Monday, January 2, 2012

Books About Shakespeare (Shakespeare Reading Month).

In honor of Shakespeare Reading Month, I thought it might be a good idea to feature different aspects of the bard. While many of us have been exposed to a play or two (Romeo and Juliet in high school?), and know the basics about his life and world, why not take the opportunity to explore more?

I went on a little quest to find some books about dear Will. In addition to selecting a little biography to read in the midst of my pile of plays, I also wanted to find a variety of things for you all to mull over. Who knows, you might be inspired to pick one of these up one day!

I should preface this by saying I haven't read any of these. :) I found these by scouring my bookstore, as well as some searching online. There are MANY more biographies, criticisms, and random books about Shakespeare out there; these titles are ones I found interesting (and have added to my own TBR list). Please enjoy and let me know if you've read any of these in the comments below!

Bardisms: Shakespeare for all Occasions by Barry Edelstein

This title is one I spent some time flipping through in the bookstore. Edelstein identifies many of Shakespeare's best quips, passages, quotes, and advice and organizes them for easy reference. It is a fun book and one that I really loved looking through.

This is a great reference book, especially when you are looking for a quote for a perfect occasion-know what I mean? ;) I would love to have this one on my shelf, especially for use in a classroom.

(275 pages)

Shakespeare's Words: A Glossary and Language Companion by David and Ben Crystal

This one almost made it home with me. I had it in my arms until I hit the register, then I sadly walked and put it back. I'm still wondering why I didn't just buy it!

This volume is a great reference book, especially for those who want to dive deeper into the nuances and quirks of Shakespeare's actual language. It discusses some of the "made-up" words Shakespeare uses, as well as references to things that have passed from our common knowledge.

This one is definitely going to make it on my shelf at some point!

(676 pages)

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom

The bookstore didn't have this one in stock, which made me sad since this is the one I went to the store to buy. :) In this volume, Bloom goes through the complete works of Shakespeare and points out the lessons, insight, etc that Shakespeare shares within his works. It has a huge emphasis on the words Shakespeare invented, as well as his lasting impact on the English language.

In addition, Bloom also explains how Shakespeare's characters show us the true side of humanity through their struggles and triumphs.

This is one I know I am going to keep searching for as the month goes on because it really is a title I want to read now. I'm impatient and I don't want to wait. :)

(745 pages)

Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd

When I asked, the worker who was helping me told me that this one was the most read of any they carry on a regular basis in the store.

This title focuses on the life and world of William Shakespeare. I flipped through it. The style is very approachable-pulling the reader directly into the life and times of Shakespeare's world. from what I read, Ackroyd writes in a very approachable and meaningful style that pulls you in.

One thing I did notice is that Ackroyd does make some assumptions about Shakespeare in his every day life. Because as famous as Shakespeare is, he really didn't leave a lot of information about his everyday life behind

This is another one I'll have to get to sooner rather than later. I really enjoyed the few pieces I read!

(592 pages)

Contested Will: Who wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro

If you are looking for a book about the controversy surrounding Shakespeare's authorship, this is probably the book to choose. In this one Shapiro examines the question of whether William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays attributed to him. Since Shakespeare was poor and relatively uneducated given the depth and complexity of his plays, there has always been a question of whether his contemporaries (like Marlowe) actually penned his plays.

This is definitely one to think about, but considering I wanted this month to be a celebration of Shakespeare's works, I figured I would leave the controversy and that whole discussion for a later date.

But I do want to read this one at some point!

(384 pages)

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt

I found this title in one of my many searches online. Sadly, it was also not in stock at the bookstore.

But! This one looks fascinating. The author, Greenblatt, uses the information that IS known about William Shakespeare to draw connections between his own life and scenes from his plays. There is a lot of focus on the places historians know Shakespeare visited in his lifetime, as well as the influences in his world (like Catholicism, politics, etc).

I almost see this one as the other side of the controversy. I like that Greenblatt makes real connections to the information that we actually have!

(384 pages)

Shakespeare After All by Marjorie Garber

Garber's title is another one I found in a search online. This is a massive guidebook by one of the best Shakespeare scholars.

This book goes in chronological order through Shakespeare's plays. Garber uses a bunch of different literary theories to discuss each of the 38 plays, which is an interesting way to see Shakespeare.

I think this would be a great guide for someone taking Shakespeare more seriously-someone working their way through the complete works for example! In any case, I'm pretty curious about what Garber has to say about some of my favorite plays, so I might have to get my hands on this (lengthy) title.

(1008 pages

Shakespeare: A Guide to the Complete Works by Michael J. Cummings

This is actually the title Jillian is reading, so she can probably speak more about it than I can!

From what I have gathered online (this one wasn't in stock either-I looked for it), this title explores a lot of the history, themes, etc that relate to each of Shakespeare's plays. It discusses a lot of the background information about the plays and sonnets-something I could really sink my teeth into!

I think this is another title that would be great for those working through a larger number of Shakespeare's works!

(580 pages)

Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson

THIS is the title I brought home with me (I know you were all waiting to find out). :)

Bryson gives a concise biography on the Bard and his life. This title is probably the most recommended from what I found online and when I talked to other bloggers (it is also ranked 1st in the Goodreads list "Best Books About Shakespeare). I haven't had a chance to start it yet, but reviewers said that Bryson gives a great portrait of the man!

I should also note that there is another edition by Bryson also called Shakespeare. I've looked everywhere, and it seems that the second edition was released to expand on this one (what I can find tells me it includes pictures, maps, etc), but the content is the same.

(196 pages)

There you have it! A list of books about the famous William Shakespeare! I hope that I add one to your TBR!

