section, dealing with boys and their fathers in the plays is charming and full of surprises. Time and time again you find yourself thinking: ‘I must remember that if I’m directing this play.’
Pennington’s interpretations are sometimes perverse – his analysis of Shakespeare’s relationship with Kate in SHREW for instance – but even these are invigorating. Pennington’s account of the influence on Shakespeare’s plays of James I’s court’s atmosphere of intrigue and duplicity is particularly interesting (and gruesome.)
Although Pennington cites few, if any, other writers, there is little doubt this refreshing account will be, itself, cited by many for some time to come. A great read.