Here at CSDC, we LOVE Shakespeare! Our students compete at the Texas Renaissance Festival in the fall and the Scarborough Renaissance Festival in the spring. We also perform at events such as Shakespeare in the Village and every couple of years do a full length Shakespearean play. Over the years, I have read a number of books about Shakespeare and about performing his plays. Here are my favorites. (NOTE: The vast majority of books about Shakespeare and his works are written by Christians, so please keep that in mind when deciding if you want to use these.)
The Actor’s Guide to Performing Shakespeare for Film, Television, and Theatre by Madd Harold
Very detailed inspection of the nuts and bolts of speaking Shakespeare’s prose and poetry. Includes exercises and examples. The amount of in-depth discussion of how to use Shakespeare’s language makes up for the few sometimes questionable examples the author chooses.
Brightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide to Six Shakespeare Plays by Peter J. Leithart
The rare exception to secular Shakespeare books. I wish the author had turned this into a series of books and examined more than just six Shakespeare plays. Covering Henry V, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, and Much Ado About Nothing, Mr. Leithart seeks to understand the ways in which Shakespeare uses his characters and situations to reflect a Christian worldview. Each play’s chapter includes commentary, review questions, thought questions, video suggestions, and paper topic suggestions. An extremely fascinating read!
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Shakespeare by Laurie Rozakis
A great, easy to understand introduction to all things Shakespearean. The book is written to encourage people to understand and appreciate Shakespeare’s works, and as such, the language is concise and simple to digest.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare - any version
No Shakespearean library would be complete without a copy of his complete works. Any version will do, from teensy-tinsy print to a heavy, display copy. Whichever one you get, you will have at your fingertips the greatest dramatic literature ever written. Granted, you can find all of the Bard’s plays online for free, but sometimes, you just want to handle a real book.
Instant Shakespeare: A Proven Technique for Actors, Directors, and Teachers by Louis Fantasia
Another book about how to speak and make sense of Shakespeare’s language. I find Mr. Fantasia’s technique to be helpful enough that I apply much of it to non-Shakespearean plays, as well.
No Fear Shakespeare
Almost every Shakespeare play has a No Fear version, and most of those can be found free online. These have one page in Shakespearean language, and one page in modern language. While I don’t really recommend reading this version, it is helpful if you’ve looked up words for meanings, and still are not positive what a line means.
Playing Shakespeare: An Actor’s Guide by John Barton
If you have ever wished that you could take an acting class with Ian McKellen, Judi Densch, Ben Kingsley, or Patrick Stewart, this is the book for you! Originally a series of workshops on how to work with Shakespearean verse that were televised, the workshops have been transferred to the page. If you would like to both watch the series and read the book, here is a playlist of the nine workshops on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2VnxiW3oqk&list=PLboSQWmG70j_S2nWkRlncZYW49nLeFKWj.
Shakespeare by Michael Wood
Another book/video series, but this one focuses on Shakespeare’s life and how he came to work on his plays. The video includes wonderful clips of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performances, and both book and video have thought-provoking insight into Shakespeare’s life and times. The DVD set is amazingly inexpensive:
There are many different lexicons and dictionaries, both in book form and online. It is essential to have access to this resource, because words don’t necessarily mean the same things now that they did then.
Shakespeare for Dummies by John Doyle, Raye Lischner
In the same vein as An Idiot’s Guide to Shakespeare. Covers a general overview of Shakespeare’s life, his plays, and how to speak/read his works.
This is an amazing three season TV series that pairs famous Shakespearean actors with a Shakespearean play. They delve into the background of the play and into the character as they prepare to perform the show. You can you can buy season 1 and 3 on Amazon (remember to sign in on AmazonSmile and choose CSDC as your charity!), you can watch season 2 and 3 on PBS, and you can find season 3 on Amazon Prime Video. Well worth the hunt to find each episode!
Shakespeare’s Advice to the Players by Peter Hall
Shakespeare is the best training for an actor that can be found, regardless of whether an actor chooses to perform Shakespeare in front of an audience or not. Peter Hall, the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company, is an expert at how to make Shakespeare understandable. Read this work for insight into making Shakespeare make sense.
Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard by Allison Schumacher
I literally cannot keep a copy of this book on my shelf. I loan it out to my students, because it is the simplest, most family friendly version of learning Shakespeare that I have found, and I never get the books back. :-) All the basics are covered, along with exercises, and a list of the best film versions of Shakespeare’s plays.
Speak the Speech: Shakespeare’s Monologues Illuminated by Rhona Silverbush and Sami Plotkin
A wonderful resource to help actors find a monologue and to help them study characterization and line meanings. While not every monologue is listed, the 150 here should keep any Shakespearean actor busy for a while!