Books, 2014 (1)

1. Salman Rushdie, The Moor's Last Sigh, 1/9. This took forever to read--I was rereading Hamlet at the same time, and Rushdie didn't have the fascination of Shakespeare. This appears to be a national allegory that tells the story of modern India by tracing the fortunes of a Goan family. I don't know enough details about Indian history and the post-colonial world to make all the connections, but Rushdie links the actions of family members with history often enough that it's clear that he is making connections. The writing is impressive--carefully constructed, witty, sometimes hilarious, great characters, great verve and dash, intelligent--but in the end, the novel struck me as aimed at making a statement. I wasn't in the mood for this type of novel--my failing.

2. Thomas Keneally, The Daughters of Mars. 1/11. Two Australian sisters from rural New South Wales becomes nurses and join the Australian support forces in WWI, seeing action at Gallipoli and in northwestern France. WWI horrors and courage and pluck and general survival instincts. Keneally seems to have lost confidence in his ability to make a story speak for itself; he frequently stops to explain and underline what he has been saying as if afraid readers will miss the point.

3. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Norton Critical Edition, ed. Robert S. Miola. 1/12. Based on the Q2 version, with Folio additions in an appendix. It has a large selection of actors' thoughts on playing Hamlet, none of which were as insightful as those of Derek Jacobi in the Norton Critical Edition of Macbeth. Except for two neo-historicist essays by Stephen Greenblatt and Margreta de Grazia, the critical essays weren't as helpful either. So many people have felt a need to register their disdain for Hamlet and note their own superiority in terms of decisiveness. There are many things that puzzle me--why, when Hamlet thinks he is alone with Ophelia, is he so cruel to her? It's unnecessary from the standpoint of their relationship; it makes sense only if he suspects that he is being observed--and even then, it's excessively cruel. Why do people accuse him of indecisiveness when he believes that he has killed Claudius rather than Polonius in the closet scene with Gertrude? Why focus on his indecisiveness when his despair is so overwhelmingly his major feature? Why is there the scene in which Polonius instructs Reynaldo in how to spy on Laertes? Why indeed put the "To thine own self be true" speech in Polonius' mouth? It's almost as if Shakespeare intended greater roles for Polonius and Laertes than the placeholders they often are in the play. Why indeed Osric? A moment of humour before the tragedy?

What comes across in Hamlet to me is his despair at the irrelevance and futility of action or inaction. That moment just before he leaves for the sword fight when he puts himself in the hands of fate and says the outcome doesn't matter is for me his final development as a character. He gives in--nothing matters anymore. The final scenes carry this through--Gertrude and Laertes die by accident; perhaps these can be understood as their just rewards (ditto Rosencrantz and Guilderstern). Hamlet kills Claudius not to avenge his father but for the trick he has played  And Fortinbras arrives just in time to claim the spoils--Hamlet's sole achievement is in the end to turn the Danish throne over to the scion of the family his father defeated in his most famous accomplishment.

4. Jonathan Kellerman, Therapy. 1/14. An Alex Delaware mystery. The author's photo on the back of the book has been touched up--no wrinkles, uniform tan; looks like he's wearing lipstick.

5. John Sandford, Storm Front. 1/15. Good entertainment but can't quite make up its mind whether to be farcical or serious.

6. Jesse Kellerman, Trouble. 1/16. This author's second novel. A superior thriller. The narrator, a med student, stumbles across a woman being stabbed by an assailant. He rescues her, and the assailant dies. She shows up later to thank him. They begin an affair. After initially enchanting the hero, the woman begins to exhibit disturbing signs of psychotic behavior marked by extreme masochism on her part. He tries to break it off. She begins stalking and harassing him. He tries but fails to outwit her. Eventually she is killed. The writing in this is extremely effective. The hero reacts much as anyone would, all the while becoming more and more entangled. In a nice touch, the woman is dispatched by someone the hero has been helping care for, but he waits to make sure that the woman is dead before he calls 911. The woman is a frightening character, all too real; and the hero is weak and hesitant in a convincing way--this is how most of us act in the presence in inexplicable craziness. At first we think we misunderstand and then we try to pretend it isn't there.

Must find Kellerman's first novel.

7. Jesse Kellerman, The Genius. 1/18. Kellerman excels at this type of work. His characters are much stronger than those usually found in mystery/thrillers.

