Yale University Press

Shakespeare the Thinking is the final and posthumously published book of the Oxford critic A.D. Nuttall, who died unexpectedly in January 2007. Pitched at a wider readership than most of his earlier writings, the book is the culmination of Nuttall’s lifetime thinking about Shakespeare, and the work by which his remarkable originality as a critic will no doubt be most widely recognised.

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In the myths that inspired Wagner to write Der Ring des Nibelungen, the World Ash-Tree (Die WeltEsche) is the symbol of Wotan’s power and enlightenment and eventual downfall. As a young god, he cut a branch off the tree to fashion into his spear. In The Ring, it is not until the Prologue to Götterdämmerung, as the three Norns are weaving their rope of fate, that we are told the World Ash-Tree is withering and dying, as the gods themselves will do by the end of this long evening. As with most of the objects in The Ring, symbolism is never too far away. The tree: the spear: the twilight of the gods. On Wotan’s orders, the branches of the tree (as the Norns tell us, and as Waltraute is soon to tell her sister Brünnhilde) are split and piled around Valhalla, where the gods sit, waiting for their fiery end.

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After The Neocons by Francis Fukuyama & Ethical Realism by Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman

by
March 2007, no. 289

Beyond American failure in Iraq lies a second, deeper failure. America’s Iraq project was always intended by its proponents not just to fix Iraq and transform the Middle East, but also to demonstrate a new grand policy concept for the twenty-first century. This was the Bush Doctrine, enshrining the now-familiar ideas of the neo-conservatives: America’s power, especially its military power, is omnipotent; its values and institutions are universally desired and universally applicable; hence America’s destiny – and after 9/11 even its very survival – requires it to use this immense power, pre-emptively and unilaterally if necessary, to reshape the world in America’s image. The neo-cons themselves called it a vision for a New American Century.

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Some years ago, Robert Hughes bemoaned the capitulation of art museums and galleries to ‘the whole masterpiece-and-treasure syndrome’. Although made in the 1980s, Hughes’s point may still be valid, especially if the number of recent exhibitions with the word ‘master’ in their titles is anything to go by. A quick check reveals that, in Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria is particularly fond of the word. In Melbourne last year, we had ‘Dutch Masters from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam’ and ‘Albrecht Dürer: Master of the Renaissance’. In 2004 the NGV put on ‘The Impressionists: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay’.

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Charles Osborne, who was born in Brisbane in 1927 and moved to London in 1953, is a prolific writer, broadcaster and opera critic. His latest offering, The Opera Lover’s Companion, sets out to guide its reader through 175 of the world’s most popular operas. Osborne correctly states that ‘the staples of the operatic diet today are the major works of five great composers – Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, Puccini, and Strauss’ – and certain works by other luminaries. The operas of sixty-seven composers are included, but that core quintet gives us almost a third of the operas in this volume. Interestingly, in opera’s four hundred-year history, the vast majority of the most frequently performed works fall within the period between Mozart’s first featured opera, Mitridate, rè di Ponto (1770) and Strauss’s last, Capriccio (1942).

As with The New Kobbé’s Opera Book (1997), the list reveals a re-evaluation of many previously neglected operas, in particular some lesser-known works of Handel, Rossini, Donizetti, Massenet, and Strauss, which have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years. Doubtless this also reflects the dearth of modern operas and the scarcity of contemporary composers who know what their audiences want. Any opera company ignoring box office appeal does so at its peril, and a book such as this should be mandatory reading.

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