Announcing my Ponytail Shakespeare read-through back in January did something to me; maybe several things.
Firstly, it made a public commitment. I’m just a bloke, and a busy one at that, being an English teacher, but I am still following the schedule – albeit several paces behind.
It also made me realise that however confident I might be, there was/is an awful lot I don’t/didn’t know for someone who enjoys being the ‘go-to’ at work for all matters Shakespearean – those ‘known unknowns’ were simultaneously a cause for embarrassment and a spur to do better.
These two ingredients combined to make me jump into bed with Shakespeare in 2017 …
That meant not just reading more plays, but ‘reading round’: taking the advice I give my students until my ‘reading river‘ was over 75% Shakespeare-related. I’ve also read more non-fiction in a year than I can remember, at least since my uni days.
The biggest revelation this year was definitely getting stuck into the Henry VI plays and the Wars of the Roses. On very little evidence I’d assumed them to be little more than juvenilia, essays in the craft, but I found them highly satisfying, full of brilliant characters like Margaret and engaging set-pieces such as the deaths of the Talbots and of York. It affected, or infected my reading, inspiring a reading detour that saw me reading a LOT of history. I’ll definitely revisit those plays – perhaps when I finally have all the other ones under my belt …
Here’s a run-down of my EMP reading in 2017 …
Plays, broadly in order of reading (re-reads in blue, new reads in orange)
- 1 Henry VI
- 2 Henry VI
- 3 Henry VI
- Taming of the Shrew
- Two Gentlemen of Verona
- Edward II*
- Titus Andronicus
- Richard III
- The Comedy of Errors
* Marlowe spends a LOT of time drinking in here, so he gets an honourable inclusion. His is the New Mermaids second edition – the remainder are Arden third editions.
Critical and other related non-Fiction books (colour-coded as above). Again, broadly in reading order. I’ve excluded books I’ve only dipped in and out of, so these are all volumes I have read at least 2/3 of this year.
- Strachey, Lytton: Elizabeth and Essex: A Tragic History (1928, Chatto & Windus) *****
- James I, King: Daemonologie, In Forme of a Dialogue, Divided into three Books: By the High and Mighty Prince, James &c (1597) Accessed via the Kindle Store *****
- Crystal, Ben: Springboard Shakespeare: Macbeth (Bloomsbury: London, 2013) *****
- Tesimond, Oswald, aka Greenway (transl. Francis Edwards): The Gunpowder Plot (The Folio Society: London, 1973) *****
- Hyland, Peter: An Introduction To Shakespeare – The Dramatist in his Context (1996, Macmillan) *****
- Salgãdo, Gãmini: The Elizabethan Underworld (The Folio Society; London, 2006) *****
- Ziegler, Philip: The Black Death (Folio Society: London, 1997) *****
- Norwich, John Julius: Shakespeare’s Kings (2000, Penguin) *****
- Alison Weir: The Princes In The Tower (1992, The Folio Society) *****
- Okerlund, Arlene: Elizabeth Wydeville – The Slandered Queen (2005, Tempus) *****
- Bradbury, Jim: Shakespeare and his Theatre (1975, Longman) *****
- Saccio, Peter: Shakespeare’s English Kings: History, Chronicle and Drama (2000, Oxford University Press) *****
- Riggs, David: The World of Christopher Marlowe (2004, Faber and Faber) *****
- Levin, Harry: Christopher Marlowe (The Overreacher) (Faber & Faber: London, 1961) *****
- Heard, Nigel: Tudor Economy and History (Access to History series), (Hodder & Stoughton: London, 1992) *****
- Ashe, Laura: Richard II – A Brittle Glory (Penguin: London, 2016) *****
- Kermode, Frank: Shakespeare’s Language (Penguin: London, 2000) *****
- Wells, Stanley: Shakespeare & Co. (Penguin: London, 2007) *****
- Given-Wilson, Christopher: Edward II: The Terrors Of Kingship (Penguin: London: 2016) *****
- Ivor Brown: Shakespeare (The Reprint Society: London, 1951) *****
- Dante Alighieri: Inferno, transl. Robin Kirkpatrick (2013, Penguin Classics) *****
- George Carleton: A Thankfull Remembrance of God’s Mercie (1630) *****
- Lee, Christopher: 1603 – A Turning Point in British History (Review: London, 2003) *****
- Neale, JE: Queen Elizabeth I (Pimlico: London, 1998) *****
- Cheetham, Anthony: The Life and Times of Richard III (Weidenfield and Nicolson: London, 1992) *****
- Picard, Liza: Elizabeth’s London (Weidenfield & Nicolson: London, 2003) *****
- Fluchère, Henri (trans. Guy Hamilton): Shakespeare (Longmans: London, 1964) *****
- Pollard, AJ: Edward IV, The Summer King (Penguin Monarchs) (Allen Lane: London, 2016) *****
So, out of all that, what should you read, and what should you give a wide berth to?
Read these: Ivor Brown, Henri Fluchère, David Riggs.
Avoid these: Arlene Okerlund, Frank Kermode, Laura Ashe.