8. Jesse Kellerman, The Executor. 1/19. Kellerman is the son of Faye and Jonathan Kellerman. This novel takes place in Cambridge (Kellerman went to Harvard). An eternal and impoverished graduate student finds a job talking to an elderly woman. He later moves in with her and takes care of her. A ne'er-do-well nephew shows up and plants the idea of murdering the woman for her estate. The hero resists that idea. The woman commits suicide and leaves most of her estate to the hero. Nephew shows up. The two fight. Hero kills nephew. Cleaning woman arrives at wrong moment, and hero kills her too. Hero disposes of bodies. Eventually hero confesses to nice policeman and ends up in prison, which is where he writes this account.. The hero and the old woman have long discussions about free will and choice. Kellerman pulls off the feat of integrating this into his story without overburdening it. Given his parentage, it is also admirable that he isn't writing a series with the same characters called in each time. The three novels I've read so far are all different. The hero (like the other characters) is complex--he begins as clueless graduate student excited by ideas and becomes a greedy heir who protects his new estate with murder and feels no remorse. The transition proceeds without a hitch.

9. Simon Lelic, The Child Who. 1/24. A twelve-year-old boy attempts to rape and then murders an eleven-year-old girl. The duty solicitor assigned to the case knows that the boy is guilty but sees mitigating circumstances--the boy has been abused, fallen through all sorts of cracks in the social network. When the solicitor begins to receive notes threatening his own family, he chooses to go ahead with the case. His own daughter is kidnapped. He is removed from the case and the boy is sentenced to a long prison term and eventually killed in prison. The focus is on the lawyer here and his reactions. His marriage dissolves after his daughter disappears, and he begins to advocate for people like the boy. At first the kidnapping made no sense to me--who blames a solicitor for doing his job? But it turns out that the daughter faked her own kidnapping and ran away. The plot here is farfetched, but that's not the point of the book.

10. Jesse Kellerman, Sunstroke. 1/27. The lead character gets her life back on track while seeking to unravel the mystery of her boss's disappearance.

11. David Levien, City of the Sun, 1/29. Decent detective story.

12.  Jesse Kellerman, Potboiler. 1/30. A failed "literary" novelist borrows a manuscript from a deceased friend, a writer of successful spy thrillers of the mindless cliche species. He rewrites it slightly and becomes a success himself. However, the deceased writer was in fact not a writer at all, but someone whose novels were written by a spy agency and contained instructions for operatives. The agency has the first novelist resume the second novelist's career as a spy and his life quickly becomes a mindless spy thriller. Part send-up, part commentary on publishing popular blockbusters.

13. Shakespeare, Julius Ceasar. 2/4. The Norton Critical Edition, ed. S. P. Cerasano. One of the authors of a critical essay included in the edition argues that the action of the play is largely rhetoric as the characters attempt to convince others of the their own views. It is a static play in terms of character development. Brutus is throughout the political idealist and naif whose kills Caesar not because he is a tyrant but because he might become one, He betrays friendship and plunges his country into civil war out of an inability to see and think clearly. He is the "good" man who brings about a worse evil out of the conviction of his own rectitude. "The noblest Roman of them all" is one of those political actors who is more successful as a dead historical role model than as a living actor.

It's not as complex a drama in terms of characters as Hamlet or Lear or  but the callous joking of the conspirators that they are granting Caesar a boon by shortening his life, the horror of mob violence in the short scene in which Cinna the Poet dies, and the political cynicism of Lepidus and Antony trading victims in their purge of the governing class, Octavius biding his time as he sets Antony loose on Lepidus are Shakespeare at his economical best.

14. Simon Lelic, A Thousand Cuts. 2/13. Lelic's first novel and much better than (9) above. Detective Inspector Lucia May is investigates the multiple murder and suicide of a teacher. There is no doubt that the teacher murdered three students and a colleague and then took his own life. What emerges from her interviews is that the teacher had been mercilessly bullied by the headmaster, a colleague, and his students. During the investigation, May uncovers several cases of bullying and beatings among the students; one particular case led to a student's suicide. She concludes that the school, particularly the headmaster, are at fault, a conclusion that earns her the ire of her chief inspector. The bullying at the school is parallelled by the bullying May is experiencing at work; in her case the bully is quite sexual in his treatment of her, and like the headmaster her DCI chooses to excuse it as the natural camaraderie among colleagues and blames the victim.

