Musings on Shakespeare Guidebooks

The Essential ShakespeareUnless you’re an academic who has studied The Bard for your entire career, you really need a guide, a Virgil if you will, to enter the dark forest of Shakespeare and find your way about in it. At the very least, you’ll want a guide to Shakespeare’s language and wordplay to illuminate the texts.

Fortunately, there are plenty of guides to be had in the printed world. From essays on a single soliloquy to books that explore the entire canon, there is no shortage of guides available, online and in hardcopy. Of course, I recommend the latter because, well, it’s a book.

Books of single plays are often embellished with in-depth essays about the language, the background history, sources, performances, and characters in the play itself, and these are often the best for focusing on that one play. Collected works have similar, albeit shorter, articles. But what I want to look at in this post are general books about the canon; both plays and poetry. These guides allow readers to explore a particular play or poem, then read further on related works and indeed the rest of the canon.

For example, you might want to know about Henry IV Part 1, where the ever-popular Falstaff shows up. Then, you might want to learn his fate in Henry IV Part 2 before you read that play. Or before you read Henry V where young Hal has morphed into the charismatic leader beyond the hijinks of his earlier days with Falstaff. That might lead you to the rest of Shakespeare’s English history plays, especially the two tetrads that cover the period from Richard II to Richard III. But it might also lead you into The Merry Wives of Windsor, written to bring Falstaff back to life in more comedic (but bittersweet) fashion than ever.

Some guidebooks are descriptive: they focus on the who, what, where, and when of a play. Others are more explanatory and delve deeper into the why, examining the motivations of both the characters and the playwright. Some guides look more deeply for themes or issues, such as politics and religion. Others look at the plays more from a theatrical or performance perspective, especially helpful for an audience member.

A guide to the canon allows you to stroll through The Bard’s works from a height, examine the lay of the land, and read about his works and what to expect before you tackle the actual plays or poems. Learn what events to anticipate, what major threads run through any play, what characters to watch for, what speeches to focus on, discover what’s historical and what’s imagination, learn the source material, read interpretations of soliloquies and phrases or translations into modern form.

Here’s a brief look at the several guides and related books in my own library, with my personal perspective on them. Any or all of them can help you appreciate and understand Shakespeare, and I recommend you have at least one of them beside you for quick reference when you read a play or poem (the first two or three listed are my top choices). I’ve added a few categories to clarify what they include:

  • Coverage: BC (basic canon: the 36 First Folio plays and Pericles, and possibly major poems and sonnets); EC (extended canon: includes The Two Noble Kinsmen, sonnets, major poems), FC (full canon as of 2021: includes Edward III, and some disputed poems), LC (limited canon: covers only some of the canon, usually selected from the First Folio);
  • Synopsis: Full (may include overview, plus each act summarized, possibly each scene summarized); Essay (longer essay about the play rather than a breakdown by component); Brief (shorter overview);
  • Extras: DT (dramatic personae or list of characters), performances, background history, general background, language, asides, details (line or word count, date), illustrations, colour, indexes, etc.;
  • Audience: SA (scholarly or academic), LA (lay aficionado — what I consider myself), GI (general interest);
  • Rating: a personal opinion out of five possible stars.

The list is in order of my rating out of five stars. And, as you might expect, I have a few of these books. Keep in mind, I am not a scholar or academic; merely a guy who likes to read and tries to understand Shakespeare. Watch for additional titles in the comments, and reviews of other Shakespearean titles in future posts.

Essential Shakespeare, by Leslie Dunton-Downer and Alan Riding, Dorling Kindersley (DK) Publishing, 2004, 480 pages. My copy is trade paperback size with a stiff (not hardbound) cover.

This is my go-to book when I start to read a play and my favourite of all my guidebooks. It provides a wealth of accessible, condensed information about the plays, plots, and characters (plus about the poems). Little factoids offer the sort of fun trivia that aficionados delight in. Provides a brief synopsis for each play by act. Easily readable by any level of reader and extremely well designed. Plays are arranged in traditional four categories (histories, comedies, tragedies, and romances). I highly recommend this book to every reader of Shakespeare.

  • Coverage: FC (includes Edward III);
  • Synopsis: Full (overview and act);
  • Extras: DT, lengths, dates, explanatory essays, language, history, performances, colour illustrations and photographs throughout, keyword index;
  • Audience: GI, LA;
  • Rating: *****

The Globe Guide to Shakespeare: The Plays, The Productions, The Life, by Andrew Dickson, with contributions by Joe Staines, Pegasus Books, 2016, 700 pages. Large trade paperback format.

