Bookshelf

  1. Cover of Hamlet

    Hamlet

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
  2. Cover of Romeo and Juliet

    Romeo and Juliet

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    Romeo and Juliet

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    Romeo and Juliet is among my very favorite plays. In popular culture it's usually treated as this great romance, but I think that idea misses the point entirely. Romeo and Juliet are teenagers, children really, and their love has all the adolescent intensity, rashness, grandiosity, and impulsivity you would expect from teenagers. (Could I be right in thinking this is the only play in which the Bard makes a point of mentioning his protagonists age? Eh, maybe in The Two Gentlemen of Verona or The Tempest also?) No, what makes this play great is the texture and life of the entire cast of characters, the tight and lively storytelling, and the deft use of tragic irony.

    Speaking of the youth and impulsivity of the title characters, something that stood out to me on this reading was the relationships they have with their parents. Romeo's parents seem supportive in the abstract, but I can't recall that he ever actually shares a scene with either of them. They're just absent. Juliet's parents, on the other hand, are very present in her life, marrying her off to a man she barely knows at a young age and threatening her when she protests.

    An interesting related thought to consider is that Romeo and Juliet each have a surrogate parent (Friar Laurence and the Nurse, respectively) who supports them, councils them, conspires to marry them, and helps them like true parents should.

    Romeo and Juliet's psyches are not so deeply explored as Hamlet or Macbeth or Richard III, but the tapestry formed by all the relationships makes the play just as rich as those. Its these relationships between the characters, the complexity and effervescence of the interactions that give this play such staying power.

  3. Cover of The Tempest

    The Tempest

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    The Tempest

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    Does it make me a bad Shakespeare fan to say that while I like this, one of the most popular plays, I don't love it? Maybe I just never saw a great production.

    Don't get me wrong. There are some great images (Prospero with his book, Caliban discovering booze), and some great language. But the story never really seems to fit together for me.

    There's this fantastic thread of this powerful, almost inhuman sorcerer with a grand plan for terrible vengeance, prepared over years, and finally begun with the title storm. And he... calls it off and forgives everyone? It's a letdown.

    And then there's Miranda, grown up isolated from all mankind save her father and the brutish Caliban, who has this fantastic feeling of epiphany when she is exposed to wider humanity ('Oh, brave new world!'). I really wish we see her story as she is taken to Milan and joins civilization.

    For me, the only really satisfying feature of the conclusion to the tale is Arial's release from servitude.

    I suspect that much of the play's enduring focus comes down to viewers looking for the voice of Shakespeare himself, heading for retirement in Stratford even as Prospero breaks his staff and drowns his book. And, yeah, that does kind of get me too. All I'm saying is it's a mixed bag when taken as a whole.

  4. Cover of King Lear

    King Lear

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    King Lear

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    For me, Lear is the most tragic of all Shakespearean tragedies, and it hits harder as I grow older. Both Lear and Gloucester are aging, and both are betrayed by their own progeny, the worst of the new generation casting aside their parents like worthless garbage. And it's all the worse because Lear's mind is slipping and Gloucester's loyalty is unbreakable.

    I also love this play because it is among the most surreal of the canon. So much of the story is set in these nonspecific and liminal spaces, all moors and heaths and storm. And then there's the image of this half-mad king wandering the darkness in the company only of the acerbic fool, or the image of the blinded exile led to the edge of an illusory cliff by a beggar he doesn't know to be his own son. It's practically postmodern.

    One of the Bard's very best.

  5. Cover of Twelth Night

    Twelth Night

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    Twelth Night

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
    Classic Shakespearean comic tropes, deftly executed. Not one of my favorites, but plenty enjoyable.
  6. Cover of Much Ado About Nothing

    Much Ado About Nothing

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    Much Ado About Nothing

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    One of the best comedy plays, with a rather intricate plot and little of the formula that governs most of the others. I read the scenes between Beatrice and Benedick as a forerunner to the screwball comedies of the early twentieth century. And the character of Dogberry is a sort of silly that is timelessly funny,

  7. Cover of Othello

    Othello

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    Othello

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    I've always enjoyed Shakespeare's villains. He paints them with such texture, such depth. You can really revel in Richard III's Machiavelian scheming or feel yourself sinking into Macbeth's guilt-haunted madness. And I enjoy Iago as well, but Othello is the most painful story to witness.

    Shakespeare starts the play by showing you an unlikely couple who struggles against difficult odds to be together, only for us to watch Iago destroy them both utterly, without mercy or even much explanation beyond his own slighted ego. And it's all the worse because every other character believes him to be the most trustworthy and honorable of friends.

    So perhaps of all the Bard's tragedies, this is the most tragic. It's also among the best paced and best structured. And Act IV Scene III is among the most emotionally gutting things ever written.

