L’esprit de l’escalier

En route to the Hay Festival to talk about How the Classics made Shakespeare, I flick through the book and reflect on what I left out that I meant to put in, but never got around to, because delivery was late and I just had to get it done and move onto the next thing – all writers know that feeling. One of the points I made in the book is that when we talk about Shakespeare and the classics we immediately think of the Roman plays based on Plutarch, together with Titus Andronicus, but that in fact thirteen of Shakespeare’s forty or so works are set in the ancient world, not to mention that even the ones with settings more modern than antique are steeped in allusion to classical stories (the Pyrrhus speech in Hamlet is at the core of the book). So the book has a good deal to say about the two narrative poems, and about The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Cymbeline as well as the obvious candidates Julius CaesarAntony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus and Timon of AthensTroilus and Cressida is also very important to the argument, but on reflection I think that my treatment of it was somewhat scattered and elliptical. Perhaps I should have had a more concentrated section on Shakespeare and Troy – but then I would merely have been going over the same ground as that covered by Heather James in her admirable Shakespeare’s Troy. No, my real regret is not the attenuated treatment of Troilus but the scant attention I gave to Shakespeare’s final return to classical matter: The Two Noble Kinsmen,a play of which I have been inordinately fond ever since I directed a terrible undergraduate production of it forty years ago. So next time someone invites me to do a special Shakespeare lecture, it will be on Kinsmen

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