My Shakespeare Library

I’ve been asked quite a lot on how I read Shakespeare and what my fundamental library is. Here goes!

When reading Shakespeare I’m always looking for a way to experience what Virginia Woolf said she felt when reading his work. After using my modus operandi (14) I think I can now share and understand some of her exhilaration:

‘I read Shakespeare directly I have finished writing. When my mind is agape and red-hot. Then it is astonishing. I never yet knew how amazing his stretch and speed and word coining power is, until I felt it utterly outpace and outrace my own, seeming to start equal and then I see him draw ahead and do things I could not in my wildest tumult and utmost press of mind imagine. Even the less known plays are written at a speed that is quicker than anybody else's quickest; and the words drop so fast one can't pick them up. Look at this. "Upon a gather'd lily almost wither'd." (That is a pure accident. I happened to light on it.) Evidently the pliancy of his mind was so complete that he could furbish out any train of thought; and relaxing, let fall a shower of such unregarded flowers. Why then should anyone else attempt to write? This is not "writing" at all. Indeed, I could say that Shakespeare surpasses literature altogether, if I knew what I meant.’

A few stray thoughts coming directly from my experience of reading the entire canon (38 plays + poems + sonnets, counting “The Two Noble Kinsman” while leaving out, for the time being, “Edward III”):

  1.  For each play I read, I memorized something. I emerged from "Hamlet" knowing the "to be or not to be" soliloquy by heart, in the hopes that it would stay with me all my life. It’s become mine. I even did an android app to complement this;
  2.  I felt I wouldn’t "get" Shakespeare until I read and analysed his work whole. It was never my intention to go into it halfway; going in full is a sure bet and that I’d have the time of my life;
  3. For starters, I had to analyse myself in order to know why I wanted to start reading Shakespeare in this day and age. I strongly believe finding the reason to read his canon strongly affects how I read him;
  4. Shakespeare is a lifetime investment; that means I needed a good edition for this endeavor, and for that I bought “The Annotated Shakespeare” by A. L. Rowse;
  5. A good reader of Shakespeare is also an actor of Shakespeare;
  6. Every actor of Shakespeare finds a part of himself in his plays;
  7. Being a medievalist, the Histories are, for me, what holds the most interest when I read in succession, namely the Henriad. Before reading the History canon, I’d suggest getting your hands dirty in English history. I used my battered old copy of Kenneth O. Morgan’s “The Oxford History of Britain” I bought in 1992... Especially for those who don't know the history of the English monarchy, it's very helpful in understanding what was going on and, also, where Shakespeare was making up history in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods;  
  8. Fundamental is also audio. Reading and studying Shakespeare while watching/listening to Shakespeare is a must, because it improves my retention capacity (I used this technic to memorize the “To Be or No to Be” soliloquy). The BBC has also the 37 plays (“The two Noble Kinsmen” is absent, because at the time of recording it was not considered belonging to the canon); although the plays vary in quality, it's great to see the plays acted out. It helps my visual and memory cortices when trying to come up with something in the spur of the moment. I also recommend the Arkangel's Shakespeare on audio which are dramatic readings of his plays on disc;
  9.  For me, discovering Shakespeare is like finding my greatest friend I never knew I had. On this journey, I found there's something in Shakespeare for every mood, occasion, and thought;
  10. As someone who always wanted to be more familiar with Shakespeare, I've been profoundly struck by the depth and richness of these plays. I've so far read many of them several times over, and viewed most of them at least once in performance;
  11. I’ve started this journey in 2014, so it'll take me probably three years (2014, 2015 and 2016) to go all 38 plays, 2 long poems, and 154 sonnets, with a lot of stuff in between as well to go along with the reading/listening, and also reading additional information on each one of the plays;
  12. I usually read Shakespeare in spurts. Sometimes I read, watch, and listen to Shakespeare for a whole month or more, and then I stop to ponder stuff. I like to put him down for a while and come back when I’m hungry for more. I usually binge on Shakespeare plays, films, and audio when I feel the urge… binge watching Shakespeare in emotional bursts is something I do quite often…;
  13. Watching or listening to Shakespeare acted is really where the some of the most fun is, but reading the plays is also a great way to familiarize myself with the nuances more beforehand;
  14. The amount of time I typically spend with each play is about a week. My Modus Operandi is the following for each play:

o   Read it in my A. L. Rowse, always accompanied by some Renaissance Music;

o   Read the play’s context in:

