Me and Shakespeare Summary

Summary (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Herman Gollob spent some time as a theatrical agent for MCA and the William Morris Agency in California before moving to the East Coast to work as a book editor for Little, Brown; Atheneum; Doubleday; Simon & Schuster; and other publishing companies. He edited James Clavell’s first book, King Rat (1962), and set Clavell’s career in motion. He was the first to edit Dan Jenkins, author of Semi-Tough (1972) and Rude Behavior (1998), and Bill Moyers of Listening to America(1971) fame. He was a friend and early editor of the short-story writer David Barthelme, whom he had met at the University of Houston in the early 1950’s. Gollob attended parties with Hollywood celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and had lunches with legendary directors such as Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich. These relationships and experiences make for a colorful memoir, but it is his career after retirement that Gollob focuses on in Me and Shakespeare: Adventures with the Bard. In July, 1995, Gollob retired to his home in Montclair, New Jersey, and soon embarked on a second career as a teacher of William Shakespeare’s plays. His 341-page book is a chronicle of his later-life obsession with all things Shakespeare.

Gollob’s pursuit of Shakespeare is at least partly motivated by his desire to understand himself and his past. In this respect Me and Shakespeare is similar to Bob Smith’s Hamlet’s Dresser: A Memoir (2002), in which Smith uses passages from Shakespeare’s plays to understand and explain his own life. At several points Gollob quotes passages from Shakespeare’s plays, particularly Hamlet (pr. c. 1600-1601, pb. 1603), to explain the people and events in his life:

Returning from his journey, Hamlet appears, spiritually, a changed man. From the vantage point of my sixty-fifth year [1995], I could track the changes in my own character following each of my journeys, as I groped to find my particular niche in the scheme of things.

Gollob had always attributed his success to “Timing, luck, connections,” but as he explores the Bard’s works he begins to suspect the presence of a shaping “divinity” in his own life. Gollob likens his newfound interest in Shakespeare—sparked by seeing Ralph Fiennes in a Broadway production of Hamlet—to his “conversion” back to Judaism in later life. In fact, his religion becomes the unifying motif of his study of Shakespeare, culminating in a paper on the Judaic qualities ofKing Lear (pr. c. 1605-1606, pb. 1608). He even toys with the notion that Shakespeare’s plays may have been a midrash (or commentary) on the Torah. Gollob’s rediscoveries of Shakespeare and Judaism seem to be connected to his memories of his father, who helped to foster his pride in their Jewish heritage and his love of literature.

Although his father died in 1982, Gollob mentions him frequently in his memoir and recalls their relationship with fondness. A lawyer by profession, Abraham Gollob taught his son sports, took him to boxing matches, bought him books, and gave him history lessons. For example, he talked about the founding of Israel in terms of the founding of Texas: “Imagine those first settlers as Hebrews, the Mexicans as Canaanites, Texas as Israel.” He pointed to the Jewish presence in motion pictures (actors such as Paul Muni and Kirk Douglas), literature (especially playwright Clifford Odets), and sports (boxer Barney Ross, quarterback Sid Luckman, and baseball player Hank Greenberg), suggesting that his son could do anything he wanted. He made a profound impression on the boy. Like Shakespeare’s father, Abraham Gollob had “endured financial setbacks” during the Depression, and those setbacks may have motivated his son to make good in the world. Herman Gollob as Shakespeare? Gollob writes, “Perhaps that particular wound—a father enduring pecuniary misfortune—is the driving force behind the Young Men from the Provinces.” Gollob remembers his father being Lear-like in old age—fiercely independent, disdainfully proud, and sharp-tongued. He died of cancer at the age of 83. At his father’s funeral Gollob, though not yet a Bardologist, reads lines from Julius Caesar (pr. c. 1599-1600, pb. 1601) and Hamlet. In one moving scene, in 1997, Gollob visits his father’s grave and tells him about his obsession with Shakespeare.

Gollob’s relationship with his mother was the antithesis of his relationship with his father. Discussing Hamlet’s mother in one chapter, Gollob slips into a digression about his own mother, who had serious psychological problems. He recalls a time when she brandished a knife and threatened to kill herself, only to be talked out of the deed by her son. A chain smoker and chronic coffee drinker, she would sit in front of the television and yell obscenities at soap opera characters. Part of his hostility toward his mother apparently stemmed from her criticism...

(The entire section is 2030 words.)