... 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.
Using Shakespeare as an ideological cudgel is rooted in the country’s history of conflict, and Cotton’s screed confirms what literary scholar James Shapiro shows in his latest book, Shakespeare in a Divided America: For a couple of centuries—at least since Tocqueville noticed that in America 'there is hardly a pioneer’s hut that does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare'—reactionaries and radicals alike have fired from the same canon ... Shapiro, in contrast, mostly looks back to Shakespearean disputes that predate our current crisis, not so much mining the plays for nuggets of contemporary insight as assessing them as cultural artifacts that have acquired layers of meaning by dint of their bipartisan utility over time. Most of all, he argues, they have been used as a means for Americans to engage race, class, gender, sexuality, and immigration, issues they otherwise don’t know how to talk to one another about.