Lelic has an interesting technique for presenting the story. The chapters alternate between May's story and verbatim transcripts of witness testimony. The testimony is presented without interruption from the person conducting the testimony. Only the witness speaks, and the questions of the interviewer can be inferred from the witness's answer.

This was a harrowing read. The eyewitness accounts of the bullying and May's experiences are painful at points, as is the callousness of those who should be dealing with it. It's a very realistic account.

15. Sue Grafton, W Is for Waste. 2/16. These are getting better. This must be one of the longest in the series, and Grafton used the extra room for character development, which is far more important here than the plot. She also takes a break from first-person narration to insert four omniscient narrator chapters. By chance I picked up the large-print edition at the library. It was much easier on the eyes than the Norton Shakespeares I've been reading. Another sign of creeping senioritis.

16. Jonathan Kellerman, The Web. 2/20. Delaware, Robin, and the dog journey to a tropical island for a vacation but instead get murder and intrigue. Far-fetched. It's as if Kellerman thought a mysterious locale would accommodate fantasy better than LA.

17. Ann Beattie, Perfect Recall. 2/21. A collection of eleven short stories, all well done but none of them memorable. Most of them feature a relationship or a life that is crumbling around the edges, and the main character awakens to this fact by the end.

18. Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Sand. 2/21. A collection of thirteen short stories, none more than ten pages long. The title story tells of an infinite book. No one can find the first page or the last one. The pages are numbered at random. Some pages are marked by a small picture of a common object. The book is written in an unknown language. The man who comes to possess it is at first entranced by it and devotes many hours to its study. In the end he concludes it is a monster and is making him into a monster, and he hides it away on the basement shelves of the national library. "Undr" is the story of the national poem of an obscure country in what is now Russia. It consists of one word--undr--which means "wonder." In "The Mirror and the Mask," at the command of the High King, an Irish bard writes a panygeric lauding a military victory. The result is a masterpiece, and the king rewards the poet with a silver mirror. He then commissions another poem. The bard returns in a year with another masterpiece, an innovative but not totally comprehensible work. The king rewards him with a gold mask and commissions another poem. The poet returns a year later, much broken. He whispers the one line he has been able to write to the king. Both are broken by its beauty. The king rewards the poet with a knife, which he uses to kill himself. The king abandons his throne and wanders Ireland as a beggar.

There is the infinity of a chaotic and unreadable world, a chaos we can regard only with wonder and paper over with literature.

19. Jasper Fforde, The Woman Who Died a Lot. 2/24. More fantasy, fewer arch comments about books and narrative.

20. Shakespeare, Othello. 2/25. Norton Critical Edition, ed. Edward Pechter. One of the critical essays in the book cites Artaud's theory of theory as cruelty and notes that the French word cru also means raw. Rawness is a good word to describe this play. There is little that is civilised about it. The critical reception and staging of this play are interesting--so much effort has gone into taming this play and making it less horrible, to get rid of the three corpses lying in plain view on the bed. The neo-historicist essays are the most valuable ones in the edition, but all of them, including the one mentioned above that references Artaud, also seek to tame the play by explaining it. We often seem to end up doing that to Shakespeare.

21.  Benjamin Hale, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore. 3/2. The autobiography of Bruno Littlemore, a chimp who learns to speak and read--brilliantly.  Bruno is charming and a great storyteller, and also, like many human storytellers, occasionally a disingenuous one. Bruno is born at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and later is taken to a research lab at the University of Chicago as the subject of an experiment to teach apes to communicate. He succeeds in learning to understand and then to speak, and eventually to read. He wants to be a human (he even undergoes plastic surgery to give himself a human nose) and becomes enamoured of painting, classical music, and literature. He falls in love with Lydia, the human with whom he lives, and gets her pregnant. The woman, who is the one responsible for teaching Bruno language, develops a brain tumor that leaves her unable to speak (the baby is forcibly aborted by a fundamentalist who resembles that crazy man who leads the Westboro Baptist church). Bruno goes ape in the hospital and is transferred to a research lab that uses animals in its research. He escapes confinement and becomes a Shakespearean busker and actor in New York--he plays Caliban in his major performance. He returns to Chicago and finds that Lydia has died. In a rage, he kills the scientist responsible for starting his evolution (this Caliban destroys his would-be Prospero) and is sentenced to confinement and scientific observation at a primate center, where, among other things, he paints, reads, directs and acts in plays, and dictates these memoirs.

