Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, in New Edition to Celebrate the 400thAnniversary of the Bard’s Passing, Is a Must for Classic Lovers
By: Ellis Nassour
Shakespeare lovers, want to impress with your knowledge of the Bard of Avon? Declaim lines from Othello? Be a Cleopatterer rapper? Learn more about Much Ado about Nothing? To be or not to be with Hamlet? Know when all’s well that ends well in dozens of comedies, tragedies, and sonnets?
A great asset to brush up your Shakespeare and to start quoting him now is the magnificent Oxford Companion to Shakespeare [Oxford University Press; 608 pages; 9 X 11”; 100 B&W illustrations/photos, some full page; map keyed to the history plays; massive A-Z reference sections; new Foreword by Simon Russell Beale; SRP $65].
As with OUE’s 2001 The Oxford Shakespeare, you’re in quite knowledgeable hands. Editing are Michael Dobson, University of Birmingham professor of Shakespeare Studies and director of the Shakespeare Institute, and Stanley Wells, not only a CBE [Commander, Most Excellent Order of the British Empire] but also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, president of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and the former holder of Dobson’s position. Revising the edition are Will Sharpe, a U of B teaching Fellow and contributor to numerous research volumes on the Bard and his works, and Erin Sullivan, a U of B lecturer at the Shakespeare Institute and editor of two volumes on Shakespeare.
It’s difficult to think of a topic that isn’t touched upon by these masters, whose goal was to inform readers about Shakespeare’s works, times, lives, and afterlives.” However, the book isn’t so deep or scholastic that it’s not accessible. Far from it. It’s certainly a valuable tool for those reading Shakespeare from middle school onward.
Comprising more than 3,000 entries [with close to 100 new entries], the Companion covers a wide spectrum of topics — such as Shakespeare’s biography, legend, works, real and fictional characters/individuals; plot summaries; and Elizabethan and Jacobean literature. Play entries include scene-by-scene detail with examinations of the play’s critical and stage and screen history.
Notable players, such as Thomas Betterton (1635-1710), “the greatest actor of the Restoration period”; Olivier, Branagh, Dench, and McKellen, pop up.
There’s something you might not expect: the United States of America entry discusses the Classics Illustrated comic-book versions of the plays and notes Shakespearian elements in TV series such as Gilligan’s Island.
Surprisingly missing is background on the many festivals devoted to the Bard’s work, not to mention an Index, which would be helpful in retrieving information or wanting to do a read-over.