Like the Essential Shakespeare, this is a comprehensive, accessible overview that provides a look at each play, with a synopsis of each act, characters, factoids, performances, and many extra essays on the works, sources, life, and language. Includes Edward III. Includes information about performances, audio, editions, and criticism. The sonnets have a general introduction chapter, while Lucrece, Venus, and Lover’s Complaint have more extensive chapters. Limited number of quotations. Many B&W illustrations and photographs. This is my second-favourite guidebook, although I feel the content and analysis are often more insightful than in the Essential Shakespeare. Dickson is also the author of the Rough Guide to Shakespeare. Also highly recommended.

  • Coverage: FC (Edward III is covered);
  • Synopsis: Full (overview and act);
  • Extras: Many essays, asides, and factoids, resource sections for books, websites, and apps; keyword index; many illustrations and photographs;
  • Audience: GI and LA;
  • Rating: *****

Shakespeare After All, by Marjorie Garber, Anchor Books, 2005, 90 pages. Thick trade paperback size. A more scholarly approach although easily readable by a lay aficionado. Garber has a lengthy essay on all the plays in the extended canon, but none for Edward III, the sonnets or poems. Good insight into the plays and characters (the “why”). No detailed lists or charts, although every play begins with a list of dramatic personae. She quotes extensively from each play, and examines motivations, language, and plot very succinctly. The plays are arranged by date written, with some minor changes (Henry VI plays are in order of events). I would love to read a sequel that included Edward III and the apocrypha, as well as the poetry.

  • Coverage: EC;
  • Synopsis: Essay;
  • Extras: DT, general and character indexes, bibliography, no illustrations;
  • Audience: SA and LA;
  • Rating: *****

Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, by Harold Bloom, Riverhead Books, 1998, 746 pages. Thick trade paperback.

Bloom’s eccentric, enthusiastic, and very personal essays are a delight to read, but demanding for the casual reader. He drifts easily into the pedantic. He covers the plays through The Two Noble Kinsmen, but not Edward III, and none of the poems. He includes some quotations (some very long ones, too) from the plays. Rather idiosyncratically, he organized his essays in nine groups based on when the plays were alleged to have been written. There are some short complementary essays, but no index nor bibliography, nor are sources cited. I really like this book and Bloom’s personal love of The Bard, but the lack of supporting material and references annoys me to no end.

  • Coverage: EC, plays only;
  • Synopsis: Long essay;
  • Extras: a few essays (the essay on “Shakespeare’s Universalism” is the best).
  • Audience: SA and LA;
  • Rating: ****

Shakespeare A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Plays, His Poems, His Life and Times, and More, by Charles Boyce, Delta Books, 1990, 742 pages. Large trade paperback.

A useful reference arranged alphabetically, covering a wide range of topics such as locations, characters, Elizabethan times. Plays are given a synopsis by act and scene, with additional material on sources and text, but not a list of characters. Edward III is only mentioned in passing, but The Two Noble Kinsmen gets full coverage. A good reference when you want to find something specific, but not the sort of book you’re likely to pick up to read from cover to cover.

  • Coverage: EC; some of the apocryphal pieces get a small entry;
  • Synopsis: Full: act and scene;
  • Extras: appendix lists characters but does not reference in which play they appear, a few illustrations;
  • Audience: GI;
  • Rating: ****

The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, edited by Michael Dobson and Stanley Wells, Oxford University Press, 2001, 542 pages. large format hardcover (aka coffee-table book).

Like the A to Z guide above, this is a one-volume encyclopedia of all things Shakespearean, alphabetically arranged, with photographs and illustrations (in B&W). Each play gets a full synopsis by scene, with plenty of supporting material such as sources, critical history, and stage history. Only Edward III doesn’t get this treatment (although it has a brief entry). Wonderful book, but a bit large and heavy for reading in bed. Covers a wide range of topics, people, and events in very readable style. More scholarly than the A to Z.

  • Coverage: EC;
  • Synopsis: Full: by scene;
  • Extras: Charts, tables, maps, chronology, genealogies, further reading;
  • Audience: GI and LA;
  • Rating: ****

Shakespeare’s Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages 1337-1485, by John Julian Norwich, Scribner, 1999, 400 pages. Hardcover.

