April 23rd is the day literature lovers traditionally celebrate the birth of William Shakespeare, the most enduringly popular writer in English, and perhaps the entire world. No one knows his exact birthdate, but he was baptized on April 26th, 1564, and back then, that kind of ceremony usually took place about three days after a child was born. Oh, and he's known to have died on April 23rd, 1616, which makes for a memorable symmetry. April 23rd is also the feast day of St. George, patron saint of England, which has always seemed more than a coincidence to those who believe Shakespeare's talent elevates him beyond the realm of mere mortals.
We might not take things quite that far ourselves, but we're big fans of the man's work. And since we make liberal use of a quotation from one of his plays ("As You Like It," to be specific) on every page of our website, we feel obliged to pay him back for all he did by calling attention to some of the best work by and about him here.
The first place to start is the work itself. This is a big book, but not all that daunting when you think about it. Less than a dollar per play, not to mention all the bonus poetry.
Speaking of poetry, Shakespeare's sonnets by themselves would be a lifetime's masterwork for anyone else. This volume contains each and every one in sequence, and accompanies them with the astute commentary and analysis of Helen Vendler, the doyenne of American poetry. It includes an audio CD featuring readings of 65 of the poems as well.
Biographies of Shakespeare are by nature speculative, and Greenblatt's is no exception, but there's as solid a foundation of facts underneath this one as there can be. It's informed by state-of-the-art scholarship, but it reads like a novel.
Tony Tanner was a leading British academic who composed marvelously insightful introductory essays for every one of Shakespeare's plays, and they're collected in paperback in this volume for the first time ever. Available May 7th.
There have been many fictional portraits of Shakespeare, but the most convincing may be this one from Anthony Burgess, best known for A Clockwork Orange. He's one of the few writers of any era who can match the Bard's own word-besottedness.
A close look at the then-current events and personal crises that affected Shakespeare during one critical year of his career. The context this book provides makes the plays simultaneously richer and more accessible.
The only time Shakespeare's words were recorded while he spoke in his own voice was during a legal deposition that wasn't discovered until the middle of the 20th century. Charles Nicholl has used this unlikely source to bring to life an entire Jacobean-era neighborhood, with all its lively drama and occasional tawdriness.
If you just want to taste something Bardish without taking a big bite, you can't do better than this thriller from local author Michael Gruber. It's an intellectual mystery a la The Da Vinci Code that far outdoes Dan Brown. In it, the hunt is on for a lost Shakespearean manuscript that just might be the most valuable item on earth.
In search of another Northwest connection to Stratford-upon-Avon? Look no further than this photographic collection. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland has been bringing the Bard's drama, comedy, and history to audiences since 1935.
Hook 'em young, we say. This thriller for the 10-and-over set tells the story of an Elizabethan-era orphan tasked by his fearsome master with stealing a copy of "Hamlet" and winding up behind the scenes at the Globe Theatre. Full of unexpected twists and turns.