365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

20. Five books about Shakespeare

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As you may know, I like to read books. As you also may know, I like Shakespeare. As you have probably discerned from the aforementioned liking of reading books and Shakespeare, I especially like it when I get to read books about Shakespeare. Here are a few I thought I’d mention that I have particularly liked for some reason or other:

1. My Name is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare by Jess Winfield. I first picked this up because the cover art struck me: sex, drugs, and Shakespeare? What’s not to like? The second thing that caught my eye was the very-familiar name of Jess Winfield. For those who love the Reduced Shakespeare Company as much as I do, it’s worth noting that Winfield is a founding member and co-author of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)! The book is strange, I’ll admit, going back-and-forth between the 1980’s in California and Shakespeare’s England, but the story is humorous and intelligent. Where else can you read about a grad student writing his thesis on the idea that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic (all while engaging in multiple sexual trysts and transporting a gigantic hallucinogenic mushroom) at the same time as reading about the theoretical young William Shakespeare himself? Give it a read – you’ll surely laugh out loud, and even if you aren’t  totally brushed up on the Bard, there are references aplenty that don’t require a degree to appreciate.

2. The Tainted Muse: Prejudice and Presumption in Shakespeare and His Time by Robert Brustein. Okay, I admit it, I haven’t actually finished reading this yet. But I’m working on it, and so far, it’s really fascinating. I just finished the section on misogyny and Brustein pointed out many moments in the plays that either I hadn’t paid attention to before or did not see in that light. I am excited to continue on to the next chapters. It reads like a term paper – and I mean that in a good way, meaning that it is an intelligent read – but far less boring. A good read for anyone curious about subtext or looking for an idea for a class project.

3. Performing Shakespeare’s Tragedies Today: The Actor’s Perspective edited by Michael Dobson. My first reaction to this book was utter excitement. I have lately been discussing a few dream productions of various tragedies with my boyfriend in hopes that someday we will be able to stage them, and after reading this book, I was overflowing with new ideas. Maybe we could take a leaf out of Greg Hicks’ book and have the ghost of Hamlet’s father be skeletal and move as though in another dimension. And what if Gertrude appears to literally shrink as the play progresses, like the Gertrude that Imogen Stubbs played? And of course I am always happy to read anything Antony Sher writes, and his essay on Iago presents many possibilities for the character. It is always interesting to hear about actors playing these great roles, and these essays are fantastic for any actor to read.

4. Year of the King: An Actor’s Diary and Sketchbook by Antony Sher. I talk about this book all the time, and I think for good reason. Everyone I’ve discussed it with has agreed that it is a truly fascinating read and that Sher’s sketches are nothing short of beautiful. The book chronicles his time playing Richard III with the Royal Shakespeare Company, from the time he was offered the role right up until performances began. His process for developing the character involved everything from visiting people with “spastic” conditions to taking note of attitudes in his native South Africa. His writing alone would make the book an enjoyable read, but his sketches are a welcome addition and help illustrate some of the points he makes. I highly recommend this book to actors and directors alike!

5. Filthy Shakespeare: Shakespeare’s Most Outrageous Puns by Pauline Kiernan. Everyone who knows me knows that I am a sort of real-life Hero from Much Ado About Nothing: generally blissfully unaware of all the sexual language being used around me (and sometimes inadvertently by me). I can’t even tell how many times I’ve had to have dirty jokes explained to me recently. It’s a little sad, now that I think about it. That’s why I bought this book. I was desperately hoping that I would know more than I thought, that perhaps nothing in the book would surprise me, that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t such a naive little flower after all. HA. Yeah right. It was dizzying how many of the passages induced blushing and how often I couldn’t help but look up to be sure no one was reading over my shoulder! The book is incredibly funny, very interesting, and sure to make you think twice about just about every line in every play. Shakespeare…you dirty, dirty man.

All of these books can be found and purchased on Amazon, and all of the links will send you directly to their page on that site. Check them out!

The Tainted Muse: Prejudice and Presumption in Shakespeare and His Time

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Written by Caroline Mincks

October 20, 2009 at 6:59 PM

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