100+ best books on Shakespeare

The new (RSC) Complete Works of Shakespeare, based on the First Folio and edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen comes with a companion website. The site contains a lot of interesting material: a video-clip the First Folio, a powerpoint on editing by Eric Rasmussen, a long essay which makes the case for the editors’ choice of the Folio as their base text, and a wonderful Shakespearean blog by Jonathan Bate.

The site also has a reading room, in which you may retire to acquaint yourself with the 100+ best books on Shakespeare (opt for the Modern Library site if you prefer to see the list as one page.)

The list is divided into the following categories:

  • biographies and general studies
  • Shakespeare as collaborator
  • Shakespeare’s theatre
  • sources and literary/dramatic contexts
  • historical and political contexts
  • language
  • verse-speaking
  • dramatic techniques and forms
  • actors’ and directors’ interpretations
  • teacher’s guides
  • gender
  • comedies
  • histories
  • tragedies
  • poems and sonnets
  • textual questions
  • Shakespeare in the theatre from 1660 to the present
  • Shakespeare on screen
  • key interpretations down the ages
  • fictional treatments

Works on the list include recent and well-known publications such as Bate’s The Genius of Shakespeare, Greenblatt’s Will in the World, Schoenbaum’s Shakespeare’s Lives, Gurr’s Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London and Gillies’ Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference. [Hmmm – why did I pick 5 male authors there? A quick count gives the answer: only 22 out of 100+ best books were written or edited by women, apparently.]

A good thing about the list, I think, is that it also contains a number of ‘old-historicist’ works that current criticism has defined itself against — works that do not tend to be read so much as referred to. Examples are Theodore Spencer’s Shakespeare and the Nature of Man (1943) — “invaluable intellectual context” and Eustace Mandeville Wetenhall (bet you didn’t know that’s what E. M. W. stood for) Tillyard’s Shakespeare’s History Plays (1944) — “much-contested account of the histories in relation to the ‘Tudor myth.'” Also on the list is Shakespeare’s England — “not to be trusted on matters of historical interpretation, but there is no better compendium of information about life and customs in Shakespeare’s England.” This last book is available, scanned, online — just click on the image and start reading!

I’m glad to say that I own or at least have read a considerable number of books on the list, but there are some books there that I definitely want to get my hands on. For example:

  • Peter Mack, Shakespeare, Montaigne and Renaissance Ethical Reading (forthcoming 2008) — “groundbreaking account of how Shakespeare read”
  • Philip Davis, Shakespeare Thinking (2007) — “brief and brilliant study of the interplay of thought and language”
  • Tiffany Stern, Making Shakespeare: From Stage to Page (2004) — “very useful introduction to practical processes”
  • Tony Howard, Women as Hamlet (2007) – “revelatory”

Time to update my Amazon wishlist!

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