Shakespeare of London Critical Context - Essay

Marchette Gaylord Chute

Critical Context

Shakespeare of London’s selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club testifies to the work’s appeal to general readers. Shakespeare scholars also greeted it enthusiastically. Alfred Harbage praised it in his review in The Nation, as did Douglas Bush in The New Republic. Oscar James Campbell spoke for most when he called Chute’s book “probably the best of all the ‘lives’ of Shakespeare that have recently been pouring from the press.”

The years 1949 and 1950 witnessed an outpouring of popular biographies of Shakespeare unusual even in the ever-productive Shakespeare industry. Unlike so many of these books, however, Chute’s has worn well because it is not thesis-ridden. Chute commented that her initial relative ignorance of her subject served her well in the writing process because she could weigh evidence objectively. Such an approach is especially important for young readers, who may easily be misled by less careful accounts that indulge pet theories.

While Samuel Johnson observed that tediousness is not the worst of faults, it may destroy interest for adolescents. Chute is never dull, and perhaps her chief success lies in her ability to stimulate the reader’s curiosity. One is likely to close her book resolved to explore further Shakespeare’s life and times, as she instructs delightfully.