Not really a guidebook, but rather a history of English royalty from Edward III to Henry Tudor (later Henry VII), so it covers all of the canon’s plays from Richard II through Richard III, plus the disputed Edward III. Most of which is also in the BBC’s spectacular Hollow Crown series of films of the plays. And, of course, the text relates events and people back to the plays and vice versa. Spiced up by the occasional quote from them, it will help you appreciate the history plays and how Shakespeare altered the stories to fit his performances. Does not even consider other plays outside this historical zone, however.

  • Coverage: LC (eight plays in the two tetrads);
  • Synopsis: N/A;
  • Extras: genealogical tables, maps, emblems, index;
  • Audience: GI and LA;
  • Rating: ****

This is Shakespeare, by Emma Smith, Pelican Books, 2020, 350 pages. Paperback size.

Short, sharp essays on only 20 of the plays in the Folio canon that look mostly into the “why” of them. A good but somewhat dense read (her paragraphs are often longer than a single page; the book might have benefitted from an editor’s gentle handing in this respect). Limited number of quotations, no illustrations. Good content, but I wish for a second volume with the rest of the plays (and for a more active editor). No poems or sonnets covered.

  • Coverage: LC (covers 20 plays from the First Folio);
  • Synopsis: Essay;
  • Extras: further reading; keyword index, no illustrations;
  • Audience: LA and possibly SA;
  • Rating: ***1/2

Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare, by Isaac Asimov, Avenel Books, 1978, two volumes bound as one: 670 and 844 pages respectively. Thick hardcover.

The venerable guide by the late, remarkable polymath. Asimov covers the plays up to and including The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Venus, Lucrece, but not the sonnets. Rather than an analysis of the meaning, he gives us a plethora of details about the language, the history, the cultures, geography, background events, characters, and the references in the plays. He guides readers by fragments of lines and speeches, seldom more than four lines at a time, explaining everything his quick mind settled on.

The wealth of material is almost overwhelming and not broken into acts or scenes, so there are no convenient breaks. I find it easier to read an act in the actual play, then consult Asimov for that portion, rather than read his entire essay on that play, because I too easily forget everything he’s written about it. Available in other (two-volume and paperback) formats. What it lacks, however, are source references and a bibliography. Would benefit from a new layout, but the content still holds up.

  • Coverage: EC plays, only Venus and Lucrece in poems;
  • Synopsis: Essays;
  • Extras: separate index for each volume, a map with each essay, and a few family trees where relevant.
  • Audience: GI;
  • Rating: ***

A Brief Guide to William Shakespeare Without the Boring Bits, with introduction and commentaries by Peter Akroyd, Robinson, 2010, 448 pages. Trade paperback.

Despite the condescending title, this book provides a rather solid, basic guide to each play, arranged in the four main categories. It includes a very brief overview of the major poems and then an overview of the sonnets. Rather unnecessarily, it includes all of the sonnets without any other explanations about them. There’s an introduction to each category, then the plays get sources, a description of each of the main characters, and a somewhat lengthy plot summary punctuated with a few quotations. It concludes with a section on “wit and wisdom” which is basically a small selection of quotations. 

  • Coverage: EC, major poems, sonnets;
  • Synopsis: Essay;
  • Extras: DT, wit and wisdom, keyword index, some general essays;
  • Audience: GI and LA;
  • Rating: ***

The Pocket Companion to Shakespeare’s Plays, by J.C. Trewin, Mitchell Beazley, 1999, 192 pages. Pocket-sized hardcover.

The sort of handy guide you might take to a performance or have nearby when watching a DVD of a play. Each play is covered by a list of characters, a very short synopsis, followed by a slightly more detailed explanation of who the major characters are, plus notes on performance history. Short essays on the poems, The Bard’s life, the theatre, and the apocrypha are included. Good to get a quick overview, but the character and main character lists would be better conflated before the synopsis. Arranged in order of alleged composition.

  • Coverage: EC;
  • Synopsis: Brief;
  • Extras: DT, main characters, short glossary; short complementary essays, no illustrations;
  • Audience: GI;
  • Rating: ***

The Shakespeare Companion: Bardly Brilliance, Spectacular Sonnets, and Perfect Pentameters, by Emma Jones and Rhiannon Guy, Think Publishing, 2005, 160 pages. Small hardcover.

