When Robert McCrum began his recovery from a life-changing stroke, he discovered that the only words that made sense to him were snatches of Shakespeare. McCrum has spent the last twenty-five years immersed in Shakespeare's work, on stage and on the page. During this prolonged exploration, Shakespeare's poetry and plays have become his guide and consolation. In Shakespearean he asks: why is it that we always return to Shakespeare, particularly in times of acute crisis and dislocation? What is the key to his hold on our imagination? And why do the collected works of an Elizabethan writer continue to speak to us as if they were written yesterday?
...magnificent ... Clearly McCrum is engaged with his own era. In a discussion of Shakespeare’s humor, he quotes from and analyzes a BBC interview with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creator of Fleabag, about how comedy works ... In McCrum’s thoughtful explorations of modern Shakespearean tragedy, Donald Trump naturally comes up ... In his enthusiasm, McCrum doesn’t flinch from expressing broad-brush opinions, but he does it so well it doesn’t matter if occasionally he dresses opinion as fact ... I had the odd feeling that Mr. McCrum had written this book for me ... I am not a Shakespearean scholar, but I have hiked around in this habitat, and Shakespearean is the first such tome that I have found not only thought-provoking but also moving and inspirational. McCrum’s living and breathing book reminds us why the fire of literature warms the soul.
...engaging and animated ... Robert McCrum helps us see just how many other dimensions there are to a 'Shakespearean' sensibility. For one thing, there is the intoxicating, addictive spiral of self exploration in words, words and more words ... there is the not unrelated intoxication of writing in code: how far can you go in dangerous allusion, inviting your audience – an audience that regularly includes the most powerful, suspicious and merciless in the land – to see (without ever quite naming) their own danger, their own fragility and lack of substance? ... McCrum makes good use of Philip Davis’s recent work on the measurable neurological impact of some of Shakespeare’s verbal violences – adjectives or nouns turned into verbs ('He childed as I father’d'), pronouns into nouns ('the cruellest she alive'), and the like ... McCrum does not analyse Shakespeare’s supposed theories or trace any arguments through the plays; he offers a loose biographical framework and guides us rather like someone walking through a gallery – pointing here, hurrying past there because time’s getting on, stopping to turn and elucidate or invite a response ... One of my few moments of disagreement with McCrum is when he describes the late plays as inviting the judgement that they are 'dramatised poems' more than dramas. It’s clear what he means; but in fact these are plays that outrageously display their theatricality, making fewer and fewer concessions to anything you could call realism ... McCrum’s Shakespeare for 'times of disruption' is a welcome participant in the contemporary conversation about the insanities that are taking over 'democratic' politics.
Robert McCrum’s focus is broad, his range diffuse. Disarmingly, he describes Shakespearean as 'a personal inquiry into Shakespeare’s life and works, a literary and biographical essay for the general reader, not a work of cutting-edge academic prowess for Shakespeare scholars, though I hope they may profit in passing here and there' ... As McCrum points out, threats of civic rebellion and the plague 'overshadowed Shakespeare’s entire creative career.' Shakespearean turns on the interplay between past and present – meaning our past and our present, but also what would have been the past and the present for Shakespeare ... All this helps to justify the author’s broad-brush survey of all Shakespeare’s writings treated in conjectural order of composition. He is adept at drawing parallels between the subject matter of the plays and events of Shakespeare’s time ... Clearly, then, this book is the work of an enthusiast. Its subtitle, 'On Life and Language in Times of Disruption,' points to its topicality. It bears witness to a wide, if unfocused, range of reading in Shakespeare scholarship, scrupulously and generously acknowledged, although the author is occasionally let down by his sources.