Antony and Cleopatra, Act 1, Scene 1
This post’s title is in reference to me and my love for Shakespeare 😉 I’ve finally got round to posting about all the different books on Shakespeare I’ve been reading for my EPQ. Talking of which, I’ve finally finished my essay 🙂 Admittedly the brief was to write 5000 words, but let’s just say I got a little bit carried away and wrote around 8400… oops! Not sure if anyone would read the whole thing if I posted it up here; perhaps I’ll just put an edited version up? Or just the specific sections on Richard III, Henry V and Cleopatra? Please comment if that sounds like something you’d want to read 🙂
Anyway, onto the first Shakespeare book I read as part of my research:
- ‘1599’ by James Shapiro – I’m going to start off by saying that, although a very good book, this wasn’t particularly useful for my EPQ for various reasons, and so my opinions are probably a little subjective, since some of the other books I’ve been quoting in my essay for the past month, so I’m a little more obsessed with their brilliance than this one. What makes this an interesting read is that it isn’t solely a book of Shakespeare academia, it’s also a history book: ‘A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare’. 1599 was a year towards the end of the Elizabethan ‘Golden Age’, the year in which the Globe Theatre was built just 200 yards away from where the current version stands on the South Bank and the year in which Shakespeare is thought to have written ‘Henry V’ (although this could have been a year earlier), ‘Julius Caesar’, ‘As You Like It’ and ‘Twelfth Night’. Shapiro doesn’t examine the latter, choosing instead ‘Hamlet’ which most academics think was written in 1600, perhaps because As You Like It and Twelfth Night are pretty similar, and every academic likes Hamlet, right?! Shapiro doesn’t just examine these plays, but also the events of the year in London and Engliand, such as the Earl of Essex’s quest to take Ireland. Worth a read, if you’re into the Tudors, or history at all, or Shakespeare. It’s not as easy to read as some of the others in my opinion, but it isn’t ridiculously hard, just so packed with information, if you want to take all of it in, you might find yourself re-reading passages quite often.
- ‘Shakespeare on Toast’ by Ben Crystal – To anybody who doesn’t like Shakespeare, I say, READ THIS BOOK. At first I thought it was quite patronising and a little too dumbed down for my liking, but it’s actually brilliant! There are some really complex theories and explanations of things like iambic pentameter, but explained very simply and clearly. Everything you need to know about Shakespeare from the basics to the complicated, from his life, to his language to his characters… it’s all explained in here in very informal and friendly language (and also in very short chapters, if you can’t read more than a page or two before getting distracted). This is the book I’d most recommend reading if you can’t understand my ‘dotage’ on Shakespeare’s plays.
- ‘Shakespeare’s Language’ by Frank Kermode – Now, I’m going to be honest here: I haven’t read all of this. I thought it would be the most useful book I had, considering my entire essay is about Shakespeare’s linguistic techniques, but actually it’s written in a quite a confusing way, and so you have to concentrate on every single word to understand everything that’s being said. Also, Kermode just decides to skip out ‘Henry V’ almost entirely – not cool. If you’re already really into your Shakespeare, you could give this a go, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re new to it all or don’t really get why people like Shakespeare anyway.
- ‘The Genius of Shakespeare’ by Jonathan Bate – I. Love. This. Book. It’s totally amazing and insightful and interesting and useful and awesome. Y’know, not to rave about it at all 😉 I mainly love this book at the moment becuase I am massively endebted to it for many of the quotations and much of the information in my essay. This is probably a tome for people who like Shakespeare, have been to a couple of his plays, watched a couple of documentaries or films and feel likle finding out some more. The book not only examines Shakespeare’s works, his characters and language, but also the history of his influence down the years, including the various musicals, operas and ballets inspired by his plays. Seriously, worth a read. My favourite book out of the four.
So those are the main books I read on Shakespeare, but you’ve seen my beautiful purple book of quotes already, and I also bought myself so gorgeous editions of the three plays I looked at 🙂 They are sooo pretty, and I want the full collection so bad! All three are the RSC 2008 editions, and the pages are super smooth, and the covers are super classy. Plus they have really excellent introductions by Bate, and a history of the play in production and interviews with various directors at the back of the copies. If you’re doing any of the plays at school or uni, I’d recommend either these or the Arden editions, which many of the scholars whose articles I read referred to.
So that’s all 🙂 I’m going to see ‘Twelfth Night’ this Thursday, starring Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry and I am crazy excited! I’ll be sure to write up a blog on it, considering it’s suppposed to be one of the plays of the century. I’ll also try to write about the various books and plays I read/watched whilst doing the 30 Day Book Challenge, and didn’t have time to post about, like ‘Brighton Rock’, ‘Is It Just Me?’ (Miranda Hart‘s book), ‘The Dark Earth and the Light Sky’ (Almeida show on Edward Thomas and Robert Frost) and more. Thanks for reading!