The Stranger in Shakespeare

Leslie Fiedler, The Stranger in Shakespeare (New York: Stein & Day, 1973)

Summary from the Publisher:

In this provocative book, originally published in 1972, Leslie Fiedler turns his critical eye on what he calls the “borderline figure” in Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Neither hero nor villain, this figure defines the limits of the human—it is the shadow, the other, the alien, the stranger.

Fiedler concentrates on four key representations of the stranger in Shakespeare’s work: the stranger as Woman, as Jew, as Black, and as New World savage. He offers canny readings of Shakespeare’s handling of women in Henry VI, Part 1, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Othello in the play of that name, and Caliban in The Tempest. There are also discussions of verses from The Passionate Pilgrim and some of the Sonnets, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, and Cymbeline. The way these “strangers” are treated within their contexts, Fiedler argues, reflects not only Shakespeare’s own values, but those of his audience as well. Fiedler further suggests that in this archetypal underworld we may find a mirror for viewing ourselves and our own times, forcing us to face unpleasant attitudes that we may have been unprepared or unwilling to acknowledge—including, perhaps, the internalized stranger.

“Anyone confronting Shakespeare begins with chutzpah and joy but ends in humility and terror,” Fiedler writes in his preface to the book. Ultimately, this is not a book about “Our” Shakespeare. It is a book about Shakespeare’s “Us.”

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