MadHat Press

History of Theatre by MG Stephens

History of Theatre or The Glass of Fashion


M.G. Stephens’ History of Theatre or the Glass of Fashion is the seasoned work of a pure poet and fiction writer, a marriage of the concise and lyrical, suffused with both moments of keenly observed humanity and flights of luminous rumination.

—Richard Price, author of The Wanderers and Lush Life

The prose pieces that comprise nearly all of Michael Gregory Stephens’ A History of the Theatre or the Glass of Fashion only occasionally have the descriptive, reflexive feel of prose poems. They are more often meditations or brief fictions, reminiscent in their mastery of tone of the shorter prose pieces of Gilbert Sorrentino. There is a struggling actor here, a motif that engages and reengages wonderfully varied versions of Hamlet, the play, the role, the character. Yorick, Gertrude, Ophelia and even a remote, lost father pass through very concrete versions of Brooklyn, Manhattan, Ireland and Scotland. Stephens’ prose can be quick, idiomatic or inward looking and contemplative, but it is everywhere vivid, engaging and surprising.

—Michael Anania

It is rare to see such energy in a book of poems so clearly powered by years of accumulated experience. The collection is mostly in prose, its playfulness and themes signalled in the first piece by the voice of the actor about to play Hamlet while eating a ham omelet. So what, just another pun, you think, but it’s a pun that opens a door through which tumble an army of spirits, all being the spirit of the author himself, an author who is both Hamlet and Yorick at once. The whole is funny, grave and grand. Simply terrific.

—George Szirtes, author of Reel and The Burning of the Books

History of the Theatre or The Glass of Fashion
 is a work of astonishing virtuosity, erudition, and wit, at once moving, surprising, pleasurable, and as exquisitely twisted as a climbing vine. Herein one Cornelius O'Shaughnessy, an actor who identifies not only with Hamlet but with all who have ever played that conflicted prince, lives at once in both horizontal and vertical time. The self/actor dyad is sometimes a rhyme, sometimes a distinction without a difference. This book is more, much more, than a collection of prose poems — the intricate play of its episodes accrues to a kind of novel, one Beckett would applaud, or perhaps Sterne, a postmodern picaresque that moves easily back and forth between laughter and tears, reminding us how deep and complicated and wonderful we human beings are. Bravo Cornelius! Bravo Hamlet! Bravo M. G. Stephens!

—Richard Hoffman, author of Half the House and Gold Star Road

Hats off to M.G. Stephens for writing a book I never realized I needed. Imagine Joyce and Beckett writing Hamlet about a youngish New York actor, with wordplay and wit as sharp as a guillotine. The jokes come fast and furious—ham omelets, Helen of Troy, Bukowski, Jimmy Durante, and the Guinness Book of the Dead. Stephens is a riff master extraordinaire.

—Richard Peabody, ed., Gargoyle Magazine

Poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, and memoirist M.G. Stephens’s “big prose poem book” includes 126 one-page (more or less) episodes, monologues and meditations from the life of one Cornelius Michael O’Shaughnessy, an actor, alcoholic, and teacher, who begins at age 36 by “preparing for the role of my life”— a Hamlet for our times in 1980s Manhattan— and who now in his seventies views his life as a mock epic.  He betrayed dreams of Ophelia with fantasies of Helen of Troy; in “The Bishop’s Lawn,” while playing chess and picnicking, he and his family are chased off a sacristy lawn by a self-involved bishop, who “appears like a figure in a chess game, moving diagonally in the direction of an economy-sized American car.”  The ironies abound, as much in marvel as in grief.

—DeWitt Henry, author of Sweet Marjoram and founder of Ploughshares

I reJoyce! History of Theatre or the Glass of Fashion is for a literature lover the romp of pure freedom through a meadow of playful prose in the most masterful language. It’s a great lark and Stephens sings his Homeric song with a poet’s brevity and surprise and how he knows his Pantheon! Bacchus is howling with mirth! I read this in wonder.

—Peter Rand, author of China Hands

Pure delight this new book...

Most personal in many ways...
A BOOK about memory and finding the self
always a surprise...

A book that is: a poem novel prose meditation treatise AT PLAY.

—Harry Lewis

I love the way this gorgeous meditation veers with daring and grace between poetry and prose, between art and life.

—Hilma Wolitzer

  • Paperback: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Madhat, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-952335-13-6
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