Brush Up Your... Marlowe?

by Julia M. Klein
Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? / Shakespeare and the American Musical
By James Shapiro / Irene G. Dash
(Simon & Schuster, 339 pages, $26) / (Indiana University Press, 229 pages, $24.95)
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Dash also shows how contemporary mores and the demands of the modern stage precipitated alterations in characters, structure, and stagecraft. In The Boys from Syracuse, first produced in 1938, Dash suggests that lyricist Lorenz Hart ’16JRN and librettist George Abbott created female characters who were less complex and resonant than their counterparts in The Comedy of Errors. By contrast, she argues that Bella Spewack and Cole Porter successfully updated the battle of the sexes in The Taming of the Shrew, making Kiss Me, Kate a penetrating examination of a modern woman torn between love and vocation.

Dash employs archival research to shed new light on classic collaborations. She convincingly links Kiss Me, Kate to a livelyAlfred Lunt–Lynn Fontanne production of The Taming of the Shrew and describes how West Side Story evolved from East Side Story, an earlier version about Jews and Italians.

But Dash’s meticulous scene-by-scene, and even line-by-line, comparisons between Shakespeare and five musical adaptations are a bit of a slog, especially in the case of less familiar works. She can be repetitious, and too often allows her themes to become lost, like errant lovers, amid a welter of detail. We could have done with a bit more forest and fewer trees.

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