Our Current Reading

Find out more about the books we are currently reading, and explore some of our older favourites.

Gary Watt, Shakespeare's Acts of Will: Law, Testament and Properties of Performance, (Bloomsbury, 2016).

As we see in plays like The Merchant of Venice – and more generally in today’s incessant popularisation of legal TV drama – the performance of law is inevitably theatrical. This book homes in on the relationship between Shakespearean drama and the performance of will. Gary Watt is ‘concerned with the cultural practices – and specifically the creative practices – that connect theatre to law and connect both theatre and law to the wider world of the witnessing public’ (p. 2). The book takes into account a bigger, ‘imaginative dimension’ of law, which ‘expresses substantial matters of justice and order in practical forms and in creative performances that are open to communal participation’ (p. 181). Shakespeare’s Acts of Will is quite an ambitious monograph as it seeks to encompass not only a focus on the performativity of law, but its manifestation in twenty-first century performance, as well as what the author refers to as the ‘materiality’ of performance, in addition to a focus on the tension between tradition and trade, and passing reflections on Shakespeare himself. Because of this, at times the chapters can seem to digress between these several points, and require the reader’s close attention. The interspersing of the analysis with analysis of modern performances at times felt slightly jarring, however the author’s legal expertise provides for some fascinating insights into early modern law and theatre. Read the full review here.

Frank Furedi, The Power of Reading: From Socrates to Twitter, (Bloomsbury, 2015).
There’s a seemingly endless flow of theoretical and pedagogically-oriented publications addressing the question that Furedi poses at the opening of his latest book: “Why is reading in the twenty-first century such a problem?”. For those with a stake in the education of young people, along with those who have an interest in the place, significance and affordances of reading as part of the distinctively human experience, Furuedi’s erudite and highly-engaging exploration of the state of reading in the digitally-flooded age will captivate attention and provoke further thinking. Taking the contemporary discourses and myths of ‘crisis’ as its starting point, the book mounts a passionate and convincing argument for the centrality of reading in and for itself, as well as for the more instrumental purposes of assessment which too often predominate in the school curriculum. Furedi takes the reader on a captivating journey through the history of reading – as the sub-title of the book anticipates – comparing and contrasting how societies and individuals through the ages have regarded the role of reading in both the personal and public domains. He contends that “reading has transformed human consciousness and changed the world” and rather than subscribing to the “narrative of gloom” that has characterised current debates about the “end of the book” and the “death of the reader”, he offers a countermanding narrative of optimism and hope. The power of reading, if we accept Furedi’s argument, is as central to the human drive for meaning-making and truth in the age of Twitter as it was in the time of Socrates. It is through reading, according to Furedi, that we have the capacity to join the past with the present; imagine the future and re-imagine ourselves; militate against dehumanising techno-rationality, and enter for a time into the wonder and joy of other worlds. This is a book that will re-inspire not only educators, but all of those who continue to maintain the “reading faith”.  
 
Jackie French, Macbeth and Son (Angus and Robertson, 2006).
Jackie French’s unique take on Macbeth weaves together the stories of two young boys living 1000 years apart. The historical and Shakespearean Macbeths are juxtaposed in a novel aimed at kids in senior primary or junior high school. The result is a clever exploration of truth and responsibility in modern-day Sydney and eleventh-century Scotland told with impressive clarity. The Scottish sections are especially engaging.  French proves that an oblique response to Shakespeare that foregrounds key conceptual problems (such as lies, truth, growing up and responsibility) can deliver a narrative more compelling and provocative than mere, linear retelling.

James Shapiro, The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 (Simon and Schuster, 2015).

Shapiro’s illuminating book examines the plays Shakespeare was writing and the events happening around him in 1606. Shakespeare was forty-two and as playwright for the King’s Men, whose royal patent had recently been granted by James I, he wrote King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra and Macbeth. Shapiro probes the creative processes behind these plays and the events that shaped Shakespeare’s world, foremost among them the Gunpowder Plot of the previous year along with the visit of Christian IV of Denmark, the passing of the Act to Restrain Abuses of Players, an outbreak of plague and ongoing discussions of union between England and Scotland. The Year of Lear is a lively exploration of biographical detail, literary analysis and contextual information with the same engaging style of narrative as his earlier book A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599.

Gert Biesta, The Beautiful Risk of Education (Paradigm, 2014).

For those interested in the philosophy of education in a modern context this new book from Gert Biesta is a must read. The bite-size chapters explore a series of evocative themes – creativity, communication, teaching, learning, emancipation, democracy, and virtuosity – in a style that is lucid and yet theoretically subtle. The book contributes strongly to current discussions of subjectivity, risk and weakness in education. Once you’ve read Beautiful Risk, you might want to take a look at Tyson E. Lewis’ thought-provoking review in Educational Theory 64.3 (2014). Lewis responds to Biesta by setting in play some important issues relating to the ‘weakness’ of education, aesthetics and educational philosophizing.

 

Matt Copeland, Socratic Circles: Fostering Critical and Creative Thinking in Middle and High School (Stenhouse Publishers, 2005).

This book was published in 2005 but remains a blissfully clear introduction and practical guide to ‘socratic circles’ in the classroom. It includes illuminating examples of student discussions and templates for assessment and reflection. A virtue of the book is its readability and comprehensiveness arising from an author who is speaking from years of experience in running ‘socratic circles.’

Scott Camazine, Jean-Louis Deneubourg, Nigel R. Franks, James Sneyd, Guy Theraulaz, Eric Bonabeau, Self-Organisation in Biological Systems (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2001).

This book forms part of the Princeton Studies in Complexity series, and is a refreshingly clear and engaging treatment of the phenomenon of self-organisation (which they define as: "a process in which pattern at the global level of a system emerges solely from numerous interactions among the lower-level components of the system" - p.8).  The book is divided into two useful sections: Part I explores the theoretical underpinnings of this complexivist approach to biological systems, while Part II looks at the systems themselves, from fireflies to termites. This is a superb exploration of the potential of complexity theory, and will prove fascinating for anyone interested in understanding how our natural world works.

 

Fiona Ritchie, Women and Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century  (Cambridge University Press, 2014).

This book makes the extremely interesting point that the so-called 'Garrick Shakespeare Revival' actually developed out of the Shakespeare Ladies' Club of the 1730s, whose enthusiasm finally persuaded actor-managers like Charles Macklin and Garrick that there could be money in performing Shakespeare, more or less as written, in the theatre. The book also talks about actresses of the period like Kitty Clive and Hannah Pritchard, whose performances in Shakespeare were so brilliant. They were the pioneering adult actresses of Shakespearean roles.
 
Helen Cooper, Shakespeare and the Medieval World (Bloomsbury, 2010).
This book examines the continuities between the early modern world and its medieval past, demonstrating a medieval cultural influence that shaped Shakespeare’s world and his works. Cooper considers the medieval origin of many of Shakespeare’s plays, with chapters on the dramatic heritage from the mystery play cycles and on Shakespeare’s reinterpretation of Chaucer. Shakespeare and the Medieval World is a fascinating glimpse into the cultural influences that shaped Shakespeare’s plays and it does not shy away from evocative speculation. The ass’s head Bottom wears in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the subject of one speculation which leads Cooper to ponder the stage prop’s origins in the Chester mystery play Balaam and the Ass. Amidst substantial contextualisation and subtle arguments, this is a delightfully provocative speculation indicative of the book’s imaginative yet scholarly re-assessment of the medieval in Shakespeare.