... terrific ... If Jill Lepore and the late Tony Judt had collaborated, this taut, swift and insightful tract might have been the offspring. Yet Shapiro’s subtitle is misleading: His subject is us, the U.S., not Shakespeare plays. If you’re worried about the current state of the Republic, this is a book that will stoke your fears — while educating you on why you might justifiably be having them ... The 1998 chapter is worth the price of the book alone ... Shapiro’s book is history, but not past history. It’s ongoing and all too painfully still-relevant history. As he bounces back and forth between 1833 or 1916 and today, the similarities between Then and Now overwhelm the differences and Shapiro’s title resonates anew, reminding us how divided we’ve been since our very beginnings, with historical-tragical constantly muscling out pastoral-comical ... Among all the fine words currently being spilled examining the American mess, James Shapiro has outshone many of our best political pundits with this superb contribution to the discourse. He upped the wattage simply by bouncing his spotlight off a playwright 400 years dead who yet again turns out to be, somehow, us.
... wonderfully vivid ... a formidable challenge but [Shapiro] meets it with tremendous narrative skill and analytic power. That he does so in 300 entirely accessible and compulsively readable pages is little short of miraculous ... The book works so well because Shapiro does not attempt a continuous history. He applies the method of his previous books, which is to focus on single moments and pursue their meanings with forensic archival rigour and brilliant critical close reading. But here there is an added layer of contemporary urgency: Shapiro does not hide his distress at the current plight of American politics and culture ... a colourful and dynamic kaleidoscope of American divisions. This is superb theatre history but it is also an outstanding work of history, full stop. Shapiro shows us that Shakespeare is a cracked mirror in which the US continually glimpses its divided selves. It is hard to imagine anyone better able to discern what it reflects.
James Shapiro makes the case that arguments about the Bard’s plays have long reflected our conflicted beliefs as a nation about hot-button issues like immigration, adultery, homosexuality and interracial love ... Shapiro, who serves as a consultant for the Public Theater, which stages the free Shakespeare in the Park festival every summer, is uniquely qualified to give readers a behind-the-scenes look at what happened [when Trump supporters disrupted the 2017 production of Julius Caesar in New York City's Central Park]. It’s a fascinating story—one of many in this entertaining and accessible book—that underscores Shapiro’s key point: Shakespeare never goes out of style.