A small, eclectic collection of tidbits by and about The Bard apparently randomly arranged; trivia, details, history, family, performances, and more. Not really a guidebook, but rather a complement for aficionados who just enjoy all the extra stuff about and around Shakespeare. Fun, but not essential for understanding the plays. Nice gift item.

  • Coverage: BC;
  • Synopsis: N/A;
  • Extras: a very short index;
  • Audience: GI and LA;
  • Rating: ***

The Friendly Shakespeare: A Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Best of The Bard, by Norrie Epstein, Penguin Books, 1994, 550 pages. Trade paperback.

Epstein is also the author of The Friendly Dickens. She offers a fun romp through most of the plays, with a wealth of asides, extras and miscellanea that range from language to competitors to critical comments, to quotes, history, asides, and more. Plays are arranged in the usual categories, plus “problem plays,” and “tragicomic romances.” There’s also a section on “spin-offs.” Unfortunately, there isn’t a single list to indicate what plays are included (or not) and the table of contents is poorly formatted for finding specific plays (I blame the editor). She focuses on the basic (First Folio) canon, but only 25 of the 36 plays are covered in any detail. Missing are Julius Caesar, All’s Well That End’s Well, Comedy of Errors, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, Henry VIII, King John, Measure for Measure, Pericles, Timon of Athens, and Two Gentlemen of Verona, plus Two Noble Kinsmen and Edward III. I find it difficult to countenance the omission of Julius Caesar as not among “the best.” Otherwise, it’s a good book for what it covers.

  • Coverage: BC (25 of the 36 plays), sonnets have a chapter, other poems are mentioned in passing;
  • Synopsis: none; plays have basic overview, what to look for, and factoids;
  • Extras: index, sources, and much other material throughout;
  • Audience: GI;
  • Rating: ***

A Reader’s Guide to Shakespeare, by Joseph Rosenblum, Barnes & Noble Books, 1998, 482 pages. Hardcover. Also published as Magill’s Choice: Shakespeare.

A solid, if not always inspired, overview of each play in the extended canon, as well as the major poems and fourteen sonnets, with contributions from 29 different scholars. Each play has principal characters, the story, sometimes an aside or two, critical evaluation, and a section for further study. Also notes the type of play, time of plot, locale, first performance and first publication dates. Many photographs and illustrations (in B&W), generally one per play. Has introductory essays on The Bard’s life, Vaguely scholarly without being overly pedantic.

  • Coverage: EC;
  • Synopsis: Essay;
  • Extras: character, quotation, and subject indexes; extensive bibliography, lists of works, essay on the history of Shakespearean studies;
  • Audience: LA and SA;
  • Rating: ***

The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents, by Russ McDonald, Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2001, 452 pages. Trade paperback.

I included this as one example of a scholarly book, rather than a guidebook, about Shakespeare because it adds context and content without being about specific plays. Includes chapters about Shakespeare’s life and times, London, the theatre, language, politics, religion, family and gender, and performance, and replicates historical documents. If you want to learn more about The Bard and the world he lived in, this is one of many books that will provide some of the information. It is not a guidebook to his plays, and not a biography(  look to Shapiro, Wood, or Wells for one).  Still, it’s about Shakespeare, so why not? 

  • Coverage: N/A;
  • Synopsis: N/A;
  • Extras: index, web resources, bibliography;
  • Audience: SA and LA;
  • Rating: ***

The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies, edited by Stanley Wells, Cambridge University Press, 1997, 330 pages. Trade paperback.

Another collection of scholarly essays, but not a guide to the plays. This is just one of several Cambridge Companion books to Shakespeare, and like the rest in the series, is more attuned to the scholar than the lay or casual reader. Again it can help expand your knowledge and appreciation of The Bard’s works, but won’t guide you through any particular play or poem. Check the Cambridge website for the rest in the series.

  • Coverage: N/A;
  • Synopsis: N/A;
  • Extras: index, Shakespeare reference books; some illustrations;
  • Audience: SA;
  • Rating: ***

Shakespeare’s Shakespeare: How the Plays Were Made, by John Meagher, Continuum Publishing, 2000,  240 pages. Trade paperback.

A scholarly and detailed exploration of how seven of Shakespeare’s plays were written and performed, with considerable information about Elizabethan theatre itself. Covers only  Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, Richard II, and Henry IV Part 1. However, plays are not covered in separate chapters, but rather collectively in chapters about language, dramaturgy, use of space and time, character, plotting, sources. Quotations are modernized from the First Folio. Needs an index and bibliography. 

