Shakespeare for Everyone to Enjoy by David R. Brown would be a great addition to any library, but an especially helpful and valuable resource for parents and older students who are interested in digging deeper and learning more about the bard, his life, and his plays.
It is very obvious that the author has a great affection for and understanding of William Shakespeare’s work, and his enthusiasm is contagious. Pastor Brown has created an interesting and easy-to-read format that can be used in the family circle or in the classroom. I especially appreciated his comment that “the student who values the truth will put aside all attempts to read into his [Shakespeare’s] plays some conceptual material that Shakespeare never intended.” What a refreshing and candid idea—simple enjoyment without “politically correct” worries!
The 144-page, illustrated, hardback book (with dust jacket) contains the following chapters:
- “O for a Muse of Fire” (Introduction)
- “This Happy Breed of Men” (The Universality of Shakespeare)
- “This Was a Man!” (The Life of Shakespeare)
- “Converted from the World” (Shakespeare’s Religion)
- “Conscience Is the Most Sacred of All Property” (The Principle Approach to Shakespeare)
- “And Man Became a Living Soul” (Spiritual Values in His Plays)
- “Don’t Ride the Green Bus” (A Visit to Stratford-On-Avon)
- “I Am Constant as the Northern Star” (Character Development)
- “The Play’s The Thing” (Shakespeare in the Classroom)
- “All the World’s a Stage” (Shakespeare on the Stage)
- “All’s Well that Ends Well” (Conclusion)
I also especially enjoyed perusing the thorough appendix, which included the following:
- Records of the Life of Shakespeare (G. B. Harrison)
- Shakespeare’s Will
- Noah Webster Educational Foundation
- Principle Approach® Classical Education
David Brown, a Presbyterian pastor, is an experienced educator as well as a Shakespearian lecturer and director. He certainly knows his subject, and his book is perfect for an introduction to or a deeper study of William Shakespeare. For those who are interested in performance, this book is a great starting point! A highly recommended resource!
Product review by Amy M. O’Quinn, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, April 2008
Every so often, however, a “cross-over” book comes along that doesn’t fit easily into any single category. Shakespeare for Everyone to Enjoy is one of those books. It’s a little history, a little Bible, a little education, a little literature, a little theatre.
The author, Rev. David R. Brown—a 50-year pastor in the Presbyterian church, long-time educator, and Shakespeare lecturer and authority—has written a wonderful little book that really does make William Shakespeare accessible to anyone who will put forth even the tiniest bit of effort. Granted, Shakespeare is not easy, but how many things that have any worth are easy?
One of the most important points Brown makes appears very early. Answering the frequent question—”Why do so many people say that they do not enjoy Shakespeare, or that they are not interested?”—Brown discusses “several problems that have arisen in today’s culture,” the first of which seems to be (at least to me) the most crucial:
Our education system has slowly dropped its emphasis upon classical education. In fact, most public schools have dropped Shakespeare along with Latin and other classical studies from their curricula. Closely related to this is the failure to develop an extensive vocabulary. Scholarship does not appeal to lazy minds. This is why many people will not even attempt to read Shakespeare or the King James Bible. (pp. 2, 3)
Actually, the problem is worse yet, as some seminaries no longer even teach the biblical languages. Indeed, as our society continues to dumb down everything, it continues to self-destruct. I was reminded here of some lines from Henry V (my second-favorite play). Before Henry’s transformation to the fine king he became, the character Bishop of Canterbury recounts what Henry was before, which sounds much like our own day:
Which is a wonder how his grace should glean it,
Since his addiction was to courses vain,
His companies unletter’d, rude and shallow,
His hours fill’d up with riots, banquets, sports,
And never noted in him any study,
Any retirement, any sequestration
From open haunts and popularity. (I.1.56–62)
Something else immediately came to my mind when reading Brown’s statement above. In the companion book to the PBS television documentary of the same name, the authors write concerning the extraordinary quality of the English language in the days of Shakespeare and the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James I (1558–1625): “The achievements of these astonishing years . . . are inescapably glorious. . . . During their reigns, about seventy-five years, the English language achieved a richness and vitality of expression that even contemporaries marveled at” (Robert McCrum, William Cray, and Robert McNeil, The Story of English [New York: Viking, 1986], p. 91). It is the abandonment of the heritage of our language that has contributed to the dumbing-down of the Bible and society itself.
