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The Genius of Shakespeare. By JONATHAN BATE. Picador, 1997; 20 [pounds sterling].
Shakespeare's genius, Jonathan Bate argues in his new book, lies in the `aspectual', or dialogic, quality of his work: in the ability of that work to engage the sympathies of everyone, more particularly the `Establishment' and `anti-Establishment'. He attempts to demonstrate that for each cultural-political, or political-cultural, investment made in Shakespeare's work, an equal and opposite investment has been, or can be, made. Shakespeare is the ultimate cultural `bank'.
As with other criticism of this ilk, one has to be concerned about the uneasy shuffle, everywhere apparent, between a historical view of what has been (which the book essentially purports to be), and a demonstration of what might be. In other words, it is only Bate's weighing in heavily on the `anti-Establishment' side that establishes a precarious sense of `aspectual' balance. He consistently contests and deconstructs `Establishment' engagements with the plays, while just as consistently celebrating uncritically the uses found for Shakespeare by the `antis', freely expanding upon, and adding to, their arguments. This obvious bias is more than a little problematic given that The Genius of Shakespeare is an attempt to wrestle Shakespeare free from the grip of (loosely) New Historicism, which Bate repeatedly, cattily, terms the `New Iconoclasm', and more specifically to spar with Gary Taylor's delightfully wry Reinventing Shakespeare (as Bate belatedly admits in a note). To prove that, pace Taylor, …