'Brush up your Shakespeare,' instructed Cole Porter. Is Shakespeare part of popular culture, and if so, whose popular culture? Does the Bard's writ extend to the wrong side of the tracks - say, to 49 Bard Road, Brixton, where Wise Children begins? Is he still in any sense the poet of the groundlings, and not merely of the powerful and the chattering classes whose legitimation-anxieties he so searchingly addresses? (There is no one so anxious nor so devoted to Shakespeare as a legitimate prince, to judge by the current heir to the throne.) We have heard all too many earnest pronouncements, including a correspondence in the London Review, in recent months, as if these alone could determine the future place of Shakespeare in the educational and cultural life of the nation. What a relief then, to come upon Angela Carter's new novel, an uproarious Bottom's-eye view of Bardolatry and Bardbiz, full of cardboard crowns, asses' heads, and actors strutting, fretting, singing and dancing! Wise Children will give pleasure to thousands of readers, and it may even have the added merit of conveying without tears a hard-fought slice of the National Curriculum.
LRB 13 June 1991 | PDF Download