The Tainted Muse

Prejudice and Presumption in Shakespeare and His Time

Robert Brustein

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A provocative look at Shakespeare in his age by one of our most influential theater figures

This book is a masterful and engaging exploration of both Shakespeare's works and his age. Concentrating on six recurring prejudices in Shakespeare’s plays—such as misogyny, elitism, distrust of effeminacy, and racism—Robert Brustein examines how Shakespeare and his contemporaries treated them. More than simply a thematic study, the book reveals a playwright constantly exploiting and exploring his own personal stances. These prejudices, Brustein finds, are not unchanging; over time they vary in intensity and treatment. Shakespeare is an artist who invariably reflects the predilections of his age and yet almost always manages to transcend them.

Brustein considers the whole of Shakespeare's plays, from the early histories to the later romances, though he gives special attention to Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and The Tempest. Drawing comparisons to plays by Marlowe, Middleton, and Marston, Brustein investigates how Shakespeare’s contemporaries were preoccupied with similar themes and how these different artists treated the current prejudices in their own ways. Rather than confining Shakespeare to his age, this book has the wonderful quality of illuminating both what he shared with his time and what is unique about his approach.

Robert Brustein was founding director of the Yale Repertory Theatre and of the American Repertory Theatre and was drama critic for the New Republic for almost fifty years. He is the author of six plays, eleven adaptations, and sixteen books, including The Theater of Revolt and Millennial Stages: Essays and Reviews, 2001–2005, published by Yale University Press. He lives in Cambridge, MA.

“Readers of Robert Brustein's books will welcome this tough-minded analysis of Shakespeare's plays and the prejudices of his age. Brustein's bold and brilliant book is must reading for Shakespeare's most ardent admirers as well as for those who are troubled by some of Shakespeare's views on sex, race, and religion.”—Robert Pack, author of Willing to Choose: Volition and Choice in Shakespeare’s Plays

“A wonderful book—once again Robert Brustein gives us fresh insights and new information in a most entertaining way.”—Christopher Walken, actor

“Brustein’s lucid and immensely readable study invites us to encounter Shakespeare’s plays as reflections of a man wrestling both with his society and with the failures and longing of his own spirit.”—Carey Perloff, Artistic Director, American Conservatory Theater

The Tainted Muse is an untainted lens through which to see Shakespeare as never before—what sets him firmly apart from us, and also what makes him more ours than ever. An elegant argument, a profound elucidation, and a stirring appreciation—yet another indispensable Brustein achievement.”—James Carroll, author of House of War

“By exploring the possibility of Shakespeare’s own personal prejudices, Robert Brustein pulls off the miracle of making him even more human in our eyes.”—Bill Rauch, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

“As a panoramic view of Shakespeare’s universe as it evolved from the early history plays and Marlowe imitations to mature comedies, searing tragedies, and relatively benign, autumnal romances, this book is an unalloyed pleasure.”—Morris Dickstein, Graduate Center of the City University of New York

"An exemplary work of criticism and appreciation"—Stephen Greenblatt, Harvard University

“[An] elegant read . . . intelligent fun for anyone acquainted with Shakespeare.”—Martha's Vineyard Times

"Especially smart, provocative, and engaging....readers can enjoy the author's wicked political wit....[and his] tough but nuanceed commentary." —Dramatics

"[Brustein] argues that though Shakespeare's writing transcended its time in many ways, its timelessness is nonetheless undermined by 'hidden imposthumes,' or secred obsessions common during his lifetime. With commendable thoroughness, Brustein traces the progression of these six imposthumes (mysogyny, effeminacy, machismo, elitism, racism, and religion) chronologically through all of Shakespeare's work. . . . Ultimately (and convincingly), he implies that these insights should increase rather than diminish our appreciation for the man and his oeuvre."—Megan Hodge, Library Journal

"The Tained Muse is as imaginative and scholarly as it is readable. . . . Brustein goes to great lengths to make his interpretations text-based and historically accurate." —Ed Siegel, The Boston Globe

"[A] thoughtful analysis of perennially provocative issues."—Amy Arden, Folger Magazine

“Brustein’s great strength is his historical approach to Shakespeare . . . When [he] focuses on the recurring prejudices in Shakespeare’s works and in his time, his readings of these cankerous and often eruptive moments are astute, witty, political, modern, inspired, and brilliant.”—Colleen E. Kennedy, Theatre Journal

"Fascinating to read."—Gerald Weales, American Theater

“…. [A] highly readable book.”—Year’s Work in English Studies

ISBN: 9780300115765
Publication Date: April 23, 2009
288 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
Millennial Stages

Essays and Reviews 2001-2005

Robert Brustein

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