In the Shady Wood

Michael Neill

  • The Shakespearean Forest by Anne Barton
    Cambridge, 185 pp, £75.00, August 2017, ISBN 978 0 521 57344 3

Anne Barton delivered the lectures on ‘The Shakespearean Forest’ that form the basis for this, her much anticipated last book, in Cambridge in 2003. The Clark Lectures were themselves the product of an extended reflection on the significance of Shakespeare’s imaginary woodlands, developing and expanding material from earlier lectures and essays. As Peter Holland’s eloquent afterword reminds us, Barton’s interest in the topic had first been excited by her reading of Ben Jonson’s Robin Hood play, The Sad Shepherd, for her monograph on Shakespeare’s great rival. Given this history, it may seem surprising that The Shakespearean Forest is not a longer book, but Barton became almost blind as a result of macular degeneration and was forced to abandon her work. When she died in 2013 it remained incomplete and its publication has been a labour of love for her executors – above all Hester Lees-Jeffries, who undertook to edit the surviving manuscript. Tactfully reordering and even rewriting a little where necessary, Lees-Jeffries has added a fine introduction, ‘Into the Woods’, pieced together from Barton’s draft original and from portions of a discarded chapter; she has also appended a comprehensive bibliographical essay of her own, bringing the reader up to date with the large amount of related material published in the decade since Barton abandoned the project. The result, aside from a rather skimpy and careless index, seems as finished as anything that Barton published in her lifetime.

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[*] Bloomsbury, 256 pp., £14.99, September 2017, 978 0 7156 5223 0.