One of the recent books of The Arden Shakespeare - Shakespeare UP Close: Reading Early Modern Texts - is a collection of short essays by esteemed and well-known researchers in Shakespeare scholarship affiliated with various (primarily) UK and USA universities. The collection of essays is edited by Russ McDonald, Nicholas D. Nace and Travis D. Williams and is a dedication to famous Shakespeare scholar Stephen Booth. Booth is Emeritus Professor of English at University of California, Berkeley and has written extensively on Shakespeare. The authors of the various essays in Shakespeare Up Close often reference and allude to Booth wherever relevant.
Although the book is somewhat restrictively called Shakespeare Up Close - the essays cover not only Shakespeare but other playwrights and poets of his time, before and after. The engaging essays in the collection dwell on negativity in Milton's Paradise Lost, on temporality in Spenser's Faerie Queen, on Fletcher's Mad Lover in view of late Shakespeare, on consciousness in Jonson's Volpore and other topics.
In the Introduction, the editors expand on the tradition of close reading in scholarly research. They oppose and compare the technique of close reading to the practice of contextual analysis and the advantages and outcome of both practices in approaching Shakespeare's text and texture.
The essays are classified into broad headings according to their theme and principle of research. Of special interest are the headings "Close Reading Beginnings", "Close Reading Endings" and "Close Reading Hamlet". The first two groupings typically cover close readings of opening soliloquies and speeches occurring at play ends respectively. It is fascinating how unquenchable Hamlet is! Fresh views on Shakespeare's most elusive play keep emerging in the Shakespeare scholarship. In Shakespeare Up Close, the contributors discuss sound and voice and couplets, the dumb show, Claudius on his knees and Gertrude's gallery.
The essays on Shakespeare cover both the plays and the sonnets. Among these, Margaret Maurer's "The Chimney-Sweepers Conceit in the Song for Fidele in Cymbeline", George T. Wright's "Unmuffling Isabella" of Measure for Measure and Charles Altieri's "How Can Act 5 Forget Lear and Cordelia" are most enjoyable reads.
The affiliation of Stephen Booth with the University of California, Berkeley, presumably accounts for the preference to include essays heavily by American (and occasionally UK) scholars. With the exception of Professor Lukas Erne from the University of Geneva and Jeremy Lopez from the University of Toronto, Shakespeare Up Close presents an Anglo-American view on close reading of Shakespeare and others. Without questioning the quality and validity of Anglo-American Shakespeare research - which is the vastest in Shakespeare scholarship - the book would have benefited more from a broader international insight.
Shakespeare Up Close targets students, researchers and scholars but can be of great interest to everyone else interested in snappy-yet-in-depth intellectual quests into Shakespeare's and other authors' well-loved and well-known creative outputs.