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Hoarder of Malt

Michael Dobson: Shakespeare, 7 January 1999

Shakespeare: A Life 
by Park Honan.
Oxford, 479 pp., £25, October 1998, 0 19 811792 2
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Shakespeare: The ‘Lost Years’ 
by E.A.J. Honigmann.
Manchester, 172 pp., £11.99, December 1998, 0 7190 5425 7
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... Every year, on a Saturday morning in April, the miscellaneous participants in the most improbably charming event in the official national calendar gather for a cup of tea in the Georgian town hall of a small market town in the West Midlands. There is a great deal of scarlet in evidence, in the robes of the assembled Council and of sundry invited academics, white in the vestments of the local clergy, and a respectable quantity of gold in the mayoral chains of office; there are any number of sombre grey suits on visiting diplomats and corporate sponsors; and outside the sunshine, if there is any, glints from the brass instruments and buttons of a military band ...

Lost Mother

Michael Dobson, 17 February 2000

In My End Is My Beginning: A Life of Mary Queen of Scots 
by James Mackay.
Mainstream, 320 pp., £20, March 1999, 1 84018 058 7
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Mary Queen of Scots: Romance and Nation 
by Jayne Elizabeth Lewis.
Routledge, 259 pp., £14.99, October 1998, 0 415 11481 0
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Ancestry and Narrative in 19th-Century British Literature: Blood Relations from Edgeworth to Hardy 
by Sophie Gilmartin.
Cambridge, 281 pp., £37.50, February 1999, 0 521 56094 2
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... We are proud of the national sentiment in Scotland which is associated with the name of Mary Queen of Scots. A simple chronicle of her sufferings was the first tale of sorrow over which we wept ... In graver manhood we are not ashamed to acknowledge, that we cannot peruse the volumes of her wrongs without emotion. This feeling, while it shall endure, and pervade the bulk of our population, may be held as a proof that loyalty, and the love of justice, and hatred of oppression, are among our permanent national characteristics ...

Whatever you do, buy

Michael Dobson: Shakespeare’s First Folio, 15 November 2001

The Shakespeare First Folio: The History of the Book Vol. I: An Account of the First Folio Based on Its Sales and Prices, 1623-2000 
by Anthony James West.
Oxford, 215 pp., £70, April 2001, 0 19 818769 6
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... Collectors’ fantasy Christmas present it may have become, but Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies was a series of headaches before it was anything else. Despite the confidently comprehensive title they gave it, the editors of the First Folio, John Heminges and Henry Condell, were defeated by the task of assembling all of their late colleague’s plays: we will never know how many nights’ sleep they lost over their failure to secure a copy of Love’s Labour’s Won, written before 1598 and printed in quarto before 1603, nor what arguments led to the exclusion not just of all Shakespeare’s poems and the single scene he wrote for Sir Thomas More but of three late collaborative plays, Pericles, The Two Noble Kinsmen and Cardenio ...

Posthumous Gentleman

Michael Dobson: Kit Marlowe’s Schooldays, 19 August 2004

The World of Christopher Marlowe 
by David Riggs.
Faber, 411 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 571 22159 9
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Christopher Marlowe and Richard Baines: Journeys through the Elizabethan Underground 
by Roy Kendall.
Fairleigh Dickinson, 453 pp., $75, January 2004, 0 8386 3974 7
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Tamburlaine Must Die 
by Louise Welsh.
Canongate, 149 pp., £9.99, July 2004, 1 84195 532 9
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History Play: The Lives and Afterlife of Christopher Marlowe 
by Rodney Bolt.
HarperCollins, 388 pp., £17.99, July 2004, 0 00 712123 7
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... They were both eight-year-old grammar-school boys when news began to reach England of the bloody events of St Bartholomew’s Day, 1572 (news which bolstered moves towards Protestant reform in each of their provincial towns), and they remained sufficiently interested in French politics to write in a surprisingly well-informed fashion about the subject twenty years later ...

Mushrooms

Michael Dobson: How to Be a Favourite, 5 October 2006

Literature and Favouritism in Early Modern England 
by Curtis Perry.
Cambridge, 328 pp., £50, February 2006, 0 521 85405 9
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... In an area of dairy pasture a few miles from Coventry, there is a bench formed from one half of a large clinker-built rowing boat sticking vertically out of the ground, with a sturdy wooden seat placed within the hull so that it is sheltered as if by an arbour. There is no water in sight except a definitely non-navigable stream. Anyone who sits here has no choice but to stare across the meadows, usually full of cows, towards a large pile of reddish, crumbling masonry ...

Let him be Caesar!

Michael Dobson: The Astor Place Riot, 2 August 2007

The Shakespeare Riots: Revenge, Drama and Death in 19th-Century America 
by Nigel Cliff.
Random House, 312 pp., $26.95, April 2007, 978 0 345 48694 3
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... During 2005, while Nigel Cliff was writing his wonderful book about the Astor Place riot, I too visited a couple of the archives he consulted, namely the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the New York Historical Society. Long fascinated by the events of 10 May 1849, I couldn’t leave Manhattan without making a pilgrimage to Astor Place ...

