What are some good books about Shakespeare?

Literally tens of thousands of books have been written about Shakespeare, from almost every imaginable angle. Think of any noun; there's a good chance that someone somewhere wrote a "Shakespeare and [insert-noun]" at some point in time. The following books are recommended by HLAS regulars as their favorites in several areas of Shakespearean studies. So far as we know, all of these books are still in print, and should be readily available through libraries, book stores, or on-line retailers.

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A) Best editions of the plays (collected works or series):

  • Applause individual series
    ("...for people with a strong performance bent...")
  • Arden individual series
    ("...reliable and thoroughly annotated...")
    ("...comprehensive introduction, copious footnotes...")
  • The Annotated Shakespeare edited by Rowse, A.L.
    New York, Greenwich House, 1984, ISBN 0-517-436035
    ("...excellent notes and commentary...")
  • The Norton Shakespeare, Based on the Oxford Edition
    edited by Stephan Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus.
    W.W. Norton & Co., 1997, ISBN 0-393-04107-7
  • The Complete Oxford Shakespeare general editors Wells, Stanley and Taylor, Gary
    New York, Oxford University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-198-12972-6
  • Oxford individual series
    ("...contains most up-to-date scholarship and a nice performance section...")
  • Penguin individual series
  • The Riverside Shakespeare edited by Evans, G. Blakemore
    Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1974, ISBN 0-395-04402-2
  • The Signet Classic series, general editor Barret, Sylvan
    The Penguin Group
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B) Analysis and criticism of the plays and poems:

  • Angel With Horns - Fifteen Lectures On Shakespeare by Rossiter, A.P.
    Longman, 1961/1989, ISBN 0-582-01499-9
    ("...the Angel with Horns is Richard III...")
  • The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets by Vendler, Helen
    Cambridge MA Belknap Press, 1997, ISBN: 0-674-63711-9
  • Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare by Asimov, Isaac; illustrations by Rafael Palacios.
    Avenal Books; Crown Publishing, 1978 (c)1970, ISBN 0-517-26825-6
    ("...He doesn't even really attempt to interpret anything -- he simply provides a very wide array of historical asides to provide a lucid context for understanding the plays...")
  • The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies edited by Wells, Stanley
    Cambridge University Press, 1986, ISBN 0-521-31841-6
    ("...has a good chapter on Shakespeare on film and TV...")
  • Elegy by W.S. by Foster, Donald
    University of Delaware Press, 1989, ISBN 0-874-1335-1?
    ("...fascinating in the insight it gives to Shakespeare's style...")
  • The Friendly Shakespeare by Epstein, Norrie
    The Penguin Group, 1994, ISBN 0-14-01-3886-2
    ("...terrific introductory book to things Shakespearian...")
  • Introducing Shakespeare by Harrison, G.B.
    Reprint Series, 1948, ISBN 0-781-20132-2
  • Prefaces to Shakespeare by Granville-Barker, Harley
    Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1946
    ("...Intensely detailed yet practical readings of the plays...")
  • The Romantics on Shakespeare edited by Bate, Jonathan
    London, Penguin Books, 1992, ISBN 0-140-53021-5
    ("...a good anthology of Romantic criticism...")
  • Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Bloom, Harold
    New York, Putnam, 1998 ISBN 1-573-22120-1
  • Shakespeare Our Contemporary by Kott, Jan
    New York, Norton, 1964, ISBN 0-393-00736-7
    (A prominent Central European critic writes of Shakespeare from the contemporary perspective of existentialism, Theatre of the Absurd, and political repression)
  • Shakespeare's Imagery - And What It Tells Us by Spurgeon, Caroline
    Beacon Press, Beacon Hill Boston, 1935, ISBN 0-521-09258-2.
    ("...an invaluable classic about the playwright's use of images..")
  • Shakespearean Tragedy by Bradley, A.C.
    Macmillan, 1992, ISBN 0-333-57535-0
    (First published in 1903, this collection of essays on Shakespeare's four greatest tragedies - Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear - "...remains one of the great classics of literary criticism.")
  • What Happens In Hamlet by Wilson, John Dover
    Cambridge University Press, 1935, ISBN 0-521-09109-B
    ("...Brilliant. Easy to read....")
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C) The life of William Shakespeare:

  • Shakespeare A to Z by Boyce, Charles
    Roundtable Press, 1990, ISBN 0-440-50429-5
    ("...best one volume, short answer, general reference book for life and times type questions...")
  • Shakespeare Alive, by Papp, Joseph & Kirkland, Elizabeth
    New York, Bantam, 1988, ISBN 0-553-27081-8
    ("...excellent beginning book for the life and times...")
  • Shakespeare The Evidence by Wilson, Ian
    Headline, 1993, ISBN 0-7472-3903-7
    ("...very informative, if slightly skewed by the emphasis on WS's father's religion...")
  • Shakespeare The Man: Revised Edition by Rowse, A.L.
    New York, St. Martin's Press, 1988, ISBN 0-312-03425-3
    ("...good biography with excellent detective work on the 'Dark Lady' question...")
  • Shakespeare's Lives by Schoenbaum, Samuel
    New York, Oxford University Press, 1991, ISBN 0-198-18618-5
  • William Shakespeare - A Compact Documentary Life by Schoenbaum, Samuel
    New York, Oxford University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-195-05161-0
    (An excellent biography that sticks as closely as possible to the established facts of Shakespeare's life)
  • William Shakespeare, A Literary Life by Dutton, Richard
    Macmillan Press Ltd, 1989, ISBN 0-333-41718-6
  • William Shakespeare: The Extraordinary Life of the Most Successful Writer of All Time by Gurr, Andrew
    New York, Harper Collins, 1995, ISBN 0-06-273013-4
    ("...a wonderful general audience book with stunning photographs..")
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D) Historical information on England (1200-1650)

