12th May 2000 at 01:00

SHAKESPEARE: the basics. By Sean McEvoy. Routledge pound;9.99.

This well-researched, lively and readable book aims to introduce A-level literature students and first-year undergraduates to new critical approaches to Shakespeare.

Part I, Understanding the Text, considers language, action and performance. Part II deals with genre, and includes chapters on comedy, history, tragedy and the mixed-genre plays. Analyses and references provide material for discussion and further reading.

The writer's enthusiasms are evident and his emphases clear - the plays were written for performance; the text is script, best read aloud; the full meaning depends on interpretive decisions, differing from performance to perfomance; these decisions relate to their time.

References to past productions raise interesting issues. In 1930 Paul Robeson was the first black actor to play Othello in a major theatre. Is it now possible to have a white Othello? Why did Cheek by Jowl's early 1990s, all-male production of As You Like It make such an impact? Did the RSC's 1999 production of The Tempest fail to engage with the play's central issues of race, power, authority?

This book has some of the qualities of good sixth-form teaching, introducing new ideas, stimulating thought and inviting argument. It goes well beyond the basics and will be useful for students and teachers.

Jeanne Strickland Jeanne Strickland is an English inspector

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