Poor Naked Wretches: Shakespeare’s Working People by Stephen Unwin
Was Shakespeare a snob? Poor Naked Wretches challenges the idea that our greatest writer despised working people, and shows that he portrayed them with as much insight, compassion and purpose as the rich and powerful. Moreover, they play an important role in his dramatic method.
Stephen Unwin reads Shakespeare anew, exploring the astonishing variety of working people in his plays, as well as the vast range of cultural sources from which they were drawn. Unwin argues that the robust realism of these characters, their independence of mind and their engagement in the great issues of the day, makes them much more than mere ‘comic relief’.
Compassionate, cogent and wry, Poor Naked Wretches grants these often-overlooked figures the dignity and respect they deserve.
WINNER OF THE FALSTAFF AWARD BEST BOOK 2022
What do you think of when you read a Shakespeare play or someone talks to you of William Shakespeare’s plays? The setting the actors perhaps or maybe it is the key characters of his plays? On a recent study trip to The London Library I was just looking through the recent releases section of books and one book really caught my eye. Poor Naked Wretches: Shakespeare’s Working People (Reaktion Books) by Stephen Unwin. One of those books that you were really pleased to find. Now here is a book that will make you see Shakespeare’s plays in a whole new light.
Read or watch closely William Shakespeare’s plays and there is more to see and understand than the leading characters. What reading Stephen Unwin’s book teaches us is that there lies a whole new dynamic of the great mans plays. It is the poor and the working class, the common people that go to make up his plays that really are missed. Together with a series of images in the book they go to understand about the lives of the ordinary people that actually mirrored Shakespeare’s own life.
The books is laid out so that you get to read chapters on various social settings so there are chapters on “Fools, Clowns and Jesters”, “Soldiers, Sailors and Men at Arms”, “Maids, Nurses and Witches”, “Inns, Taverns and Brothels” to name a just a few and each chapter will take a close look the settings and in turn some of Shakespeare’s plays and a whole new world of understanding how Shakespeare wrote his plays whether they were the comic plays or the more darker plays and in turn what you do get by reading Stephen Unwin’s outstanding book is a deeper and closer understanding of details and character formation of his plays. So much detail goes into each play, be it in written form or acted on stage it can easily be missed and now comes along this book that opens up a whole new world of understanding. An outstanding book. Even if you are not an avid Shakespeare reader or watcher of his plays, it gives a voice to the poor and the working people.
Stephen Unwin is a theatre and opera director who founded the English Touring Theatre in 1993 and you get a real sense of Stephen’s own experience of Shakespeare’s plays and Poor Naked Wretches went on to win the Falstaff Award Best Book 2022.
On a personal level, I have to say just how well the book is laid out, and the research Stephen has done to make this such a fascinating read. Sadly, I must return my copy to The London Library in the coming days, so I will now be getting my own copy as this is going to be of real help with my studies that include Shakespeare in the coming years.
Poor Naked Wretches: Shakespeare’s Working People by Stephen Unwin. Published by Reaktion Books in hardback on 11 July 2022 and is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org