So You Want to Read… (William Shakespeare)

Posted 7 September, 2015 by Lianne in Lists / 12 Comments

So You Want to Read… is a new monthly feature here on in which I recommend books by particular authors to readers who have never read a book from certain authors and would like to start. I’m always happy to recommend books and certain authors to my fellow readers and bloggers! šŸ™‚

It’s September! Back to school for everyone who’s still in school…and keeping with the theme, for this month’s So You Want to Read, I will be featuring William Shakespeare (see tag) *cackles gleefully* Regular readers of my blog probably noticed that other than the Shakespeare Reading Challenge I hosted last year, I really got into reading dramatic plays this year, including more Shakespeare. The stories and the characters can be so exciting, the dialogue and soliloques thought-provoking, and I’ve seen some excellent filmed productions to date.

Maybe you want to get back to checking out some of Shakespeare’s works on your own, or maybe you want to read one for the first time. Here are 5 plays I’d recommend checking out (barring Romeo & Juliet because by now everyone must know something of it):

  • Twelfth Night (review) — My favourite comedy from Shakespeare <3 I studied this play in Grade 10 English (which I really enjoyed; plenty of good memories there) and re-reading it earlier this year, it was just hilarious. Cross-dressing, mistaken identities, lovelorn individuals doing crazy things, yellow stockings. Oh, and I also recommend the 2012 Globe production of this play (review) šŸ˜‰
  • Much Ado About Nothing (review) — The first time I read this play last year I liked it enough but I had some issues with the main storyline. So why am I recommending it here? Because it does fare well in memory/gets better the more I remember it (hence the re-read; review), and I love Beatrice and Benedick’s story. I could read a whole play of the two of them bantering back and forth. My personal favourite production of this play has to be the 2011 Globe production (review).
  • Macbeth (review) — For the tragedies, Macbeth certainly comes to mind as one of the most accessible. I studied this play in Grade 12 English and it’s just a fascinating psychological study of how a crime can weigh heavily on the conscience and tear relationships apart. Plus, there are witches and it’s set in Scotland.
  • Othello (review) — Another familiar tragedy that many probably studied in school. I didn’t, so it was interesting to check out this play on my own. Again, it’s a very accessible play, and pretty suspenseful: you know things are going to go down poorly and yet you can’t quite turn away.
  • Richard III (review) — From the histories, I was sort of 50/50 recommending Richard III for first time readers at first as I normally recommend reading everything in order starting from Richard II (review; commentary) right through the Henriad to get a sense of why things were the way they were by events of Richard III. But as a standalone it’s excellent, with lots of well-known dialogue, intriguing characters, and plenty of action. So yes, I highly recommend this play, it’s one of the best that I’ve read this year.

I hope this list of books helps if you’re interested in revisiting or reading Shakespeare for the first time! What are your favourite Shakespeare plays? Which would you recommend for first-time readers? Or which plays have you been meaning to check out?

Also, what’s your favourite edition of Shakespeare’s plays? I enjoy the editions published by Modern Library in conjunction with the RSC. They’re so informative and very pretty šŸ™‚

Tags: , , , ,

12 Responses to “So You Want to Read… (William Shakespeare)”

  1. I’m a big Shakespeare fan. What talent to write such complex plays all in verse. My first book (Silent Girl) was a story collection inspired by Shakespeare’s female characters. It was a joy to reread the plays as part of my research.

    • That’s really cool, Tricia! Shakespeare wrote some really fascinating women with different personalities and strengths (and some really proactive women who drive the story, too!) šŸ™‚ What’s your favourite play(s) by him?

      • The tragedies, I suppose: Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth. As for the women, I wrote the stories because I felt his portrayal of many of them was limited. Gertrude, for instance, fascinated me, as did Desdemona. Katerina in The Taming of the Shrew just pisses me off at the end so I wrote a story to try to understand her situation better.

        • After reading through his plays I find I like his tragedies more as well (though I have favourites in all of the genres he’s written)

          Oh man, I don’t think I will ever understand The Taming of the Shrew, reading that play was confusing and frustrating and I don’t think watching an adaptation of it will help me understand it any better :3

  2. I’d definitely recommend Much Ado About Nothing to a first time Shakespeare reader too. It’s pretty much the one that got me hooked in high school. I’d also say Midsummer Night’s Dream and maybe Hamlet (although that one mainly because the plot is already so familiar to most people).

    • Beatrice and Benedick’s banter was fantastic–definitely a great way to hook new readers!

      I really need to re-read Midsummer Night’s Dream; it went over my head when I first read it but I think watching an adaptation might help too…

  3. I’ve only ever read Othello all the way through. I have a hard time with Shakespeare because I don’t understand it. But, I used spark notes with Othello and it helped a lot. I really liked it. I want to read Romeo and Juliet, for sure, but I still haven’t done it.

    • I think listening and watching it really helps in understanding Shakespearean language (whoever said his work is meant to be seen/heard is right); I revisited Twelfth Night earlier this year via audiobook and I was pleasantly surprised to realise how much I missed or how much can be interpreted via voice or action from just merely reading it. It’s very interesting, and I can see why the plays are continuously adapted.

      Othello is excellent, very intense (grr, Iago! *shakes fist at his general direction*)

      I hope you enjoy Romeo and Juliet! It gets a lot of flack for teenage love and ensuing drama, but it’s a structurally sound play, not to mention I thought Shakespeare was at his most lyrical here šŸ™‚

  4. I think when I was in school the tragedies were the most popular in my class, especially Hamlet and Macbeth. I do like the suggestion of Much Ado About Nothing, though, as you could pair it with Kenneth Branagh’s excellent film.

    I personally have a soft spot for Shakespeare’s romances, but it seems people don’t typically introduce Shakespeare with a romance. I’m not sure why, unless it’s some sort of thing where you follow his “development” as a writer and thus read the romances last?

    • When you refer to Shakespeare’s romances, do you mean his comedies like As You Like It or The Merchant of Venice? šŸ™‚

      My high school divided the English curriculum as two comedies in the first two years and then two tragedies for the last two years. Which I guess was a nice way of at least dabbling a bit on both ends of the spectrum, but I wish they could’ve at least squeezed in a history play in there because they were really interesting too! (the Richards especially) But I guess they didn’t because that required a bit of background on the War of the Roses, which I remember my history class barely covering (ahhh, World History class)

Leave a Reply