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This review is taken from PN Review 222, Volume 41 Number 4, March - April 2015.

Shakespeare Was An American Shakespeare in America: An Anthology from the Revolution to Now, edited by James Shapiro (Library of America) $29.95

James Shapiro’s new anthology of American writing on and around the Bard tells a fascinating tale. Over the course of seventy-one extracts by as many authors, Shapiro traces the story of a nascent nation’s desire to claim ownership of its mother­land’s greatest literary son. The anthology follows the growth of Shakespeare-worship from the camps of the Pilgrim Fathers, through the wagons of the expanding frontier and the theatres of the new cities and into the front lines of the Civil War, ending up in the hands of Woody Allen and Sam Wanamaker. What becomes clear above all is that Shakespeare’s complete works, along with the Bible, forms a unique part of the foundation upon which America built its culture, the lexical key to developing away from Britain and France and the chief artefact deemed beneficial to the New World. That story may not be exactly untold, but what Shapiro has done here is to let America speak for itself: he has not included any second-hand commentary, inserting only a brief introductory overview of the timeline and a foreword by President Bill Clinton. Though the latter may not be famed for his literary ken and though his inclusion in this book (given equal billing to the editor’s name on the cover) seems rather more of a sales ploy than anything else, his association does neatly demonstrate the ‘point’ of Shapiro’s effort in compiling these pieces: that ‘the history of Shakespeare in America is also a history of America itself’. If the work presented here is to be ...

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