This book focuses on the two plays of Shakespeare that have generally contended for the title of 'greatest' among his works. Hamlet remained a focal point of reference until about 1960, when it was displaced by King Lear, a play which at the same time ceased to be perceived as a play of redemption and became a play of despair. Foakes attempts to explain these shifts by analysing the reception of the plays since about 1800, an analysis which necessarily engages with the politics of the plays and the politics of criticism. Recent critical theorising has destabilised the texts and undermined the notion of 'greatness' or any consideration of the plays as works of art. Foakes takes issue with such theories and reconsiders textual revisions, in order to argue for the integrity of the plays as reading texts, and to recover a flexible sense of their artistry in relation to meaning. The book will be of interest to scholars and students of Shakespeare and to theatre-goers.
"Attention to any book by this distinguished author and professor of English...is always warranted, but especially this one, which has as its subjects, Hamlet and Lear, their variant texts, postmodern criticism, and the Bard's reputation itself." American Library Association "...a timely and important book. The surveys of critical history are judicious and persuasive; the critique of current practices is not just curmudgeonly but identifies real problems; and the readings of the plays themselves show how what is best in current critical practive--particularly its awareness that a play takes on a life specific to the culture that reads it--can be used in the service of these texts." Shakespeare Studies "...enormously valuable as wide-ranging and knowledgeable discussions of a huge quantity of material handled with grace and skill. This is indispensable reading to anyone concerned with the afterlife of either play." Shakespeare Bulletin