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Literary Criticism Shakespeare

Shakespeare Beyond Science

When Poetry Was The World

by (author) Sky Gilbert

Guernica Editions
Initial publish date
Sep 2020
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2020
    List Price

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Shakespeare wrote at a unique historical turning point: the world was understood through poetry -- rather than through the science of observing it. In Shakespeare Beyond Science: When Poetry Was the World, Sky Gilbert's radical new research locates Shakespeare as a disciple of the Greek rhetorician Hermogenes, and a student of the Neo-Platonist Johannes Sturm. No, not just another ‘interpretation' of the meaning of Shakespeare's work. Instead, a radical approach to Shakespeare as magician and rhetorician, as a post-structuralist, more concerned with form than content, and confident of the dangerous magical power of words not only to persuade but to construct our consciousness.

About the author

Sky Gilbert is a writer, director, and drag queen extraordinaire. He was co-founder and artistic director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (North Americaâ??s largest gay and lesbian theatre) for 18 years. His hit plays include The Dressing Gown, Drag Queens on Trial, Play Murder, The Emotionalists, and the Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning The Whoreâ??s Revenge. His first three novels: Guilty (1998), St. Stephenâ??s, (1999) and I Am Kasper Klotz (2001) were critically acclaimed. ECW Press published Skyâ??s first collection of poetry, Digressions of a Naked Party Girl, in 1998, and his theatre memoir, Ejaculations from the Charm Factory, in 2000. His second book of collected poems, Temptations for a Juvenile Delinquent, was published by ECW in 2003. He was recently the recipient of the Margo Bindhardt Award (from the Toronto Arts Foundation), the Silver Ticket Award (from the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts), and the ReLit Award (for his fourth novel, An English Gentleman), and also recently received a PhD from the University of Toronto. By day, Sky holds a University Research Chair in Drama and Creative Writing at the University of Guelph.

Sky Gilbert's profile page

Excerpt: Shakespeare Beyond Science: When Poetry Was The World (by (author) Sky Gilbert)

Appreciation for Shakespeare traditionally rests on detaching his work from the language; on confirming that Shakespeare is more than simply a poet. Technically speaking, Shakespeare was not merely a poet. He was a dramatist who wrote poetic plays with vibrant characters and engaging plots. But speech is language, and -- especially in a medieval context -- speech is rhetoric. And Shakespeare, himself a rhetorician, would have considered human speech to be the primary element of his work.

Editorial Reviews

Congratulations – your breakthrough is well-deserved and I think your book may be poised to be a real breakthrough for Oxfordians, because you have so well discussed such an important topic as the influence of Hermogenes on Shakespeare.

Roger Stritmatter, Professor of Humanities at Coppin State University

Gilbert’s ideas – richly expanded, developed, and generously footnoted – are part of a growing ‘Shakesqearean’ discourse – one that does not, one hopes, shake the spear so much as embrace the intersectionalities and multiplicities of queer identity with radical love, support, and above all, imagination.


I thought I'd read it all on Oxford and Shakespeare. Then I heard Dr. Gilbert talking about this book on the "Don't Quill the Messenger" podcast (#34) and was impressed with his fresh and insightful take on Shakespeare. (He was also more knowledgeable than the host, which almost never happens.) Anyway, his argument in this book is fascinating and, to me, quite convincing. I'm about halfway through the book, and it's fundamentally changing my understanding of Shakespeare and what he was trying to do. Strongly recommend to anyone who loves Shakespeare and is open to new ideas! The author writes pretty well for an academic, although the flow of his argument can be confusing. He will introduce an interesting question and then apparently go off in a completely unrelated direction. Only a few paragraphs later does it become clear how he was following up on the initial question. So the author would have benefited from working with an editor to catch typos and add segues to improve clarity. However it's readable enough if you keep going, and the innovative content makes it worth persisting.

Slippers Review

Gilbert has a real gift for explaining complicated intellectual ideas with conviction and clarity, and for keeping his prose cheerful – however deep he burrows. Frances Yates had that too.

Alexander Waugh, author of The House of Wittgenstein

I read it with great interest and sympathy. Good stuff: Macbeth as more about imagination than morality; on our double-edged attitude to Prospero; and on the link between heterosexuality and effeminacy, a point so often misunderstood.

Alexander Leggatt, Professor of English at University College, University of Toronto

Sky Gilbert's second feature is a step up the professional ladder from his first


It is the best book I’ve read this year, one of the most interesting books I’ve ever encountered.

Leslie Barcza

I'm utterly dazzled by its originality and scholarship. Just don't let yourself be put off by Gilbert's authorship heresy. Taking that in stride is a small price to pay for allowing Gilbert to open your eyes to profound new depths in the works of Shakespeare, and in the role of art in our lives. Gilbert knows that we suffer from the covert cult of "scientism"--that is, science implicitly turned into religion. It pervades our current conception of the world, to our detriment. Poetry and literature, as Gilbert demonstrates, have the potential to change our lives, by helping us understand ourselves. Harold Bloom famously accused Freud of plagiarizing Shakespeare in inventing psychoanalysis. I have practiced psychoanalysis for 45 years, and I am happy to concede Shakespeare's phenomenal understanding of his own mind, and of ours. Seldom have I read a book that is so original, while also being deeply learned. I confess I knew nothing about Hermogenes before reading this book. Although I'm familiar with many of the other thinkers Gilbert writes about, he wove their ideas together with those of Shakespeare in a breathtakingly fresh way.

Dr. Richard M. Waugaman

Gilbert brings clarity and a keen sense of relevance to reconstructing the theoretical influences that contributed to the development of Shakespearean style and consciousness.

Shakespeare's Bible

The truth is, Sky Gilbert has more theatrical flair in his little finger than anybody else in the Toronto scene....It is a measure of Sky Gilbert's theatrical genius

The Globe and Mail

Gilbert has spoken eloquently about society's persecution and misunderstanding of non-conformity- and that's a theme that goes beyond the specifics of homosexuality.

The Toronto Star

It is the best book I’ve read this year, one of the most interesting books I’ve ever encountered.


Other titles by Sky Gilbert