  8. Cover of As You Like It

    As You Like It

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★

    As You Like It

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

    I'd consider As You Like It to be one of the best of the comedies. It certainly features some of the Bard's most famous turns of phrase and most eloquent speeches. The plot does meander quite a bit, but, with the help of an actual deus ex machina, everything comes together at the end and none of the threads are left dangling.

    Among the most interesting aspects of the play is Shakespeare's particularly meta-level play with gender. Toward the end, you have the boy actor who would have played the female Rosalind, masquerading as male Ganymede (a name with homoerotic mythological origins), who is play acting as a female love interest for her own unwitting lover, whilst also becoming the love interest of a female character (again acted by a boy). One can't help but wonder whether Shakespeare was just having fun or there was more behind it. (Given his sonnets, it's not unreasonable to guess that there might be.)

  9. Cover of Henry VIII

    Henry VIII

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★

    Henry VIII

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

    This one is a very middle-of-the-pack Shakespeare work. There are plenty of dramatic scenes and arresting turns of phrase, but there's really no character central enough to be considered a protagonist, no one to whom the audience ever really feels a sense of attachment. It's as though you can feel the Bard treading ever so gingerly through the messy tale of Queen Elizabeth's parentage, lest he should run afoul of his sovereign's good graces. Indeed, the play's end leans heavily into Elizabethan propaganda.

    Not that I blame Shakespeare for that. His shrewdness was certainly a part of his success. But it does mean that this particular play is more interesting as a historical artifact than as a work of drama.

  10. Cover of The Merchant of Venice

    The Merchant of Venice

    by William Shakespeare
  11. Cover of The Comedy of Errors

    The Comedy of Errors

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★

    The Comedy of Errors

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
    I don’t know if I wasn’t in the mood or if maybe this kind of comedy plays better on stage than on the page, but this quintessential Shakespearian farce of lookalikes and mistaken identities just didn’t land for me.
  12. Cover of Pericles

    Pericles

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★

    Pericles

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
    A minor Shakespeare work for a reason. This one is thought to likely be a collaboration and it shows in its lack of Shakespearean depth of character and interiority. Still, interesting for a completionist like myself.
  13. Cover of Richard III

    Richard III

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    Richard III

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
    I love Shakespeare’s great villains and Richard III is one of the greatest of them all. Unapologetically evil, it’s a joy to watch him scheme, lie, and murder his way to the top (though his subsequent downfall feels a bit rushed and perfunctory, as if the bard knew he had gotten past the juicy bits and was eager to wrap it up). On this read I really noticed how much House of Cards and even A Song of Ice and Fire draw elements from it.
  14. Cover of Antony and Cleopatra

    Antony and Cleopatra

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

    Antony and Cleopatra

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
    Continuing my Shakespeare reading project, this particular play has always been a personal favorite. The titular characters are so fully realized, mercurial and tragic, that I really love them for all their flaws. Reading it this time, I kept picturing it filmed as a space opera with larger than life production design!
  15. Cover of The Winter's Tale

    The Winter's Tale

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★

    The Winter's Tale

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
    This is an interesting one. The first half is almost all drama and the second half mostly comedy, with a big time jump in the middle. I prefer the former, a portrait of someone mad with jealousy destroying himself and all he holds dear.
  16. Cover of King Henry VI, Part 3

    King Henry VI, Part 3

    by William Shakespeare
  17. Cover of Measure for Measure

    Measure for Measure

    by William Shakespeare
  18. Cover of Julius Caesar

    Julius Caesar

    by William Shakespeare
  19. Cover of King Henry VI, Part 2

    King Henry VI, Part 2

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
  20. Cover of Timon of Athens

    Timon of Athens

    by William Shakespeare
  21. Cover of The Two Gentlemen of Verona

    The Two Gentlemen of Verona

    by William Shakespeare
  22. Cover of Henry VI, Part 1

    Henry VI, Part 1

    by William Shakespeare
  23. Cover of Titus Andronicus

    Titus Andronicus

    by William Shakespeare
  24. Cover of Henry V

    Henry V

    by William Shakespeare
  25. Cover of The Merry Wives of Windsor

    The Merry Wives of Windsor

    by William Shakespeare
  26. Cover of Cymbeline

    Cymbeline

    by William Shakespeare
  27. Cover of Henry IV, Part 2

    Henry IV, Part 2

    by William Shakespeare
  28. Cover of King Henry IV, Part 1

    King Henry IV, Part 1

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
  29. Cover of The Taming of the Shrew

    The Taming of the Shrew

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★
  30. Cover of A Midsummer Night's Dream

    A Midsummer Night's Dream

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
  31. Cover of Coriolanus

    Coriolanus

    by William Shakespeare
  32. Cover of Richard II

    Richard II

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
  33. Cover of Troilus and Cressida

    Troilus and Cressida

    by William Shakespeare
  34. Cover of King John

    King John

    by William Shakespeare
  35. The Complete Works

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
  36. Shakespeare's Sonnets

    by William Shakespeare
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★