  • Coverage: LC (seven plays)
  • Synopsis: N/A;
  • Extras: none;
  • Audience: SA;
  • Rating: ***

The Sources of Shakespeare’s Plays, by Kenneth Muir, Methuen & Co., 1977, 320 pages. Hardcover.

A somewhat dated and fusty book, but with valuable scholarship for anyone who wants to know more about the books and poems from which Shakespeare drew his stories. Arranged by play in order of alleged composition in four categories: early plays, comedies and histories, tragic period, and last plays. Covers the BC (First Folio plus Pericles) only.  Somewhat dry and spends too much time referring to or making a counterpoint against other academics and their works (much of which is unavailable to the modern reader). But if you want a detailed examination of where and how Shakespeare’s source material was used, it does the job well (a reprint edition from 2009 is available). If you don’t want an entire book on the sources, check Shakespeare-online’s pages for source material

  • Coverage: BC;
  • Synopsis: N/A;
  • Extras: index;
  • Audience: SA, but perhaps LA;
  • Rating: **1/2

Who’s Who and What’s What in Shakespeare: A Complete A to Z Reference Guide with Over 6,000 Entries, by Evangeline O’Connor, Gramercy Books, 1998, 420 pages. Hardcover.

This is a reprint from an older edition (O’Connor herself died in 1940) and looks like a facsimile reproduction with archaic typography (may be different in other editions, but I would guess the original might have been printed in the 1920s or early ’30s). Basically a dictionary of characters, words, and references, with citations to locations in the plays where relevant. Poorly formatted in that each letter of the alphabet is not separated by anything more than an extra line of space. Desperately needs a new layout and redesign. Useful reference for scholars and serious readers, but not for the casual reader, Dated.

  • Coverage: BC;
  • Synopsis: N/A;
  • Extras: none;
  • Audience: LA and SA;
  • Rating: **1/2

Berryman’s Shakespeare: Essays, letters, and Other Writings by John Berryman, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001, 396 pages. Trade paperback.

Berryman (1914-72) was a Pulitzer-prize-winning poet, a critic, an essayist, lecturer, and serious Shakespearean. This book includes 25 of his essays and lectures, some on specific plays, on the sonnets, others on The Bard’s life, writing, language, and cultural milieu, but without any particular focus. Like Bloom, he’s sometimes a tough read for non-academics, and sometimes achingly pedantic, but he has insights worth the effort. Would benefit from an index.

  • Coverage: BC (only nine plays discussed at length);
  • Synopsis: N/A;
  • Extras: notes at end, no illustrations;
  • Audience: SA;
  • Rating: **1/2

The Shakespeare Book of Lists: The Ultimate Guide to the Bard, His Plays, and How They’ve Been Interpreted (and Mis-interpreted) Through the Ages, by Michael LoMonico, The Career Press, 2001, 232 pages. large format paperback.

A book of entertaining miscellanea: lists and tables of all sorts of Shakespeare-related data, including common words, weird words, troublesome words, names, foods, expressions, holidays, clothing, how many words or lines a character has, and a lot more. Lists have some explanation, but the content and quality of explanations vary. Organized by general topic (life, England, language, plays, etc.). The BC (First Folio) plays are all given a section for main characters, great lines, and one great passage, but no synopsis. A fun complement to other guidebooks, but you won’t learn much about the plays themselves from it. Lists about theatrical seasons and performances are quite dated. Hardly an “ultimate” book without the extended canon plays.

  • Coverage: BC;
  • Synopsis: N/A;
  • Extras: index, bibliography;
  • Audience: GI;
  • Rating: **1/2

Shakespeare for Dummies, by John Doyle and Ray Lischner, Wiley Publishing, 1999, 364 pages. Large trade format paperback.

The “Dummies” series is generally for avid aficionados who are not necessarily scholars yet are keen to learn, but some books in the series try too hard to be cute and funny. This book generally fits that pattern. It wants to inform and engage readers, but also tries a bit too hard to be an exercise book, with scorecards to fill in. That just feels a bit too high-schoolish for my taste. 

I also don’t like the clumsy layout that doesn’t show the play title in the page’s harder or footer, so it makes it difficult to leaf through it and see where you are. I keep hunting for the start of the play’s summary (often found mid-page, not starting a new page).