The chimp as almost human gives Hale an opportunity to comment on human society, especially as found in the United States, and the role of language in human development. Littlemore is both the surname of Bruno's beloved Lydia and a reference to the Psalm that proclaims humans a little less than the angels. Bruno points out that to be human is also to be little more than an ape. Bruno, despite his erudition and civilisation, himself is little more than an ape. Although well schooled in the humanities, he, like the other chimps and the humans in the story, reverts to apish behavior under stress.

This debut novel is a highly readable, but Hale has the young man's answers to life. Given the number of literary references in this and its discussion of many currently fashionable questions, it also smacks of the classroom and late-night undergraduate discussions. While dictating his memoirs, Bruno is also preparing for and eventually presenting a performane of Woyzeck. Caliban and Woyzeck. The performance goes badly awry when the other chimp-actors briefly revert to chimp behavior, providing the scientists in the audience a chance to observe primate behavior.

22. Shakespeare, Richard II. 3/3. The Arden Shakespeare edition, ed. Charles Forker. The sad tale of the death of a king. On the whole, I prefer the Norton Critical Editions' approach to Shakespeare over the Arden's. One good thing about Arden is that the text is printed in larger type, but there are so many notes that they interrupt the reading. The Arden is concerned much more with presenting a text and critical apparatus for performance and with not seeing the forest for the twigs on the trees. The editor here devotes a great amount of attention to pronunciation and how to read words to make lines scan correctly. Richard II is one of the more accessible works in terms of language. There are far fewer words that have grown archaic, and most of those are technical terms in jousting and heraldry, but in this edition, the annotation is ten-fifteen times longer than the text itself. It becomes a distraction in the end.

So many things clash in this play--the characters, notions of kingship, presentation of self. Richard, Bolingbrook, Gaunt, York, the Percys--everyone is so theatrical and so self-conscious about being watched. Richard has to be one of S's most histrionic characters. You would think he would be a more popular role for actors. Perhaps it is as difficult for the actor as for the reader to make sense of his curious combination of bluster and passivity, for his 'mood swings'. I watched the old BBC production of this with Derek Jacoby while reading this. Jacoby was not as good in this role as he was in Hamlet. His vocal mannerisms were much more noticeable and seemed at odds with the character. Perhaps it's just that Richard is so at odds with himself.

The stage practices of Shakespeare's days--no curtain, no scenery, few props, one group of actors exeunting while the next group walks on stage--must had made plays like this easier to stage than the modern practices of scenery and fully furnished sets. The many scene changes must make it difficult for directors and stage designers to accommodate them all. Here again television and the movies have an easier time--through editing of the tape they can simply cut from one scene to the next without pausing to make set changes or presenting the mechanics of staging. On the other hand, Shakespeare had to think up plausible reasons for each group of actors to exeunt. Thus do stage conventions influence playwriting and playwrighting.

23.  Erin Hart, Lake of Sorrows. 3/6. A combination of detective story with romance novel, based in tourist Ireland. Not always a happy combination.

24. Martha Grimes, The Way of All Fish. 3/7. Grimes has left her English crew behind. This is set in the United States and involves not a coven of upper-class English but a colourful group of low-life Americans, many of them involved in publishing or the law. The novel's early focus in on a pair of principled hitmen but their place in the story is later superseded by a novelist. The crooks and goons here have more principles than the publishing executives and the lawyers. An amusing read, with a convoluted plot, but the plot is secondary to the characters.

25.  Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I. The Norton Critical edition, ed. Gordon McMullan. 3/10. The many different critical approaches in the analysis section here are indicative of the great range of responses to this work. No one seems able to decide exactly what this play is or even who the main character is, which is another way of indicating how complex the play is. Most of the analysts here see it as the first part in a series of plays about the education of the prince through a series of contrasts--order/misrule, carnival/lent, Henry IV vs. Falstaff as a father figure for Hal, masculine/ feminine--centring around the character of Falstaff. Another way of looking at the play, one that isn't much considered in the critical essays included here, is to see Falstaff as embodying to an extreme degree many traits shared by the other characters. He is hardly the only character in this play who is adept at rationalising his actions; he is not the only braggart; nor is he the only one who deceives himself. Unlike the others, however, his scope for doing harm is limited. Perhaps that's why he is the comic character. His greed and lusts are limited to the table and creature comforts; theirs are for power and control. (Do Henry IV or Hal or Hotspur eat or drink anything in the play?) He is a petty thief; their thefts are much larger in scale. Oddly for such a braggart and clown, Falstaff, unlike the rest, is an honest crook.

