Shakespeare’s Restless World

Written by Neil MacGregor
Review by Jo Ann Butler

William Shakespeare’s world was in flux, and he embraced those rapid changes in his works. We can use contemporary histories or art to explore Elizabethan England, but Neil MacGregor offers readers a fresh approach. Shakespeare’s Restless World presents us with twenty objects which capture the essence of Shakespeare’s day, and explains not only why they were created and what they were used for, but also their significance to Shakespeare and his audience. MacGregor ranges these twenty artifacts alongside Shakespeare’s plays to show readers how Elizabethans viewed vital topics. English anxiety over who would succeed their Virgin Queen was explored by proxy in Richard III and Henry V, and also in allegorical paintings. A sword and rapier found by the Thames River, the sort used in Romeo and Juliet, introduce us to an Italian fad becoming popular in England. Intelligent and entertaining, I recommend Shakespeare’s Restless World to anyone wishing to learn more about the Bard, his plays, and the English society he sought to entertain.