Let me know in the comments if you've read any of these or have another title to add to the list.


  1. The power of suggestion has me interested in picking up some Shakespeare. Thanks, I think. I looked up the Harold Bloom book. I didn't buy it, but I did buy two of Bloom's other books--How to Read and Why and his poetry anthology.

  2. Wow, thanks for sharing all these Allie! I may have mentioned it before, but there is also an excellent "Guide to Shakespeare" by Isaac Asimov. It served as my compass for my 2008 Project: Shakespeare. I also own the Marjorie Garber book and it was my companion read AFTER I read the plays (Asimov, I read before reading the play to orient myself).

    I have always wanted to read Bryson's book but haven't gotten around to it yet. I have Bartlett's book of Shakespearean quotations, but the one you mentioned sounds like a lot more fun. Bartlett's was more of a "data dump."


  3. I read the expanded version of the Bryson book(my review link: It's called Shakespeare: The Illustrated Version and it has the same text but also pictures of the folios, maps, etc. It's a lovely version of the book but I don't know how widely available it is. I got it from an independent bookshop near London.

  4. So this book hasn't even been released yet (and when it is, I think it will be in the UK first and then maybe the US a year later) but I adore Jude Morgan so much and am on needles and pins waiting for its release; it's a novel about The Secret Life of William Shakespeare. I've loved all of the other Morgan books I've read (although I still have more to read) and am expecting great things from this one.

  5. I have just read and reviewed the Bryson book ( and thought it was generally well done. I had no idea that there was an expanded version - I'm going to keep an eye out for it.

    I have picked up the Contested Will book multiple times in the bookstore over the last month so I think it is inevitable that at some point it will actually leave the store with me!

    Thanks for a great post! I'm going to add a link at the bottom of my Bryson review.


  6. I'm ordering up Shakespeare After All, it looks wonderful. Thanks for the rec!

  7. Thanks for the list of great Shakespeare books! I've read Will in the World and Bryson's Shakespeare (both excellent in different ways) and I'm always looking for more about the Bard. If you want a very accessible Shakespeare recommendation, the Reduced Shakespeare Company's "Reduced Shakespeare: The Complete Guide for the Attention-Impaired" is wonderful.

  8. I have the Bloom book but have not read it yet, I did read his How to Read and Why and Western Canon, I highly recommend both, Bloom is one of my critical theory heroes.

  9. LOL, I was about to ask what book you were reading. Considering the lenght, the Bryson sounds like the perfect biography for this month.
    The Bloom and Ackroyd were the ones my European Lit professor recommended throughout the course. He had nothing but praise for them and this is a professor whose opinion I respect a lot, so I've been meaning to get them since I signed up for this Shakespeare Month. I don't know if I'll manage to get through them and read as many plays as I'd like, but I'll try.
    Thanks for the suggestions! :)

  10. I went searching for the Bryson book at the library, and I'm glad I had one specifically in mind: if I hadn't, there were way too many titles to choose from and I'd still be looking! I'm not very far, but it's an interesting read so far. Now that I know there's an edition with maps, though, I'm wishing that was the one the library had!

    I'm intrigued by the Crystal & Crystal and Bloom books. I have a fascination with language and words, so I think they would be really interesting. Plus, Shakespeare's language is so different from now! A reference would be handy.

  11. Thanks so much for posting this, Allie! I want so many of these books, especially Bloom, Ackroyd and Shapiro!

    The Cummings book I'm reading is very good -- very thorough. It covers everything, including Elizabethan England and the "contested will", and Will's bio. I've read a lot of it already -- the breakdown of the poems, sonnets, bio, etc. All I have left is the plays, which I'm pouring through slowly. I've read King Lear, MacBeth, Henry VIII, Hamlet, Titus Adronicus. Cummings devotes about six to twelve pages to a slow summary and analysis of each play.

    I'm reading out of order. The plays are actually covered pretty early in the book, and a lot of the bio happens near the end, alongside the sonnets.

    Anyway, it's an awesome book. Great intro for the Shakespeare event :-)

  12. Great blog.The Garber book is extraordinary. A fantastic read after you've read a play, her "take" on it brings a much deeper appreciation. She is eloquent and fascinating. I should also recommend a hard-to-find book, Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare - it's a huge reference volume that delves mostly into the history behind the plays, and has the format of using sequential quotes from the plays as starting points.

  13. I have Harold Bloom's book. It is not one to read cover to cover at all. It has a chapter per play, etc. so I read it as I read a play. As is typical of Harold Bloom, he's very opinionated, so I believe he needs to be read with a grain of salt.

    I listened to the audiobook of the Stephen Greenblatt book. I really enjoyed it. But then, I'm a sucker for New Historicism literary criticism, always have been. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the Bryson book. I hesitated to read that one simply because he's an everyday guy, not a scholar. Will be curious to know if he has anything new to say.

  14. Thanks for this overview. I finished Bryson's bio and thoroughly enjoyed it. An entertaining and concise introduction. You were right, the last chapter IS funny and amusing. Oh, the tales people can concoct!

  15. I'm currently reading Contested Will and hope to have a post up about it this month. I also bought Will in the World while I was in England. I like Greenblatt's literary theory writings, so I'm hoping that will be a good one. The Cummings one sounds like something that would have been nice when I was reading through all his plays! It might be nice as a refresher.

  16. Peter Ackroyd's book "Shakespeare - The Biography" was featured on Elaine Charles' radio show The Book Report recently. It was really amazing to hear the reader of the audio book describing life in London 400 years ago. This seems like an excellent read. You can listen to the review on the archived shows at