It's impossible to read this now without thinking about what awaits Falstaff at the end of Part 2. The "I know thee not, old man" hangs overs Part 1. The first audiences may not have thought about it, even though Hal makes his intentions and his reasons for associating with Falstaff and the others quite clear, but for anyone who knows Part 2 the knowledge that Falstaff's hopes for the rewards he will reap from his friendship with Hal will be dashed adds a sad irony to all those boisterous scenes and his obvious affection for the prince.

26. Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice. 3/14. The Norton Critical Edition, ed. Leah S. Marcus. This is a distasteful play. Most of the critical essays are attempts to argue away the obvious prejudices. There may be some merit in these arguments, but I still feel that Shakespeare was a skilled writer and he was expressing what he thought.

27. Lars Kepler, The Hypnotist. 3/14. Translated from Swedish. A thriller in which a psychologist's patients come back to haunt him. A complicated plot initiated by a multiple murder that has little to do with the eventual main plot except to serve as the trigger for later events. Like many mysteries these days, the mystery is surrounded by the personal problems of the main characters.

28.  John Irving, Until I Find You. 3/21. This book has 820 pages; I made it to p. 464 before abandoning it. This is the fictional biography of Jack Burns, the bastard son of a Scottish tattoo artist (mother) and an organ player with a yen for tattoos (father). The father is a womanizer (an organist, get it?) and decamps after the tattoo artist becomes pregnant. The mother and son end up in Canada, where they find refuge with a rich woman who takes in victimised women. She sends Jack to a school for rich girls, which accepts boys up through grade 4. By the time Jack makes it through the fourth grade, his mother has become the lesbian lover of another rich woman, who sends Jack off to school in Maine and then to the Phillips Exeter Academy. In all these schools Jack excels in acting. He eventually ends up in Hollywood, where he makes a career out of roles involving transvestism. Lots of complications and failed relationships.

The beginning is promising, but at least at the halfway point that promise seemed destined not to be fulfilled. This is pretty much a standard modern version of the sentimental education--young man with an unfortunate background plows his way through a life of sex and success. Everyone is convinced Jack will follow his father as a womanizer, and throughout his youth he is much preyed upon by women intent on making him live up to that conviction. I didn't keep track of the exact number of times, but he was a victim of multiple statutory rapes before reaching the age of consent. I assume in the part that I didn't read he will complete his education and grow up, perhaps finding his father.

The main problem with the book is that it is boring. Its attempts to make the characters and situations interesting end up being outlandish and unconvincing. Everyone in the book is so busy being such a colourful character that none achieves any reality.

29. Shakespeare, King John. Arden Shakespeare edition, ed. E.A.J. Honigsmann. 3/21. I'd never read this before. It is much better than its reputation (or at least the reputation I imbibed). It contains the concerns of the other chronicle plays with power and expediency, treachery and the price of loyalty, rebellion, the justification for kings and their right to rule, and the perils of the political world. The language is more strained and elaborate than in the later plays. It takes about eight lines of fanciful poetry for one character to tell us another character is crying. Constance, Prince Arthur's mother, and Eleanor, King John's mother, are both strong women's roles. Their passion and emotions contrast sharply with the politely and formally expressed greed and avariciousness of the male characters. The "bastard," Philip Faulconbridge, King's John's half-brother, is both the clown of the piece and a stalwart soldier and serious defender of King John; I don't remember other examples of this in Shakespeare. There is a scene in which Prince Arthur pleads with his jailor Hubert not to kill him; it's unusual in bordering on the mawkish and sentimental. In a bit of irony, Hubert agrees not to kill him and hides the Prince, letting others think that he is dead. The Prince wanders off and jumps off a wall in an attempt to escape. He dies, and his death is blamed on the King and Hubert.  Oddly the one incident indelibly associated with King John--The Magna Carta--here is never directly noted. The only link is that two battle scenes take place at the site of the Charter's signing.

