Hamlet's Dresser: A Memoir

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Scribner, 2002 - Biography & Autobiography - 287 pages
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Bob Smith grew up in a town named for Shakespeare's birthplace: Stratford, Connecticut. His troubled childhood was spent in a struggle to help his devastated parents care for his severely retarded sister. But at age ten, Smith stumbled onto a line from "The Merchant of Venice: " "In sooth I know not why I am so sad." In the language of Shakespeare, he had found a window through which to view the world.

When he was a teenager, the American Shakespeare Festival moved into Stratford and Smith became Hamlet's dresser. As he watched the plays from backstage, his life's passion took shape. "I was a lonely, screwed-up kid, but the circus had come to town," Smith writes. "It had put up its strange tent, and I was being seduced to run away with it."

A few years later, he left home to travel with the Shakespeare Festival, and in the decades since, without a college credit to his name, he has taught the plays in universities and acting schools and prisons. For the past several years, he has probed the texts with thousands of the elderly in senior centers all over Manhattan.

Here, in gorgeous, tender, and lyrical prose, Smith tells the story of a life shaped by poetry. Melding tragedy and comedy, he gracefully weaves together the stories of his bittersweet childhood, his poignant experiences with the old people, and dozens of illuminating passages and scenes from Shakespeare's plays. Throughout, Bob's sweet, tortured sister plays both the beautiful Ophelia and the ghost to Bob's Hamlet, haunting the book with heartrending power.

"Hamlet's Dresser" is a redemptive memoir of a man made whole by art and an intimate encounter with the plays and sonnets that will make readers fall inlove with Shakespeare again or for the first time.

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User Review  - bnbookgirl - LibraryThing

There were parts of this book I devoured and other parts I had to make myself plow through. When Bob was at the senior centers reading Shakespeare and the parts about his sister Carolyn, those were ... Read full review

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User Review  - banjo123 - LibraryThing

[Hamlet’s Dresser] by [[Bob Smith]] I listened to this on audio, read very ably by the author. This is a memoir that covers Smith’s difficult childhood which was dominated by the care for his ... Read full review

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About the author (2002)

Bob Smith has devoted his life to teaching and directing Shakespeare, working with college students, famous actors, and the elderly. He recently moved back to Stratford, Connecticut, where he was born.

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