Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

Today is believed to be the day of William Shakespeare’s birth (and death!). Born in 1564, Shakespeare occupies a universal position as one of the greatest literary figures of all time. In celebration of all of his contributions to drama, poetry, literary history and more, we’ve compiled a reading list of our best books on Shakespeare’s life and works. Today, let’s celebrate the man who enriched language and our imaginations, and think of him as we read his own words,  “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” (Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene V).

Lectures on Shakespearek9557
W. H. Auden, Edited by Arthur Kirsch
Here’s Chapter 1
Reflecting the twentieth-century poet’s lifelong engagement with the crowning masterpieces of English literature, these lectures add immeasurably to both our understanding of Auden and our appreciation of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom
C. L. Barber, With a new foreword by Stephen Greenblatt
Check out Chapter 1
Revealing the interplay between social custom and dramatic form, the book shows how the Elizabethan antithesis between everyday and holiday comes to life in the comedies’ combination of seriousness and levity.

Shakespeare’s Brain: Reading with Cognitive Theoryk7024
Mary Thomas Crane
Here’s the Introduction
Crane reveals in Shakespeare’s texts a web of structures and categories through which meaning is created. The approach yields fresh insights into a wide range of his plays, including The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Measure for Measure, and The Tempest.

Hamlet in Purgatory
Stephen Greenblatt
Winner of 2002 Erasmus Institute Book Prize
One of Choice’s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2001
Read Chapter 1
This book constitutes an extraordinary feat that could have been accomplished by only Stephen Greenblatt. It is at once a deeply satisfying reading of medieval religion, an innovative interpretation of the apparitions that trouble Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, and an exploration of how a culture can be inhabited by its own spectral leftovers.

Shakespeare and Elizabeth: The Meeting of Two Mythsk8633
Helen Hackett
Read the Introduction
Did William Shakespeare ever meet Queen Elizabeth I? There is no evidence of such a meeting, yet for three centuries writers and artists have been provoked and inspired to imagine it. This is the first book to explore the rich history of invented encounters between the poet and the Queen, and examines how and why the mythology of these two charismatic and enduring cultural icons has been intertwined in British and American culture.

Johann Gottfried Herder, Translated and edited by Gregory Moore
Here’s Chapter 1
One of the most important and original works in the history of literary criticism, this passionate essay pioneered a new, historicist approach to cultural artifacts by arguing that they should be judged not by their conformity to a set of conventions imported from another time and place, but by the effectiveness of their response to their own historical and cultural context.

k9582Hamlet’s Arab Journey: Shakespeare’s Prince and Nasser’s Ghost
Margaret Litvin
Read the Introduction
Documenting how global sources and models helped nurture a distinct Arab Hamlet tradition, this book represents a new approach to the study of international Shakespeare appropriation.

Double Vision: Moral Philosophy and Shakespearean Drama
Tzachi Zamir
Here’s Chapter 1
Developing an account of literature’s relation to knowledge, morality, and rhetoric, and advancing philosophical-literary readings of Richard III, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, and King Lear, Zamir shows how his approach can open up familiar texts in surprising and rewarding ways.