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Willing to Choose

Volition & Storytelling in Shakespeare's Major Plays

Robert Pack


“This book is intended for the reader and theater-goer who loves Shakespeare’s plays and enjoys contemplating them in their complexity: the richness of metaphorical language, the characters’ psychological depths and dimensions, the philosophical implications of the plays as organic dramatic entities that testify to the nature of human limitation and human freedom. I assume that the reader has the patience to delight in the minute details of Shakespeare’s patterns of imagery as well as to admire the overall structure of the plays. What most interests me is how these plays cohere and how they can be read from different perspectives which nevertheless complement each other. Thus, I have not adopted any single critical approach, but have responded to each play’s individual identity with what seem to me appropriate and fruitful interpretative points of view. Blessed in having been enfranchised by my profession to teach Shakespeare for half a century, I wish to share with my readers the humane vision I find everywhere in Shakespeare’s incomparable plays – a vision empathetic to human suffering and moral aspiration, tempered by his acute awareness of human frailty, which has immeasurably enriched my own life.” – Author’s Note to the Reader
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The author of twenty books of his own poetry, the most recent being Elk in Winter and Composing Voices, and five books of literary criticism, Robert Pack finds everywhere in Shakespeare’s incomparable plays a vision empathetic to human suffering and moral aspiration, tempered by the Bard’s acute awareness of human frailty. Currently, Robert Pack teaches in the Honors College of the University of Montana.


“Robert Pack’s study of Shakespeare is a poignant and mature meditation on the world’s greatest writer.”–Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention

Willing to Choose struck me as something utterly fresh and compelling, a book about Shakespeare that ought to inspire a wide range of readers. Robert Pack, himself a poet, understands Shakespeare’s art in ways that seem both comprehensible and satisfying. Pack shows again and again what art has added to nature itself, making it somehow bearable. The willful choice to examine to face reality boldly, and to accept the balm of its beauty without resorting to fantasy, was the wise and noble choice that Shakespeare himself made. Readers will be grateful to Pack for making this plain, for adding so much to nature himself in this strong, sensible, and artful book.”–Jay Parini, Robert Frost, A Life

“Robert Pack’s excellent new book on Shakespeare is a work not only of scrupulous scholarship but, more importantly, of poetic imagination as well as a genuine contribution to Shakespeare criticism. His chapters on The Tempest, Macbeth, Hamlet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are particularly powerful, but the whole book is filled with insight and intuition, written in a style that makes it a delight to read, for academic and lay person alike. The fact that Pack is a poet himself gives him a particular entree into the mind of Shakespeare, and his philosophical and psychological reading enhances his literary approach immensely.”–Robert Brustein, The Theater of Revolt

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