Elsinore’s Star Bullshitter

Michael Dobson, 13 September 2018

Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness 
by Rhodri Lewis.
Princeton, 365 pp., £30, November 2017, 978 0 691 16684 1
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... I saw​ a great performance of Hamlet this spring, at Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine, in a Soviet-era theatre built on a similar brutalist scale to the National in London but with less of its self-effacing eagerness to fit in. Or rather I saw Hamlet not in the Ivan Franko Music and Drama Theatre but under it. The theatre’s ambitious artistic director, Rostislav Derzhypilsky, had discovered that beneath the public areas of the building there was a cavernous concrete basement, only partly full of heating ducts and obsolete electrical equipment, and since the theatre was pointedly built on top of a German war cemetery the opportunity to set the most famous gravediggers in world drama to work in close proximity to some real graves was clearly too good to miss ...

Bastard Foreigners

Michael Dobson: Shakespeare v. the English, 2 July 2020

Shakespeare’s Englishes: Against Englishness 
by Margaret Tudeau-Clayton.
Cambridge, 245 pp., £75, October 2019, 978 1 108 49373 4
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... However​ dissentious, alienating, confusing and anxious life may have been for most of the English under the Tudors, the period, especially its last two decades, has usually been remembered as an idyllic apogee of national self-definition. By the time Shakespeare and his apprentice John Fletcher co-wrote All Is True (printed as Henry VIII) in 1613, wistfulness for the previous reign was already growing, despite what the playwrights and others may have recalled about Tudor rule: agricultural depression, enclosure, the plague, the poor law and the Essex Rebellion ...

Only Sleeping

Anne Barton: Variations on Elizabeth I, 10 July 2003

England’s Elizabeth: An Afterlife in Fame and Fantasy 
by Michael Dobson and Nicola J. Watson.
Oxford, 348 pp., £19.99, November 2002, 0 19 818377 1
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... was its longevity: the way she continues four hundred years after her death to conduct, as Michael Dobson and Nicola Watson put it in this engaging book, ‘a posthumous progress through the collective psyche of her country’. Historians, beginning with John Foxe and William Camden in her own time, and extending across the centuries to Patrick ...

Identity Parade

Linda Colley, 25 February 1993

People and Places: Country House Donors and the National Trust 
by James Lees-Milne.
Murray, 232 pp., £19.99, October 1992, 0 7195 5145 5
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The Making of the National Poet: Shakespeare, Adaptation and Authorship, 1660-1769 
by Michael Dobson.
Oxford, 266 pp., £30, October 1992, 0 19 811233 5
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Myths of the English 
edited by Roy Porter.
Polity, 280 pp., £39.50, October 1992, 0 7456 0844 2
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Fields of Vision: Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England and the United States 
by Stephen Daniels.
Polity, 257 pp., £39.50, November 1992, 0 7456 0450 1
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... just how far men and women responded to these promptings and why. This is the main drawback in Michael Dobson’s clever, lucid and scrupulously-researched book about the making of Shakespeare’s national reputation. Part of the current fashion for problematising the literary canon, it argues that there were three main reasons for the rise of ...

The smallest details speak the loudest

John Upton: The Stephen Lawrence inquiry, 1 July 1999

The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry 
by Sir William Macpherson.
Stationery Office, 335 pp., £26, February 1999, 0 10 142622 4
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The Case of Stephen Lawrence 
by Brian Cathcart.
Viking, 418 pp., £16.99, May 1999, 0 670 88604 1
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... volume of information that the police received: Jamie Acourt, Neil Acourt, David Norris and Gary Dobson. The names came from unreliable sources – an ex-girlfriend, youths with grudges against them. All four had been suspects in connection with previous acts of racial violence. Despite a barrage of teenage estate gossip with all the attendant ...

Diary

Paul Foot: The Labour Party’s vacillation over rail privatisation, 28 October 1999

... Government. Nor was this only because Prime Minister Blair and his jovial Health Secretary Frank Dobson had shrewdly chosen Homerton Hospital as an appropriate place for the announcement of the Government’s new health plans. Compared with their Tory predecessors, the New Labour lot seemed to my physiotherapist friend to be sensible, almost benign. This ...

Bus Lane Strategy

Tristram Hunt: London Governments, 31 October 2002

Governing London 
by Ben Pimlott and Nirmala Rao.
Oxford, 208 pp., £15.99, May 2002, 0 19 924492 8
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... elected mayor equivalent to the leader of a council. Those arguing for an executive mayor included Michael Heseltine (the hammer of the GLC), the Evening Standard and Simon Jenkins, a long-standing critic of London council bungling. Opposition to the idea was led by Labour’s Environment spokesman, the former Camden councillor Frank ...

A Revision of Expectations

Richard Horton: Notes on the NHS, 2 July 1998

The National Health Service: A Political History 
by Charles Webster.
Oxford, 233 pp., £9.99, April 1998, 0 19 289296 7
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... that, in return, doctors would support the NHS. Bevan agreed, and an amending Act was drawn up. Michael Foot, in his recently republished biography of Bevan, concludes that ‘the Minister and the president of the Royal College of Physicians established an accord.’ It was an accord that split the profession (the BMA accused the College of ...

Lost in Beauty

Michael Newton: Montgomery Clift, 7 October 2010

The Passion of Montgomery Clift 
by Amy Lawrence.
California, 333 pp., £16.95, May 2010, 978 0 520 26047 4
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... of the European war. In I Confess, the war appears to suggest a reason why Clift’s character, Michael Logan, should become a Roman Catholic priest. The war had made these characters, giving them confidence, troubling them with memories. So it was perhaps that the 1950s were the decade of neurosis. For all their resistance to the ‘torn T-shirt ...

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