§  "William Shakespeare - A Textual Companion" by Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor;
§  "The Meaning of Shakespeare" by Harold C. Goddard (2 volumes);
§  “Shakespeare After All” by Marjorie Garber;
§  "Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare” by Isaac Asimov.

o   Watch it at home, cinema by any means available (DVD, Live Streaming, whatever);

o   Listen to the play’s audio version; I especially recommend  “The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare Collection” as I’ve stated previously;

o   Re-read the play in my A. L. Rowse to set the most important parts in my mind;

o   Select the excerpt/speech to learn by heart. Work on it in loop mode by using any means available until I’m totally satisfied (audio, developing mobile apps, etc):

             The canon (see the following list which shows where I'm at currently, in terms of reading my Shakespeare)

o   The Comedies:

§  All’s Well That Ends Well
§  As You Like It
§  The Comedy of Errors
§  Cymbeline
§  Love’s Labour’s Lost
§  Measure for Measure
§  The Merchant of Venice
§  The Merry Wives of Windsor
§  A Midsummer Night’s Dream
§  Much Ado about Nothing
§  Pericles, Prince of Tyre
§  The Taming of the Shrew
§  The Tempest
§  Twelfth Night, or What You Will
§  Two Gentlemen of Verona
§  The Winter’s Tale

o   The Tragedies:
§  Antony and Cleopatra
§  Coriolanus
§  Hamlet
§  Julius Caesar
§  King Lear
§  Macbeth
§  Othello
§  Romeo and Juliet
§  Timon of Athens
§  Titus Andronicus
§  Troilus and Cressida

o   The Histories:
§  Henry IV, Part I
§  Henry IV, Part II
§  Henry V
§  Henry VI, Part I
§  Henry VI, Part II
§  Henry VI, Part III
§  Henry VIII
§  King John
§  Richard II
§  Richard III
o   Also Attributed:

§  Edward III (gaining acceptance as attributed to Shakespeare)
§  The Two Noble Kinsmen (a collaboration with John Fletcher)
o   Lost Plays:

§  Cardenio
§  Love’s Labour’s Won

·         If you want to be an exceptionally highly informed Shakespearean, I’ll tell you what I’m using  to achieve my goal book-wise (see pictures on this post). My understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare has grown immeasurably over the years by reading the great critics. Here is a list of the books and articles that I have found indispensable in my study of Shakespeare:

o   "The Annotated Shakespeare" by A.L. Rowse
o   "Shakespeare: For All Time" by Stanley Wells
o   "In Search Of Shakespeare" by Michael Wood
o   "In Search of the Dark Ages" by Michael Wood
o   "The Genius of Shakespeare" by Jonathan Bate
o   "Shakespeare's Language" by Frank Kermode
o   "William Shakespeare - A Textual Companion" by Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor
o   "Shakespeare Expressed: Page, Stage, and Classroom in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries" by Kathryn M. Moncrief (Editor), Kathryn R. McPherson (Editor), Sarah Enloe (Editor)
o    “Soul of the Age” by Jonathan Bate
o   "OsSonetos de Shakespeare" by William Shakespeare and Vasco Graça Moura
o   "Cinematic Shakespeare" by Michael A. Anderegg
o   "Shakespeare Beyond Doubt - Evidence, Argument, Controversy" by Paul Edmondson, Stanley Wells
o   "The Meaning of Shakespeare" by Harold C. Goddard (2 volumes)
o   “Shakespeare After All” by Marjorie Garber
o   "Shakespeare's Words: A Glossary and Language Companion" by David Crystal, Ben Crystal
o   “The Oxford History of Britain” by Kenneth O. Morgan
o   "Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Works of Shakespeare" by Isaac Asimov (Asimov went through each play in very excruciatingly detail, explaining background, explaining some of the jokes, and really making Shakespeare come alive)
o   “The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare Collection” (audio of the 38 plays; “The Two Noble Kinsmen” play is included)

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