Synopses include key characters, summaries by act, and a reference to any video production. Plays are arranged by the three folio categories, and include The Two Noble Kinsmen, but not Edward III. Poems and sonnets are covered, and there are several introductory chapters that discuss the language, how to read a play. As a side note, it has a section called “Ye Olde Hollywood” but fails to explain that “ye” is a misreading of the (spelled with a thorn Þ instead of th) and that annoys me. Some B&W photographs, very few quotations from the plays. Overall adequate without offering anything you can’t get in another book.

  • Coverage: EC;
  • Synopsis: Full: by act;
  • Extras: many asides, cartoons, cultural references, hints and tips, index, and more;
  • Audience: GI;
  • Rating: **

The Everything Shakespeare Book: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding the Comedies, Tragedies, and Sonnets of the Bard, by Peter Rubie, Adams Media Corporation, 2002, 310 pages. Large-format paperback.

A competitor to the Dummies series, above, but with bigger type. No photographs or illustrations. Includes Edward III, but the section on the sonnets and poems is thin. Plays are arranged in alphabetical order, and like in the Dummies book, the name of the play isn’t in the header or the footer, so navigation is clumsy. The synopsis includes main characters, a brief introduction, overview, commentary and a handful of “famous” lines. Introductory chapters include biography, authorship conspiracy, rivals, language, culture, and a general look at the plays. Overall, not much here you couldn’t get elsewhere in a more comprehensive form.

  • Coverage: EC;
  • Synopsis: Brief essays;
  • Extras: index, cursing, resources including bibliography;
  • Audience: GI;
  • Rating: **

The Shakespeare Handbook: The Bard in Brief, by R.M. Maslen and Michael Schmidt, Quercus Publishing, 2008, 208 pages. Large-format hardcover.

An odd book that includes 50 scenes from the 37 canonical plays (not Two Noble Kinsmen or Edward III), with a brief overview of the play on the first page. Scenes are printed in two-column format over two pages, and have some asides explaining one or two items in the scene. There is a full-page B&W photograph with each play. Poems and sonnets are not covered. Plays with more than one scene have a separate page to explain the scene. The source of the text for the scenes is not identified. While the explanations are well written, they are brief. I’m not sure who this book would appeal to, aside from obsessive aficionados like me, since you can get far more in-depth and insightful overviews in other books.

  • Coverage: EC;
  • Synopsis: one-page essays;
  • Extras: index;
  • Audience: GI;
  • Rating: *

And FYI, I have not received any of these books free from publishers or distributors for review purposes. Each was bought and paid for by myself.

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3 Comments

  1. Shakespeare Basics for Grown-Ups: Everything You Need to Know About The Bard, by E. Foley and B. Coates; Plume (Penguin Random House), 2014, 326 pages, trade paperback. A long way from everything: it only covers a third of the plays in any depth; the rest are merely mentioned in a passing mention or a line quoted from them.
    The best part is in the introduction where all of the plays get a one-sentence description (EC: includes The Two Noble Kinsmen). There’s a brief overview of each of the three basic categories, then a lengthy summary of only some of the plays in that category, but no breakdown by act or scene, and no list of characters.
    The table of contents does not list all of the plays or poems included (I counted 5 comedies, 3 histories, 5 tragedies for a total of 13 plays, plus 4 sonnets). Hardly “everything.”
    The text is well written and provides a lot of asides, trivia, history, and quotations, but like Epstein’s The Friendly Shakespeare it simply doesn’t cover enough (both leave out Julius Caesar). Had it been more inclusive, this would be a nice guide, but it simply lacks too much material.

    • Coverage: LC (13 plays, four sonnets);
    • Synopsis: lengthy essays, some extras and asides, no DT;
    • Extras: index; quiz, famous actors, dating of the plays, some illustrations, introductory biography and essay on language;
    • Audience: GI;
    • Rating: **
  2. I should have added that regardless of which guidebook to the plays and poems you select, you should also have a copy of David and Ben Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary & Language Companion (Penguin Books, 2002, 650 pages, large trade paperback). While plays may have notes and glossaries to explain Shakespeare’s meanings and usage, this is the comprehensive guide to the words he used. It has many asides and extras, including lists of places cites, classical and non-classical references, names, and more. I find it indispensable when I read a play.

  3. Somewhat disappointed: I received the Rough Guide to Shakespeare, 2nd edition (2009) this week, and it turned out to be an earlier version of the Globe Guide to Shakespeare (2016), just with some different photographs, and small text changes.

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