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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Faculty Emeritus Zak Publishes Shakespeare Studies

SALISBURY, MD---Since his retirement from full-time teaching in Salisbury University’s English department more than a decade ago, Dr. William Zak has focused primarily on scholarly work about Shakespeare.

In 2013, he published a massive study of the sonnets titled A Mirror for Lovers: Shake-speare’s Sonnets as Curious Perspective. The detailed analysis of each of the sequence’s 154 sonnets and their relationship to a satirical tradition whose lineage — fathered by Plato’s Symposium — also includes The Romance of the Rose, Dante’s Vita Nuova, Petrarch’s Canzoniere and a number of sequences in the Elizabethan sonnet revival.

This year, Zak has published two shorter studies, each an analysis of a single tragedy. Like his 2013 book, both were released by Lexington Books, a subsidiary of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing.

The first monograph, The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra: Asps Amidst the Figs, argues that audiences are meant to regard the lovers, not as sybaritic “strumpet and fool,” in the way George Bernard Shaw did, nor, by contrast, as the lovers see themselves — peerless figures transcending the very deaths to which Caesar’s heartless predation drives them.

Instead, it outlines the tragic blindness the play’s new Narcissus and his Echo carry with them to their wasting deaths. They unwittingly settle for roles as two more of the play’s many eunuchs, fanning the flames of a self-devouring passion when they might well have generated a more gratifying and productive relationship and heroism had their “intercourse” with one another been more vigorous and complete, Zak said.

It is not their deaths alone, but their entire experience in the play that seeks “easy ways to die” in preference to the shared quest. Alternatively, they might have undertaken to create a more substantial destiny than the mere notoriety they cultivate and relish, vainly content but to celebrate themselves and each other, according to Zak.

The other book, Hamlet’s Problematic Revenge: Forging a Royal Mandate, makes the case that the oft-noted turgidity in the play’s dramatic momentum, most notably evident in Hamlet’s delay, also functions as a succinct emblem of the “arrested development” in the moral maturity of all the players at Elsinore—Hamlet but the first among equals in this regard.

Truantly elbowing aside a more considerable moral obligation to each other’s well-being and that of their nation, the entire cast yields civic responsibility’s commanding priority to an immature, self-regarding fear of offending those in nominal positions of power and/or questionable positions of authority, Zak said.  In their unwitting laxity, all accomplish nothing more than to fiddle while Elsinore burns, despite the unrelenting consternation they put themselves through.

When Hamlet declares “how all occasions do inform against me / And spur a dull revenge,” he means only to whip himself into a yet greater fury and impulsion to violence than he has, to that point, been able to muster. However, the dramatic irony Shakespeare signals in these same words argues that everything Hamlet has done and will ever do implicitly indicts him of a criminality he does not and never will recognize, all his experiences doing nothing more than to goad him into a dull (i.e., ‘unenlightened’ now, not ‘insufficiently keen’) revenge when less lethal and more sensible means of securing justice remain unexamined and ignored by him, according to Zak.

As Hamlet himself is to declare after mistakenly having killed Polonius, thus “bad begins and worse remains behind” in the many other unnecessary deaths he is to bring about — directly and indirectly—in his headlong, self-flagellating rage and intent to avenge his father’s death on Claudius alone.

Zak’s next project is a book he’s been mulling for some time about poet Robert Frost. He and Dr. Tony Whall, retired director of SU’s Bellavance Honors Program, will examine Frost’s work this spring through a team-taught course being offered by the honors program.

For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU website at

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