by Michael Anderegg
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2015. Pp. xviii, 222.
Illus., notes, biblio., index. $29.95 paper. ISBN: 0700621296
Lincoln and the Bard
Prof. Anderegg (emeritus, North Dakota), author of several works on Shakespeare and American culture, looks at Lincoln’s relationship to the Bard. Anderegg opens with a discussion of Shakespeare’s widespread presence in early nineteenth century America, where his plays were well known, albeit in truncated or wildly modified form, and printed editions of his works were widely circulated, which is how Lincoln came to know him.
Anderegg notes that while Lincoln was a great admirer of Shakespeare, he rarely quoted the man in his own writing, but often did so in conversation and speeches. As he discusses Lincoln’s reading of Shakespeare and his exposure to staged versions of the plays, Anderegg concludes that Hamlet, Macbeth, and the history plays were the President’s favorites.
Anderegg also explores Lincoln’s tastes in theatre, noting that not only did he often attended performances by many of the stars of the day, among them the Booths, including John Wilkes, but, rather surprisingly he also corresponded with at least one actor, the comedian James H. Hackett, who often played Falstaff, and includes a number of similarly interesting or amusing anecdotes about theatre in mid-nineteenth century Amercai.
This is an entertaining read, as it is as much about theatre in Lincoln’s America as it is about Shakespeare and Lincoln, and helps us understand how the 16th President came to be a master of the English language.