The editor of this was an antiquarian not an historian. Perhaps the reputation of this play led the Arden general editors to be satisfied with what he produced.

30. Jo Nesbo, The Redeemer. Trans. from Norwegian. 3/24. Quite a good detective story. The hero of this is one of the law-unto-himself, but-has-addiction-and-relationship-problems detectives, with the unfortunate name of Harry Hole. Well-plotted and not burdened excessively with sex scenes or other extraneous matters. The cop has to travel to Croatia in the course of his investigation, but Nesbo resists making him a tourist and keeps scenic description to a minimum without abandoning a sense of place. Strong minor characters and a villain who isn't quite a villain.

31. Margaret Atwood, MaddAdam. 3/28. The third book in a trilogy about the survivors of a manmade plague in a dystopian future. The few survivors learn to live with the Crakers, a race of created human-like creatures, who were made to replace human beings by Crake, the madman who caused the plague, and with genetically enhanced pigs. The human beings die out after supplying the Crakers with a mythology and knowledge of writing. The dystopia here--poverty and lawlessness outside a few centers, corporations running amok, a religion based on the worship of oil--unfortunately seems an accurate reading of trends. The first twenty pages or so gave me the impression of simplistic nonsense, but then I got hooked. The Crakers are more childlike than childish--they and the intelligent pigs reminded me of the motos in Will Self's Book of Dave. In fact, a lot of things in this seem derivative of other examples of future-speculative fiction, but Atwood is just a better writer than most who practice this genre.

32.  Christopher Reich, The Prince of Risk. 3/29. A thriller in the mold of male hero unwittingly gets involved in international plot but both saves the world and wins the girl by the end of the book. In this instance, the hero is the owner/manager of a successful hedge fun, whose father happens to be the head of the New York Stock Exchange. The father uncovers a plot by China to take over US financial markets by introducing a bug into the NYSE's computers, which will then through links to other computers spread throughout the world. The father is killed but not before sending the son a mysterious text message, which piques the son's interest. The son's ex-wife happens to be an FBI agent. She encounters another strand of the Chinese plot--a terrorist attack on the NYSE. After perils and many near-death experiences, the hero and the heroine unravel the plot and foil the arch-villain just as he is one millisecond away from introducing the deadly virus into the computer. The hero is endowed with several problems--he's a workaholic dedicated to his career with a drinking problem, he's careless about relationships, he's estranged from his father, he's facing financial ruin. He is of course a genius, handsome, charming, and the other usual hero things. The ex-wife is also a workaholic and begins her work day by praying to a picture of J. Edgar Hoover, but somehow the hero's involvement in his work is the cause of their break-up; but that doesn't matter since love wins out in the end.

Of course, the outcome in books like this is never in doubt. The fun and interest lie in the author's skill at weaving a plausible yet exciting plot and at creating likable characters. Reich is better at this than many of his competitors, but like all such books one can't look too closely at the plot or it begins to be implausible.

33. Shakespeare, King Henry VI, Part 1. Arden edition, ed. Edward Burns. 3/30. This was a first read. According to the editor's reconstruction, this was a collaboration. Indeed there is much bad poetry one does not like to ascribe to Shakespeare. Burns also argues that it was written after Parts 2 and 3, sort of a late-sixteenth-century version of a prequel.

It's roughly divided into two interspersed series of scenes: the war in France, featuring Joan of Arc, various French notables, Talbot, and later the Duke of York (the father of Edward IV and Richard III) in one series; and the factions at the English court vying for control of the infant Henry VI, such as Gloucester and Cardinal Beaufort, and the beginnings of the War of the Roses in the other. It's a patische of significant events from the early reign of Henry VI, much jumbled in terms of historical chronology and accuracy. 

If it is a prequel, that would explain the play's brief considerations of many strands that are features of the later plays. Margaret of Anjou, for example, makes a brief appearance, and she and Suffolk begin what blossoms into their relationship in the later plays; but she's not the formidable woman she is in the later plays and Richard III. None of the characters is very memorable. Lots of fighting scenes--this must have been a spectacle for Elizabethan audiences. Evidently it was a success in the 1590s and the early seventeenth century. It has rarely been performed since (often in much abridged and reworked versions), and only then, it appears, out of a sense of duty to Shakespeare.

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