A Choice of Shakespeare's Verse
William Shakespeare. Farrar Straus Giroux, $15 (216pp) ISBN 978-0-374-12278-2
Admired since the 1950s for the primal force of his own verse, former British poet laureate Hughes (1930-1998) also won praise in his home country for numerous projects of editing, literary criticism and translation, among them this enlightening selection (first published in 1971) of favorite passages from the Bard's sonnets, narrative poems, and (especially) his plays. Familiar and unfamiliar sonnets (""Not marble, nor the gilded monuments/ Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme"") mingle with great speeches and lengthy passages, famous and not-so-famous, taken from most of the plays: ""Once more into the breach, dear friends"" (Henry V), ""the great image of authority: a dog's obey'd in office"" (King Lear) and over a hundred more. The reissue preserves both Hughes' brief 1991 introduction and his far more substantial ""Note"" (which follows the main text): more argument than simple explanation, this superb afterward is Hughes at his critical best, showing how Shakespeare's ""common language of the highest and the lowest"" set forth a ""profoundly articulated, esoteric, spiritual vision."" (Hughes pursued such ideas at far greater length in his Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being.) Destined for substantial sales as a gift, this compact volume might also inspire readers who already know some of Shakespeare's plays quite well to look at the rest with new eyes and ears.
Reviewed on: 09/03/2007