Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Shakespeare Quiz and Puzzle Book by Maggie Lane.

In her introduction to The Shakespeare Quiz and Puzzle Book, author Maggie Lane (who's created similar volumes about Jane Austen and The Bronte Sisters) says that she’s “concentrated on the passages we are all familiar with in the belief that it is always a pleasure to come upon what is known and loved” but that at the same time she’s made sure that our knowledge is still being challenged. That this quiz and puzzle book has an introduction anyway shows how much thought Lane is putting into the exercise and she’s certainly succeeded in her aims.

Unlike the Pocket Posh, which I reviewed previously, Lane’s book is aimed squarely at Shakespeare fans and scholars. The clues for crosswords and most of the quizzes consist of quotations with missing words the reader must fill in and the name games ask for biographical details about a list of characters – occupations or family relationships. Only in the word searches does Lane assume no prior knowledge, though it might be a help given the unfamiliarity spellings.

In other words, my mettle has been thoroughly tested and I was simultaneously proud and exasperated. In theory having seen the play over thirty times in different forms, the Hamlet crossword shouldn’t be a problem but I discovered there were still gaps in my knowledge – though of course not all of the productions have been from complete texts and so I have heard some passages more often than others. Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself as I skipped to the next clue hoping to fill in some useful letters.

Elsewhere – well let’s just say I don’t know some of these plays as well as I thought I did. Lane’s posers are well chosen since often the clue to the missing word is elsewhere in the quotation taking full advantage of Shakespeare’s poetry, for example, when the character is making a point by mixing thematic antonyms. But what I’ve mainly discovered is that in watching the plays I may have spent moare time following the story and enjoying the performances than absorbing the poetry. Nothing much has changed since I failed my A-Level in English Literature.

The book is illustrated with drawings by H.C. Selous taken from a famous complete works commissioned by Charles Cowden Clarke in the late 1860s and reprinted dozens of times since. They’re entertaining examples of pantomime Victoriana, all grand emotional gestures, bowed heads and pointing and give the book, despite its original publication date in 1984, a sense of timelessness. Now I’m off to sharpen my pencil. “If sack and … be a fault, God help the wicked.” Um.

The Shakespeare Quiz and Puzzle Book by Maggie Lane is published by Abson Books. £4.95. ISBN: 9780902920569. Review copy supplied.

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