I saw two events at the Book Festival this past week. One was a talk by James Shapiro, a Shakespeare historian. He was discussing his new book, Contested Will, which is broadly about all the theories concerning who wrote Shakespeare. Shapiro is firmly in the Shakespeare was Shakespeare camp, as am I. And I was hoping that his talk (and his book) were all about grinding the opposing theories into the dust. Not so, sadly. It was mostly about looking at the phenomenon itself, and trying to understand why people feel the need to put forth all these other theories of authorship. So there was also some talk about the history of literature and our approach to it.
Shapiro was interesting and entertaining. And he slammed the author of Will in the World, the first Shakespeare biography I tried to read, for exactly the same reasons that made me want to stab said author with a fork. So I felt vindicated.
I will probably still pick up Contested Will at some point. Shapiro has a very accessible style, and I’m guaranteed to learn a lot. I want to finish reading 1599 (Shapiro’s biography of Shakespeare that tries to understand who he was by examining in detail one year of his life) first, though. Shapiro also talked about his next book, 1606. Similar structure to 1599, but set later, while he was writing Lear and Macbeth. I’m looking forward to that one, but it won’t be out until 2016 (the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death), so I have a bit of a wait.
The other event was a talk by two university history professors, billed as being about everyday life in Scotland from 1600 to the present. The two professors were there, and their published books were about everyday life in Scotland, but they mostly spoke about the process of writing and publishing their books. This probably should have been obvious, but clearly I misunderstood.
They were relatively interesting, though. One of the professors had written about history from the political perspective, which was much less interesting to me. The other had actually edited a series of books about everyday life. He talked about how he and the other historians who worked on the books went about figuring out what everyday life was actually like, because no one at the time was writing about the mundane. That was quite interesting, and he mentioned a couple of books that I’ve been reading myself written by early travellers to the highlands.
In the end, though, I went to the festival bookshop and bought two books: The History of Everyday Life in Scotland from 1600 to 1800, and ditto for 1800 to 1900. I’m hoping to get from those what I didn’t get from the talk itself. I’m currently still mired in the introduction to the first one, but I’ll keep you posted.
The vibe at the book festival was very different from the fringe. Much more subdued, in one way, but with much more being elbowed and poked with umbrellas as people jostled to get a good seat. Particularly in the second talk I went to, I was the youngest in the room by a good thirty years, and the questions from the audience were both educated and stuffy.