BOOK REVIEW: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – Introduction

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 Plays

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.

Enjoy!!

23 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – Introduction”

    1. Thanks!! I love how fancy it looks, but, I gotta admit – it’s suuuper heavy! Lugging it around wasn’t fun.

      I just checked – I do have Poe’s complete works in a similar book. That’ll be a much more fun read, I think. Well, maybe not “more fun.” Maybe “less dense.” 😄

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Less dense is always good!!!

        You should do Shakespeare themes and then Poe themes!

        And if you wanted (cause I know you like painting your nails and you’re really good at it) you could always do a photo tutorial of “how to paint nails like Shakespeare” and do them with a nice “S” on the front or something, and the same for Poe, bot you could go Gothic-themed horror, which would give you soooo many options. I bet people would like a little mini picture tutorial, and it’d be a funny way to end your series, and you are sooo good at doing your nails!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh man. That Shakespeare vs Poe themes is a neat idea. However, I’ve read almost a half dozen books since Shakespeare that I still need to do review for, & then a stack of 5+ (from the different genre sections on my bookshelf, because I’m a geek to the nth degree lol) to be read in my nightstand. So, I could get to Poe starting sometime next year, hopefully. LOL 🤣

        I really wish I had heard that nail polish idea earlier (thanks so much for the kind words about my weird nail polish designs LOL). That would be a really fun post for me & for people online.

        Unfortunately, after I got my nails done for my friend’s wedding, they were so nicely styled that I kept them polished & let them grow. & grow. & grow. Then they all broke at once, including two below the nail bed. I could still paint them, but they’re not as pretty. Also, I’m much more likely to get paint all over my fingers. 😢

        Yeahhhhh… I may have to run with your painting suggestion. Or, maybe I’ll wait until they grow a little more, then do something book related. I wonder if I could draw a book with both hands. 🤔

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Well, it could always be a future thing you could keep in mind?? Like, I’m sure there’ll be other review themes you could do!! I’m sorry!

        Yes, definitely!!!! By the time your nails grow back, you could do it at the very end or something??? You’ve been pretty skilled at all your other nail artwork, so I don’t see why not??

        Liked by 1 person

      4. It can totally be a future idea. I have a whole Word document full of them – I’m so adding the nail painting idea to it right now!

        Either way, I think a book-related nail painting post seems like a fun idea! Whether it’s Shakespeare, Poe, or just books in general, it’s a fantastic idea. Thank you so much for sharing it.

        I may be decent at playing around with my nails, but I’m very unskilled at using my left hand for… well… mostly anything! LOL

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Ooooh I so look forward to it!! I’ve been enjoying your posts on Shakespeare so far, it’s been sooo good!!! I’m replying to a few comments and then I’m reading your post and heading to bed! But I am so excited that you’re excited! You could try and paint a quill or something, too!

        Like

      1. Hey, I don’t think it’s lazy to not take on such a huge task after completing such a huge task as reading the complete works! I think it’s smart. I kinda wish I had done it that way. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Aww! You’re so sweet! It’s really not that spectacular, in my mind – it’s just a run down of how the plays are similar. The book on Shakespeare’s life, what was going on in the time he was writing, & the criticism about his plays that I read shortly after this book was a big help in seeing how formulaic they are!

        Come to think of it, you might enjoy that book since you read the plays. It was fantastic!

        TBH, I’m still trying to figure out how to cross-post it to Goodreads. I wonder if they’ll let me post links in their reviews? Otherwise, it’s a looooot of cutting & pasting, & no one would wanna read that massive block of text! LOL

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thanks! I feel like I’m going to need it after this past week! The only luck I’ve been having lately is not good!

        But, it all worked out in the end. So, I’m hopeful for future endeavors. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww!!! Thank youso much!! It’s actually a huge goal of mine to have done this.

      Honestly, the next section I’m going to post about (the history plays) are the main reason I almost didn’t finish. I tried once before &, dear Lord, they are so boring for the most part, I stopped until I restarted again 2 years ago.

      If anyone were to ask me about undertaking this sort of task, I’d make sure it was their life goal, then tell them to do the plays one at a darned time. Preferably with an easy, engaging read in between. Or a comic book. LOL

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Personally, I pair every book with a comic book. I read before bed primarily. So, I have one book that I know I want to focus on reading & then I transition to a book I don’t mind falling asleep on top of. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

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