With the exception of acting the part of Mustard Seed in my junior high’s production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream and reading Romeo and Juliet in high school, my Shakespeare education has, at best, been minimal. Even in light of graduating from an English university with a masters in English (and visiting Stratford-on-Avon), my knowledge of Shakespeare has remained embarrassingly slight.
So, in a valiant effort to correct this glaring literary gap, I picked up a copy of Peter Ackroyd’s William Shakespare Without the Boring Bits. Let me start off by saying the volume of books on Shakespeare is overwhelming. Amazon him and no fewer than thousands of guides appear. Look him up in a bookstore and you’ll still find a dizzying array of nonfiction all promising to easily reveal his genius.
I picked up Ackroyd’s book because, after reading a few paragraphs, it seemed approachable and relevant. And, as I can now say, wholly worthwhile.
After a helpful introduction, Ackroyd organizes his book according to the Plays (History, Greek and Roman, Comedies, Tragedies and Romances) along with a section devoted to the poems and sonnets. I particularly enjoyed the last section-titled the Wit and Wisdom of Shakespeare-for explaining just why famous passages have remained popular.
The sections about the plays are thorough, yet not overbearing, and provide the context along with their possible inspiration and plot and character synopsis. While I definitely didn’t retain every details, these sections were enlightening and will be even more helpful when I see a Shakespeare play in the future and need a quick update.
How well do you know Shakespeare? Do you have a favorite play? Quote? Ashleigh read sonnet 116 at our wedding and it has remained hopeful and special to me.