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Michael Dobson writes:
The RSC Shakespeare packs a critical punch well up to its physical weight. Bate’s general introduction to Shakespeare’s life, stage and reputation is superb, and the short introductions to individual works, in particular, are among the best of their kind available. Instead of sounding, as such essays often do, like dutiful bringings-up-to-date of a diligent colleague with the received wisdom and current specialist arguments, they manage to speak about what really matters about the plays to readers who wish, whether they are already familiar with them or not, to come to them freshly. Bate’s two and a half pages on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for instance, would deserve a place in any anthology of writing about the play, and his four equally compelling pages on Hamlet give the impression that even if he has just read two hundred critical essays on the subject he has also this minute seen a really exciting production.