Shakespeare: A Playgoer’s & Readers Guide – Review

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By Sandra Callard

This concise new book with the slightly cumbersome title will tell the average devotee of Shakespeare just about everything they may want to know about the Bard’s published works. It is crammed with information of the most detailed kind. One particularly magnificent section gives the entire chronology of every one of the families involved in the history plays. These are, of course, plays which only concern the Houses of York and Lancaster, but Shakespeare did write nine history plays, which cover a huge amount of families. It even shows who was murdered or executed, which, unsurprisingly for those brutal bygone centuries, was somewhat prevalent.

The book is small and compact and belies the huge amount of information it contains. This is a book with no messing about. It gives its information clearly and in a pithy manner which enables the reader to absorb a great deal of information without too much cerebral effort.

Shakespeare A Playgoer’s & Readers Guide Review Book Review cover oxfordIf you think you know Shakespeare, think again. Each play gives the cast list, plot synopsis and scene-by-scene analysis of each of the forty seven plays and sonnets that Shakespeare wrote, which is incredibly useful and surprisingly informative. The reader will, without doubt, pick up facts they had not previously known, or have long-held niggling and confusing points made clear. It is in fact a book to cherish which will clarify to the reader just about any query they may have regarding the writings of the greatest literary force ever on the planet.

“Detail is phenomenal”

This is not a book which will convert the anti-Shakespearean, and that is not its aim. This is a book for lovers of Shakespeare who may feel a tad overwhelmed at times by the sheer avalanche of words to be absorbed from his plays. Even the sonnets, which are meant to be read, as the plays are not, can cause some slight slowing down in the rhythm of the reading, as a phrase requires a second look.

There is also a quite unexpectedly lengthy but edifying chronology of the Bard’s works and ‘reception’ from the day he was baptised on 26 April 1564 to his burial in Stratford-upon-Avon on 25 April 1616 and covering, not just every play and sonnet, but where each play has been performed over the years, and also every incident or cultural event regarding Shakespeare and the Royal Shakespeare Company right up to the present day. The detail is phenomenal and the information presented is exhaustive.

The print of the book is quite small and it is no wonder, as the amount of information the publishers have managed to instil into it is astounding. I cannot imagine that there would be any query regarding Shakespeare that could not be answered by searching in this book. It is a superbly informative publication which deserves a place on the bookshelf of any reader, Shakespearean lover or not. He impinges on our lives unbidden and dozens of his words are spoken every day by thousands who know their origin and by many more thousands who do not. Knowledge is power so they say – and this little book has a wonderfully powerful kick.

‘Shakespeare: A Playgoer’s & Readers Guide’, edited by Michael Dobson and Stanley Wells, is published by Oxford University Press, £14.99 paperback


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