Published 2013 (audio version, the one I’ve used; print edition published 2012).
Imagine yourself at the Globe to see a Shakespeare play, preferably Hamlet (my favourite…). Keep on imagining standing among the crowd, quite near the stage, on a rainy evening. You look around and see people from all walks of life, from different countries and cultures, all mesmerized by the Bard's words...almost 400 hundred years later. Imagine laughing so heartily with the rest of the audience, practically falling off your wooden chair. The actors are absolutely amazed and unbelieving at the rapturous applause they receive. You cheer them to the rafters. You start to have an inkling of how audiences of Shakespeare's own time must have received his plays. My reading of Shakespeare makes me “re-live” stuff like these. I feel his writing will allow me to deepen my own self-knowledge as well.
Just like water heated to 50º degrees does not increase the caloric intake, human thought peaks, in certain Men, to the highest intensity. Shakespeare, Rilke, Hölderlin, Celan, Kafka, Bach, Heine represent the 50º degrees of genius. In each century two or three undertake the ascension. From down below, we attempt the daunting task of following them. These Men climb the mountain with great difficulty, they penetrate the clouds, they vanish, and they reappear. They’re spied upon by us mere mortals.
What they do is was so very, very good at doing what they did, and they did so much of it so well that it really is quite unbelievable. Their work is so good that many people do not believe that they were not touched by the Gods themselves. This is particularly true with Shakespeare. Some do not believe he alone wrote all the plays that are attributed to him, but the fact is that he almost certainly did do so, as hard as it can be to believe when you study Shakespeare. Potter’s intertextual reading of his works shows that beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Some creative people have been so far beyond their own time that they haven't always been completely understood during the years that they lived. Bach, for instance, was a person like this. His work just sounds finished in a way that other works are not. It's difficult to describe, but even people who don't know much about music recognize that there is something special about what Bach did. You can feel it in your bones. Shakespeare works the same way. The fact that the language has changed a good deal since Shakespeare's time makes it more difficult for me to see that at first, but with some pointers, I can clear away the confusion caused by that to recognize that his work is finished and special in that same way. Shakespeare holds up a literary mirror to the face of humanity and has forced us all to stare into its reality. That's what special about Shakespeare. For those of us who like to dabble in writing stuff, Shakespeare shows what genius can do with words and characters and situations. His works are just overflowing with fantastic little titbits laying around to enjoy, but it does require that I know what it is that I’m looking at, and for that, sometimes I need the guidance of someone who already knows how to do it. And that’s where Potter’s glimpse into the mind of Shakespeare comes in. What a wonderful “read” it was. How fortunate I am, and how grateful, that I was able to find this book. Potter was able to open up some of the most profound thoughts and meditations on Being that have ever seen/heard recorded regarding Shakespeare. Once again, that most comforting and energising feeling that "I am not alone" when I read (or listen to) Shakespeare. Potter draws upon prior texts, genres and discourses on Shakespeare, Marlowe, Johnson that I didn’t even knew existed! In this regard, Potter’s book needs several re-readings. There are textual, intertextual, and sub-textual references aplenty that will take me more than one reading to fully understand. This meant go rabbit-holing which I did...The outputs of these wonderful adventures tapped into my understanding of Shakespeare. Go figure...
I’ve read quite a big amount of books on Shakespeare. Being able to write a biography of a figure at once so well-known and so little documented must have been a challenge. His chapter “The Strong’st and Surest Way to Get: Histories” was quite a revelation [I’m (re-)reading the Histories at the moment) as well as Potter’s insights into the relation between Shakespeare, Thomas Middleton and Jonson. And when I thought I knew everything was there to know about Shakespeare, Potter comes along and rehashes old stuff into strikingly new ways. Oh my.
It was a pleasure to travel alongside Potter on this wonderful adventure!