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Top 5 books to celebrate William Shakespeare's 450th birthday

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Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare!

In honor of Shakespeare’s birthday on April 23, why not pick up some great books to give a new spin to reading the Bard. A great way to dip your toe in and not be overwhelmed by the immensity of Shakespeare’s genius, these books offer snippets of gorgeous language that will brighten anyone’s day.

Born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, Shakespeare moved to London in the late 1580’s and changed the world forever with his plays written beginning in the 1590’s. Stage productions still wow audiences today, like the recent Broadway “Romeo and Juliet” which starred Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad. Numerous film adaptations also make Will accessible to the masses nearly 400 years after his death.

Take the time to read and reread Shakespeare’s work and marvel at his inventive use of the English language, including hundreds of words he invented himself, and you will find new depths of meaning every time. His sonnets are legendary and extremely quotable. A list of the works inspired by Shakespeare would be far too long for one article, so here is a short list of works for bardolaters to peruse when the “Riverside Shakespeare” is inconvenient to carry around.

“Essential Shakespeare” selected by Ted Hughes with an introduction by Joyce Carol Oates is perfect for a taste of Shakespeare’s brilliance. The sonnets and soliloquies are presented without character, play or sonnet number identifications, so the words stand on their own to amaze the reader in a new way, out of context and wonderful. There is a handy index at the back of the book to reveal all the information about each selection, but it is fun to guess the play of origin for the less well-known snippets.

“Shakespeare on Love: A Personal Selection” by Simon Callow is a charming volume featuring bits of Shakespeare with commentary by the witty and erudite author. A talented actor as well as an accomplished author, Mr. Callow’s take on the nature of love in Shakespeare’s work is insightful and fun. The book is also beautifully illustrated with paintings by such famous artists as Renaissance master Andrea del Sarto, and Pre-Raphaelites Sir John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt.

“The Little Book of Shakespeare” selections by Kate and John Mannion is as portable as a book on Shakespeare can get. The volume measures about 3 ½ inches square and features lines from the plays and sonnets in sections including Love and Sex, Money, Hopes and Fears, the Passing of Time, and Insults. The lines are identified at the bottom of each page, and seem more profound each time you read them.

“Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human” by Harold Bloom is a must read volume for Shakespeare worshippers like Bloom himself who believes fervently that Shakespeare’s work taught people how to be human. Though this book is not an anthology or compilation of Shakespeare quotes, it is a fascinating look at what makes Shakespeare so timeless and so central to the cultural landscape of the world.

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” by Tom Stoppard is a play of genius in its own right inspired by the minor, yet pivotal characters in “Hamlet”. The film version starring Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, directed by Stoppard, is a classic.

And just for fun, check out Shakesblogging, a blog featuring cartoons, Shakespearean insults and an Ask Young Will column for all your Shakespeare-related questions. There is also an ongoing feud with Kit Marlowe to entertain and amuse the Elizabethan in all of us.

For more information, there are several Shakespeare websites online including pages on biography.com and poets.org as well as shakespeare-online.com.

Shakespeare's 450th Birthday Cake
Shakespeare's 450th Birthday Cake Photo by Ian Gavan

Shakespeare's 450th Birthday Cake

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare! Born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, Shakespeare moved to London in the late 1580’s and changed the world forever with his plays written beginning in the 1590’s. In honor of Shakespeare’s birthday on April 23, why not pick up some great books to give a new spin to reading the Bard. A great way to dip your toe in and not be overwhelmed by the immensity of Shakespeare’s genius, these books offer snippets of gorgeous language that will brighten anyone’s day.

"Essential Shakespeare"
"Essential Shakespeare" Amazon.com

"Essential Shakespeare"

“Essential Shakespeare” selected by Ted Hughes with an introduction by Joyce Carol Oates is perfect for a taste of Shakespeare’s brilliance. The sonnets and soliloquies are presented without character, play or sonnet number identifications, so the words stand on their own to amaze the reader in a new way, out of context and wonderful. There is a handy index at the back of the book to reveal all the information about each selection, but it is fun to guess the play of origin for the less well-known snippets.

"Shakespeare on Love"
"Shakespeare on Love" Amazon.com

"Shakespeare on Love"

“Shakespeare on Love: A Personal Selection” by Simon Callow is a charming volume featuring bits of Shakespeare with commentary by the witty and erudite author. A talented actor as well as an accomplished author, Mr. Callow’s take on the nature of love in Shakespeare’s work is insightful and fun. The book is also beautifully illustrated with paintings by such famous artists as Renaissance master Andrea del Sarto, and Pre-Raphaelites Sir John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt.

"The Little Book of Shakespeare"
"The Little Book of Shakespeare" Amazon.com

"The Little Book of Shakespeare"

“The Little Book of Shakespeare” selections by Kate and John Mannion is as portable as a book on Shakespeare can get. The volume measures about 3 ½  inches square and features lines from the plays and sonnets in sections including Love and Sex, Money, Hopes and Fears, the Passing of Time, and Insults. The lines are identified at the bottom of each page, and seem more profound each time you read them.

"Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human"
"Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human" Amazon.com

"Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human"

“Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human” by Harold Bloom is a must read volume for Shakespeare worshippers like Bloom himself who believes fervently that Shakespeare’s work taught people how to be human. Though this book is not an anthology or compilation of Shakespeare quotes, it is a fascinating look at what makes Shakespeare so timeless and so central to the cultural landscape of the world.

"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead"
"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" Amazon.com

"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead"

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” by Tom Stoppard is a play of genius in its own right inspired by the minor, yet pivotal characters in “Hamlet”. The film version starring Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, directed by Stoppard, is a classic.

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