Amazon’s Prime Day sale event was the other day. I didn’t buy much, but I couldn’t resist a $5 off $15 promotion on printed books. Before, I’d agonized over my choices, but this time I made my choices quickly: The Arden Shakespeare Sir Thomas More and the graphic memoir Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.
Sir Thomas More is an early modern play that many experts believe contains sections written by Shakespeare, although the bulk is by Anthony Munday and Henry Chettle, and a few other collaborators. The play may never have been performed in its day, although it has been occasionally performed from the early 20th century on. It deals with a topic that would’ve been quite controversial – in fact, still is – the personal magnetism and heroics of a man on the wrong side of history. Its most-quoted and relevant passage today concerns the compassionate treatment of immigrants, and was most likely one of Shakespeare’s contributions. At any rate, it’s a play I’ve wanted to read since I first learned about it in Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World. It’s also a book that’s not readily available used, so it made sense to snag it with the $5 off deal.
Here’s how much of The Arden Shakespeare edition is dedicated to analysis and criticism. The play text itself – all extensively footnoted and annotated with the various “hands” identified – is that middle third. The first third contains historical context and performance history. The last third is appendices, including text revisions and analysis focusing on assigning authorship to the various pieces. This may be a thick volume, but it’s all muscle here, no fluff.
Persepolis is a book I’d wanted since it came out in translation about 16 years ago, but other needs and wants kept pushing it aside. However, I needed to spend a few more dollars to hit the promotion threshhold, and Persepolis was on sale, so it was at last meant to be.
It occurs to me now that, taken together, this is a thoroughly depressing pair of books spotlighting the almost infinite human capability for inhumanity. Both deal with power, and the use of it to suppress others. Both deal with conservative revolutions driven by faith. Both take the view of the oppressed. And today, both are frighteningly relevant pieces of literature.