Me and Shakespeare:Adventures with the Bard, A Memoir
Doubleday. 341 pp. $26...
Doubleday. 341 pp. $26
Reviewed by Ken Adelman
Gollob’s epiphany about William Shakespeare came rather late in life. But when it did come, it hit with great force, making him feel what Celia feels in As You Like It: "O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful, and yet again wonderful, and after that, out of all hooping!"
Gollob spent his career with words, first as a theatrical agent, then as a literary agent, and finally as a book editor, but only after retiring did he become a serious student of Shakespeare. And, soon, a teacher of Shakespeare as well, as a part-time instructor at Caldwell College in New Jersey. In this "out of all hooping" book, his grace in writing, excitement in discovery, and adoration–"the passion I’d begun to develop for Shakespeare was a mystical experience, a religious experience"–most resemble those of another great Bardologist, British columnist Bernard Levin, author of the similarly enthralling Enthusiasms (1983). Both men are blessed with an abundance of life force, and both know how to write a terrific book.
Along with his stimulating and contagious enthusiasm, Gollob provides insights into Shakespearean characters that are sound and often stunning, as when he compares Coriolanus to Douglas MacArthur. He notes that Shakespeare’s main characters leave the stage different–usually broader, deeper, kinder–than they entered it. In this sense, Gollob himself becomes a Shakespearean character. Like Hamlet, Portia, Petruchio, Henry V, Antony, Prospero, and others, he suffers, learns, reflects, accepts, and ultimately changes.
I was dashed only to see H. L. Mencken cited for the proposition that "in general women are practical, men are romanticists." Excuse me, but Shakespeare reached that conclusion centuries earlier. How about Juliet, who proposes marriage while Romeo’s getting further tangled in his poetry? Or Beatrice, who, when Benedict asks her–he thinks heroically, but in fact rhetorically–how he can help solve the key problem of Much Ado about Nothing, replies succinctly, "Kill Claudio"? Or Portia, who, when Antonio is whining and preparing to die in the arms of his useless sidekick, instantly takes action to save him? So many of Shakespeare’s women are more practical and more intelligent than his men that one wonders, "What can she possibly see in that schlub?"
Gollob sparks his students and readers to be mad about the Bard, and that’s a wonderful thing to do. He quotes John Dryden as saying that Shakespeare has "the largest and most comprehensive soul." In that respect as well, Gollob is Shakespearean. This book could only have come from someone with a big soul.