It is for that very reason, in fact, that a major audience of this book is the homeschool crowd. Brown encourages homeschoolers to form a group to explore Shakespeare, reading, discussing, attending performances or watching videos and reviewing the experience, and perhaps even performing the plays themselves. He has directed several and shares his personal experiences and insights. I wouldn’t be surprised, in fact, to see students’ English vocabulary and skills increase with such exploration.
While many have argued that Shakespeare was immoral, Brown convincingly argues the very opposite in his biographical sketches. One cannot read his plays, for example, without noticing the tragedy that befalls those who live wrongly. Brown goes on to argue, in fact, that while many believe that Shakespeare was staunchly Roman Catholic, there are strong indications that he had genuine faith in Christ alone. His last Will and Testament (which is included in an Appendix) states: “I commend my sole into the hands of God my Creator, hoping and assuredly believing, through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Savior, to be made partaker of life everlasting.” It’s also noteworthy, as Brown mentions, that Shakespeare gave his daughter Susanna in marriage to a Puritan, the famous physician of that day, Dr. John Hall.
Whatever one believes about Shakespeare’s religion, what cannot be denied is that his plays are filled with scriptural principles and allusions. Since the King James Version didn’t yet exist, it was the Geneva Bible, the Bible of the Puritans, that Shakespeare used. Chapter 6, ” ‘And Man Became a Living Soul’ (Spiritual Values in Shakespeare’s Plays),” my favorite chapter, analyzes a few of Shakespeare’s plays. King Lear, for example, is the most Christian of all his plays, Brown asserts. “Most of Shakespeare’s fools,” he writes, “lead men toward understanding and wisdom, but the Fool of King Lear is especially gifted in assisting Lear to interpret the reasons for his suffering,” and also “leads Lear from his former tyrannical failure to use his power in responsible ways, to a life of justice” (p. 43). Does that not remind us that “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise” (1 Cor. 1:27)?
Macbeth also has some profound spiritual applications. When Macbeth realizes the heinous sin he has committed, he is overcome and cries out: “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine [make red], making the green one red” (II.2.58–60). Likewise, The Merchant of Venice, though a comedy, not only demonstrates the futility of indebtedness, Brown submits, but also the great sin of man’s inhumanity to man.
If I may interject my agreement with Brown on Shakespeare’s value, I think the Bard is a powerful tool for sermon illustration. One of my favorite quotes, for example, graphically illustrates the depravity of man. The wicked king, Richard III, laments, “My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, And every tongue brings in a several tale, And every tale condemns me for a villain” (V.3.194). Another illustration of the same is in Cassius’ comment to Brutus: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings” (Julius Caesar, I.2.147–148). In Hamlet (my favorite play), we read a magnificent statement about providence: “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all” (V.2.218–222). Speaking to Horatio, Hamlet also demonstrates the emptiness of man’s philosophy: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (I.5.91).
In a nutshell, Shakespeare for Everyone to Enjoy (Daly City, CA: An Ascribed Book from DG Ink, 2007, distributed at www.nordpub.com) is a short read of only 144 pages and is one that is readable by anyone. It is always enjoyable, never dull, and is a wonderful introduction to Shakespeare. A stunning bonus is this hardback’s beautifully designed dust-jacket, featuring the color painting, “Hamlet and the Grave Digger” (1883 oil on canvas), by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-bouveret.
Dr. J. D. Watson
Pastor-Teacher, Grace Bible Church
Author/General Editor, Truth on Tough Texts