Sanders, Wilbur. The Dramatist and the Received Idea:
Studies in the Plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1968.
Thesis: Sanders' general idea is that the supposed received ideas of Shakespeare's time, whether political or religious, are not large enough to contain or explain Shakespeare's plays. Sanders' first chapter, "Literature as History: with some Questions about 'Historical Imagination'," questions the very notion of recieved ideas. He points out that history is the story of continual change, including changes in what the people of the time (whatever time it was) thought and changes in what historians think they thought. Furthermore, Sanders is pretty sure that Shakespeare's thought cannot be confined within the past. This is the way he puts it:
Because he is able to give imaginative body and weight to so much of Elizabethan life and thought, Shakespeare makes us directly aware of a whole range of beliefs and attitudes which, though we know them to be historically conditioned and very much of an age, nevertheless seem to carry in their dramatised form guarantees of a much higher validity and permanence. Many of these conceptions are no longer part of our normal consciousness, and they present us, consequently, with the historical challenge of the foreign and the 'other'. Yet here they are, built into the foundations of an art that is still, and very properly, a part of modern consciousness. It is a very teasing paradox. But the appropriate response to it is not to attempt to resurrect the lost conditions by an act of will — propounding once more the cultural myth of an ideal Elizabethan society, and turning ourselves in the process into earnest literary anachronisms. It is rather to consider whether those conditions are indeed lost, and whether our failure to discern them is not a failure to think creatively about our own historical environment. We cannot be content to label the assumptions, which are woven into the very fabric of so impressive a web of meaning, merely 'out-of-date'.  (18)
Thus Sanders' project is to show that Shakespeare did not merely reflect ideas current in his own time; he took command of them. For example, here is part of Sanders' consideration of the problem of fate and free-will in Macbeth:
It is well to be clear . . . that free-will is not a 'problem' to which Shakespeare is propounding an answer. Rather it is a problematic nexus in human experience to which, as a dramatist, he is naturally drawn. On an obvious level Macbeth is free to refrain from murdering Duncan. On an only slightly less obvious level he was bound to do it. One does not have to opt for one of these versions of the play, for they are both intolerably superficial. What Shakespeare makes us feel, and feel inwardly, is the extremely tenuous division between the 'free' act and the 'determined' one, and the imaginative possibility of a world in which the balance has been imperceptibly tipped towards evil, so that man writhes and sprawls vainly on a greased slope that ends in perdition.  (282)
This observation is part of Sanders' treatment of the theme of evil, which is the main focus of his chapter on Macbeth, though he brings in many other topics, such as the imagery of blood, the witches, and the good characters. His conclusion about the evil in Macbeth is,
We are left with an awed sense of the overwhelming potency and vitality of evil, and with a subdued question about this concealed intention of nature. It is not a resolution, but a tremulous equilibrium between affirmation and despair, in which we submit ourselves to an unknown fear.  (307)

Evaluation: Sanders is an eloquent writer, fond of quoting Nietzsche and other eminent thinkers of both our time and Shakespeare's. His insights are uniformally persuasive, but I believe that sometimes he thinks that Shakespeare sees the world precisely as he — or Nietzsche — does. For example, it seems to me that the idea that Macbeth leads us to "submit ourselves to an unknown fear" is an idea too Nietzschean to be Shakespearean.

Bottom Line: An intelligent exploration of Shakespeare's thought.