  • The Age of Shakespeare by Laroque, Francois
    New York, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991, ISBN 0-8109-2890-6
  • The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 by Stone, Lawrence
    Harper Collins, 1986, ISBN 0-061-31979-1
  • The Oxford History of Britain edited by Morgan, Kenneth
    Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-285202-7
  • Shakespeare, Court, Crowd and Playhouse by Laroque, Francois
    Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, and Harry N Abrams, Inc, NY. 1993, Reprinted 1997. ISBN 0-500-30035-6
    (Small, inexpensive, well written, many beautiful, period illustrations.)
  • Shakespeare's English Kings, History, Chronicle and Drama by Saccio, Peter
    New York, Oxford University Press, 1977, ISBN 0-19-281224-6
    (How Shakespeare adapted the Holinshed chronicles in writing his 10 English history plays "...increased my enjoyment and understanding of the [history plays]...")
  • The Wars of the Roses by Seward, Desmond
    Penguin Books, ISBN 0-670-84258-3
    ("...especially useful in getting a handle on all the characters in the history plays...")
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E) Historical information on the Shakespearean theatre:

  • Casting Shakespeare's Plays: London Actors and their Roles, 1590-1642 by King, T.J.
  • Playgoing in Shakespeare's London: Second Edition by Gurr, Andrew
    Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1966, ISBN 0-521-57449-8
    ("...excellent scholarly history of theatre and audiences...")
  • Shakespeare - An Illustrated Stage History edited by Jackson Russell & Bate, Jonathan
    New York, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-198-12372-8
  • The Shakespearean Stage: 1564-1616 by Gurr, Andrew
    New York, Cambridge University Press, 1980, ISBN 0-521-23029-2
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F) Shakespeare in Modern Performance

  • The BBC Shakespeare Plays by Willis, Susan
    University of North Carolina Press, 1991, ISBN 0-8078-1963-8
    ("...a behind-the-scenes look at the production of the BBC-TV Shakespeare series...")
  • Clamorous Voices, Shakespeare's Women Today by Rutter, Carol
    The Women's Press, 1988, ISBN 0-7043-4145-X
    ("...interviews with five leading actresses about their roles in various WS plays...")
  • Hamlet: Film, Television, and Audio Performance by Kliman, Bernice
    Farleigh-Dickinson College Press, 1988, ISBN 0-838-63290-4111
  • Players of Shakespeare Volume 1 edited by Brockbank, Philip;
    Volumes 2-3 edited by Jackson, Russell & Smallwood, Robert
  • Playing Shakespeare by Barton, John
    London and New York, Methuen, 1984, ISBN 0-413-54790-6
    ("...perhaps the best general introduction to the range of issues involved in playing Shakespeare...")
  • Shakespeare on Screen: An International Filmography and Videography by Rothwell, Kenneth S.
    New York, Schuman, 1990, ISBN 1-555-70049-7
  • Shakespeare on the American Stage (2 volumes) by Shattuck, Charles
    Washington, Folger Shakespeare Library, 1976 ISBN 0-813-90651-2
  • William Shakespeare's Richard III by McKellen, Ian
    Doubleday, 1996, ISBN 0-385-40801-3.
    ("...a really good read...")
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G) Books on the authorship question:

  • The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Ogburn, Charlton
    McLean, VA., EPM Publications, 1992, ISBN 0-939-00967-6
    (The Oxfordian magnum opus - "...completely changed my way of looking at Shakespeare, the man...")
  • Alias Shakespeare by Sobran, Joseph
    New York, The Free Press, 1997, ISBN 0-684-82658-5
    (Sobran also argues for the Oxfordian position - his book is considerably more concise than Ogburn's)
  • Shakespeare, In Fact by Matus, Irwin
    Continuum Publications, 1994, ISBN 0-826-40624-6
    (Intended as a refutation of the Oxfordian position in general and of Ogburn in particular)
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H) Guides to the vocabulary of the plays:

  • A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Sexual Puns and Their Significance: Second Edition by Rubenstein, Frankie
    New York, St. Martin's Press, 1995, ISBN 0-312-12677-8
  • A Shakespeare Glossary by Onions, C.T.
    Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1986, ISBN 0-198-11199-1
  • Shakespeare's Bawdy by Partridge Eric
    New York, E.P. Dutton and Co. Inc., 1960
    also Routledge, 1990.
    ("...excellent dictionary of the meanings of all the bawdy references and puns...")
    ("...so well put together it can be read on its own...")
  • Shakespeare's Wordplay by Mahood, M. M.
    Methuen University Paperbacks, 1957, ISBN 0-416-29560-6.
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