James Untangles Shakespeare's Genealogies

Posted: September 17, 2007

To breed or not to breed?

Or more accurately: to have bred or not to have bred? Anyway, that's the question.

We mortals weave a tangled web, as the Bard observed, and given a number of generations, genealogies--both fictional and actual--can be weavings of nearly incomprehensible complexity.

In her latest book, Shakespeare's Genealogies, author and MHC professor Vanessa James continues to indulge people's fascination with family trees by uncovering the familial relationships of more than 1,000 of William Shakespeare's characters across all 42 of his plays and dramatic poems. Due out in October 2007, James's new work will be a handy reference for Shakespeare aficionados.

Professor of theatre arts and chair of theatre arts, James is also a consultant for the Ensemble for the Romantic Century in New York City and the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts (MIFA).

James's design work is documented in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Library and in the permanent collection of the Museum of the Moving Image. As an art director for film and TV, she was honored with an Emmy Citation and has been nominated for two other Emmy awards.

Published by Melcher Media, this book is a follow-up to her critically acclaimed Genealogy of Greek Mythology, in which James reveals the lineage of more than 3,000 mythical gods and mortals from ancient Greek texts. Genealogies pique the interest of many people because they illuminate the complexities of blood relationships and can help clarify the family dynamics that underlie drama. These lineages intrigued and inspired Shakespeare, as he used familial relationships to create plots driven by familial jealousy, lust, passion, and murder, not to mention the oldest of theatrical devices, mistaken identities and separated siblings.

Shakespeare's Genealogiesuses the same two-sided, accordion-fold, fully illustrated format as James's previous book. The accordion-fold style allows one to read the book traditionally, page-by-page, or to unfurl the work to 17 feet and view the intricacies of the lineages in their entirety. The book begins with a biography of Shakespeare, accompanied by his own family tree, and continues with charts organized according to category of play (Myths and Legends, Legends into History, Continental Plays, Roman History Plays, and British History Plays). These categories diverge from the traditional grouping of the plays into tragedies, comedies, and histories. The unique reorganization of these plays in order to better understand the bloodlines of Shakespeare's characters is the product of James's own scholarship.

The chart is accompanied by plot descriptions that discuss the genealogical implications of each play. Through the family trees, stories, and an array of more than 100 images, Shakespeare's Genealogiesevokes a comprehensive portrait of Shakespeare's worlds.

Related Links:

James to Read, Sign New Shakespeare Book

Shakespeare's Genealogies

Vanessa James - Faculty Bio