822: Shakespeare is Hard, But So Is Life by Fintan O’Toole

by Gerard


822.33: O’Toole, Fintan. Shakespeare is Hard, But So Is Life: A Radical Guide to Shakespearean Tragedy. London: Granta, 2002. 162 pp. ISBN 1-86207-528-X.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 800: Literature
  • 820: English and Old English literatures
  • 822: English drama
  • 822.3: Drama of the Elizabethan Period, 1558-1625
  • 822.33: William Shakespeare

I’m a firm believer that if you are a reader of English, you need to get at least one Shakespeare play under your belt as an adult. High schools trot out Shakespeare and try to make students understand it, but they’re basically brain damaged until the age of 25 (talk to any neuroscientist, they’re with me on this). If you’ve read one and don’t enjoy it, well, that’s fine by me, but don’t immediately dismiss the idea altogether. Fintan O’Toole’s Shakespeare Is Hard, But So Is Life is an ardent attempt to get people who would normally write off Shakespeare as oblique and antiquated to approach it in terms that they’ll understand.

O’Toole’s commentary on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth tries to get away from the longstanding art of using classical literary theory and Aristotelian devices as analytical starting points. Instead, he see the plays as struggles between competing worldviews, and if one understands either the struggle or the perspectives, then the plays become a little easier to interpret. Granted, his explanations can get a little convoluted and overreaching, but he conveys his point with passion and wit. This book makes for a good companion piece after finishing each play. While I would have liked a few of the comedies thrown into the mix, the tragedies are usually headier for Shakespeare newcomers. A quick and engaging read.