There are thousands of books on Shakespeare and too many discuss him as if he wrote essays and was a purveyor merely of ideas.
In this book David Margolies emphasises Shakespeare as theatre man who used his plays to invoke an intellectual and, importantly, emotional impact on the audience.
Margolies offers an interesting thesis on the construction of the problem plays and their relevance today.
He defines them as plays that do not just contain a conflict. A contradiction, particularly between content and form, also exists and the often harmonious ending is in conflict with tensions that cannot be contained within the play.
In All's Well That Ends Well the concluding marriage is disturbing and feels false because it has been engineered and not come about through mutual love and in The Merchant of Venice it is the violation of naturalistic consistency that causes a disturbing uncertainty.
Margolies's analysis of the latter is particularly enlightening since he shows how Shakespeare juxtaposes different cultures and social contexts, signalling a changing world.
He argues that the discomfort the audiences are made to feel as a result of the artificially happy endings generates doubts and questions about the world in which the audience live. Through the problem plays' construction, Shakespeare conveys the uneasiness of a society in the process of transformation and it is this that makes them impact today.
Margolies includes Othello in the problem play category but I fail to understand why he does not include The Taming Of The Shrew. Here the happy ending contradicts the entire content of the play and provokes the kind of unease discussed elsewhere.
But he performs a service both in offering a Marxist perspective on the plays and advancing reasoned justifications for their continuing relevance in our own contradictory world.