My Delightful Society

‘I’ll show you mine; you show me yours …’

440px-Portrait_of_William_Gladstone‘Books are delightful society.  If you go into a room and find it full of books – even without taking them from the shelves they seem to speak to you, to bid you welcome.’  William Ewart Gladstone

This post came out of a discussion on Reddit where I asserted that we weren’t seeing enough Shakespeare shelf-porn.  SHAKESPORN, in fact.  Yup. You heard me.  So in the spirit of ‘I’ll show you mine; you show me yours‘, here’s a tour of my Shakespeare bookshelf: MY ‘delightful society‘ …

Picture the scene – it’s the final day of the summer holidays, and I’d like to get something done for ME before I head back to school:

… something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods. [a]
as Alfred, Lord Tennyson might have said, and DID in fact say in my favourite poem.
This is what I had to deal with:
… never let lack of organisation or shelf-space get in the way of book-buying!
And never mind Ulysses – sorting this lot out was a Herculean task.  Not least because I am the kind of person who genuinely texts others to ask whether I should shelve The Woman In Black under gothic lit, contemporary lit, victorian lit, or something else entirely.  That’s a true story.  The response is usually to ‘get a life‘ …
Here’s where I ended up.


Perched on top:  Putting the BBC Shakespeare DVDs on the left means that when the light’s right, I can open the front door and look down the long hallway and see the word Shakespeare glowing at the end of the corridor.  Perfect.  Yorick – a money box – and his beanie both came from the Globe.  I’m considering getting another one for class.  In the middle, we’ve got a Royal Mail first day cover combining Shakespeare stamps and £2 coins.  Elsewhere, there’s a beautiful bottle of Shakespeare Whisky Liqueur from a student, but I’m nervous to perch it up so high.


Top shelf:  the Arden third editions aren’t quite complete, but mostly there now.  The Complete Works is one of several I’ve been given over the years, but it has pride of place because of the inscription – on this occasion after a prolonged absence from work:

‘I saw this and thought of you!

Thank you for enthusiasm, devotion and passion – you really are unlike any other teacher.

We’re so glad to have you back 🙂

Thanks again for being such a wonderful person in every way and for being the best at doing what you are so dedicated to doing (especially since 5 years ago, when you began teaching me).

Hope this fits in with your other books somewhere.  PS: you’re the biggest inspiration and I can’t thank you enough.’

I take that down every so often and re-read it, when I feel like finding another job, or the black dog comes calling …


Shelf 1:  at the end of the Ardens and the other copies of both Shakespeare and other Early Modern plays, the little brown volume is a copy of Lamb’s Tales.  It was my first gift from students as a teacher.  I like to think that Amber and Emily will one day stumble over the picture and realise how much it meant.


Shelf 2:  about half-way along, after a pile of York’s notes that I rescued when our old sixth-form building was demolished, I start to move into the critical works …


Shelf 3: … and as they peter out I moved onto biographies.  You might spot a couple of Penguin Monarchs in there – problem is, I have another three at work, and when I bring them home there’ll be no room for them (see below).


Shelf 4: is where I decided to put the contextual stuff – histories and contemporary source materials too, such as the lime green Holinshed in the middle.


Shelf 5:  continued the general historical and contextual category: as well as The Elizabethan Underworld, and The Princes in the Tower, the dull grey cover is actually a contemporary work on The Gunpowder Plot. Just to the left of the purple-ish cover in the middle is a book on the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival by Andy Muir – photographs by ME! On the far left, amongst the horizontal oversize and Shakespeariana, we’ve got copies of Macbeth and Hamlet given me by my best friends after I photographed their wedding, and two dusty and weighty volumes:  Cassell’s Illustrated Shakespeare (1890).  I picked these up for just £1 each – perhaps ‘rescued’ is the better word: only the Histories and the Comedies were there, and they were on a bargain table outside a second hand shop, slowly dissolving in the rain.  Almost like abandoned puppies.  What book-lover could possibly resist?

So that’s all well and good, I suppose.  Books homed, sure, but no room at the inn for the twenty or thirty personal EMP volumes I’ve got on my shelves at school – a project for next summer, perhaps?  And what you can’t see is that all the remaining bookshelves in this room and the rest of the flat remain in disarray.  The table is no clearer, it just has different books sitting on it!  Priorities, and all that …


[a] Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ‘Ulysses’, available at

Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Shakespeare-obsessed 'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'; Friend of the Orangutan

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