Dear Lord – this book took me forever to finish! But, now that I’m done, I feel like I’ve accomplished a life goal. It might even be an item on my bucket list.
I made a poll asking if I should split this post up &the consensus (from two people), was a resounding, “YES.”
Suffice to say, this review is going to be long. It took me two years to read, I’ve got a lotto say about it! (To be honest, I have dozens of pages of notes that I didn’t even transcribe to my Word document because it was getting too crazy already!)
First, I must share pictures I took of my copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. It’s just that pretty. I think I bought it back when Barnes & Noble was a thing, along with The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe.
If I didn’t buy them at the same time, they bear an eerily similar appearance to one another.
The publishers based this book’s styling, I think, on the“First Folio.” That’s the first published work said to contain all of Shakespeare’s writing & it didn’t appear until years after his death. Before that, he published some of his work, but buying books wasn’t a lucrative field back then.
The First Folio was more of a pamphlet than a book. It folded up – hence the name, I guess – so that four pages only required one sheet of paper. My edition, similarly, has four columns of text spread across it when it’s open (technically on two pieces of paper, but you can see how I’d make the association, right?).
Much of his work was based on other writers’ works, other stories, shared orally, reproduced by other companies to suit other audiences, & changed by the actors to fit their own styles, audiences, &strengths.
So, a lot of what we accept as “Shakespeare’s complete works” isn’t necessarily what he wrote, how it first appeared, or how it was performed. The First Folio didn’t even include some plays like Pericles that we now attribute to Shakespeare
Then, there’s the argument that we’re not positive which plays were written by him alone. A lot of work was collaborative at the time, & not every contributor got credit.
It kind of ruins the whole idea of a “solitary genius, churning out brilliant plays in record numbers” that a lot of people have about Shakespeare. Maybe that’s a good thing.
But the fact is I didn’t get any of the interesting tidbits I just gave from The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
My copy of the book is, I think, as close to the original as possible – no“translations” into modern English, no explanation as to popular cultural references in Shakespeare’s time, & limited stage directions. Readers – like the original viewers of Shakespeare’s plays – have to understand prop usage & actions going on by the text.
It got confusing! I love my book, but, if I’m ever insane enough to undertake this reading again,you’d better believe I’m going to have a side-by-side modern English reading to“Shakespeare.”
GENERALIZED THEME & THOUGHTS – NO SPOILERS (BECAUSE IF I’M SPOILING 500 + YEAR OLD CONTENT, I WANT TO VISIT THE ROCK UNDER WHICH YOU’RE LIVING!!)
The publishers chose, similarly to the First Folio, to breakup the plays in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare into three sections – Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. These are general descriptions, & some people – like my Dad – argue about certain plays designations under these headings.
However, for the most part the plays follow the same basic structure. They fit under these broad umbrella terms because of some of their common themes.
Some common themes also go beyond a single genre, appearing in the Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies:
- Using poetic verse (iambic pentameter) for“higher class people” & straight prose for “lower class people”
- Main & subplots in each play
- Examples of both high-class & low-class characters
- Use of “asides” for characters to give information to the audience; even if other characters are close enough to have overheard the aside, the audience suspends disbelief
- Use of simple costume changes (like throwing on a cape) to “fool” the rest of the cast, requiring additional suspension of disbelief
As requested, I’m splitting this review into more manageable posts. I’m going to give each of the play types – Comedies, Tragedies, & Histories if we’ve been paying attention – its own respective blog post, then finish up with the poems & an overall rating.