shakespeare days

The New York Times September 15, 2013

Did you see the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times on Sunday?

For a long, long time, I’ve wanted to read all of Shakespeare’s plays–all 38.

In June I was re-reading one of my favorite books, The Writing Life, by Ellen Gilchrist. And in it, there’s a chapter about “The Shakespeare Group.” Ellen writes:

the writing lifeWe were sitting on the swings on a screened-in porch and I said, “I wish we could go to Stratford in England and see some of Shakespeare’s plays.” I had seen plays there the year before and been dazzled by them although I only half understood what I was seeing. I had studied Shakespeare at Vanderbilt and seen the movies made from the plays. WHAT I HAD NOT DONE WAS READ THEM OUT LOUD, WHICH IS THE ONLY WAY TO KNOW WHAT THEY ARE.

“We could get the plays and read them,” Patti said. “We could read them right here in Fayetteville.”

“We could read King Lear!” I shouted. “Of course we could.”

“Let’s do it,” Margaret said. “Let’s do it tonight.”

So, in Ellen Gilchrist fashion, they did. And they continued to do so for at least 16 years. Later in the book, she recommends reading the plays in order. Which I thought, sure, of course, why not. But what order Shakespeare wrote them in is not exactly something that is agreed upon. After spending a couple of hours on the internet, I decided whatever order Harold Bloom thought Shakespeare wrote them in was good enough for me.

Then I thought, a deadline. One a week! Or all 38 in a year! Then I thought, why kill yourself?

So I’m reading them. In order. Kind of constantly. Hoping to read two a month. I started July 1, 2013.

I will add a tab at the top of the blog with a list and some easy-to-find details in case anyone wants to join me. I’ve also added a tiny counter to the right sidebar.

Here’s my plan …

  1. read the play
  2. listen to the play (I read first if I can but if I happen to be driving a long distance, I listen first)
  3. watch a movie if it exists and is not terrible
  4. see a play if I can

… and here are my tools:

  1. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom
  2. The Riverside Shakespeare, plus for traveling
  3. the FOLGER Shakespeare Library Editions of the individual plays, with text on the right and notes on the left
  4. The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare audio recordings (a wonderful gift request)

19 thoughts on “shakespeare days

  1. I’ve seen/watched/read many but not all with my husband and I also audited a Shakespeare class at Bowdoin. When we lived in London, my husband binge watched RSC history plays. I prefer to space them out. We just got tickets to see Stephen Fry in 12th Night in NYC. I’m impressed with your project.


  2. Cynthia, I don’t remember if you mentioned this when I first began following you, maybe a month or two ago, and remember thinking, “Ooooo, that sounds wonderful!” Of course, I’m trying to read so many things, stopping to FINALLY read Shakespeare for the first time since high school (of course, I hated it all back then!) won’t fit in that I can see 😦 I am SO tempted to join you though! It must be a good 4 or 5 years ago when, in the Barnes’ annex, I picked up WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, THE COMPLETE WORKS along with SHAKESPEARE’S WORDS, A GLOSSARY & LANGUAGE COMPANION. Have I touched either of them other than to arrange them on a shelf? *sigh*


  3. You always amaze me. Would love to join you, but my TBR stack is so high. I am spending a great deal of time in my car these days, and will be driving to Houston soon. Perhpas I’ll listen in my car. Four hours, five if I miss my exit on the 610 Loop.


  4. I read all the plays in grad school (oral exam, I don’t miss you), and while Harold Bloom has his moments, I think Marjorie Garber’s Shakespeare After All is a better introduction. The Riverside is the standard for a one-volume edition, but I prefer the Arden for individual plays — the Folger’s layout is too busy, I think, and the notes can be distracting, taking focus away from the original flow. I hope you enjoy reading the plays — even the early ones (which can be truly awful at times) are great fun.


  5. LOL…OK, that REALLY sounds dreadful! lol BUT—the payoff is a good one 🙂 Maybe if I put it in my bedside lineup (the chosen few of the many in queue to be read sometime soon), I would be more inclined! Thanks! I’ll let you know what happens! 😀


  6. Carolyn, I don’t know why I didn’t think to write a post asking for suggestions before I got started! Thanks so much! I just ordered Marjorie Garber’s book–it looks wonderful. And I also ordered my next play in the Arden version even though the Folger version doesn’t seem busy at all to me because all the notes are on the left side and only the text is on the right side so if I’m following along ok, I don’t read or even notice the left side. Still, I’m excited to try the Arden version too. Thanks again.


  7. I hope you’ll love Shakespeare After All! When I taught Shakespeare at BU I recommended it to all my students (can’t say that many of them signed up for an extra several-hundred-page book, though!). Happy reading!


  8. OK, last night I DID at least pull it off the shelf and began. I’m not confident I’ll succeed simply because the language, though SO beautiful, has always been too cryptic to me 😦 We’ll see!


  9. Naomi, I’m getting so behind! Thank you for your comment. I am enjoying listening on tape–the emphasis of the professional readers often adds so much more meaning than I got on my reading. Off I go to your post…


  10. This is amazing! I found your blog via finding Contrary and reading “Armchair” and loving it. When I like a writer, I want to know everything about her, and thus I landed, eventually, on your blog. Just today I had recalled reading Ellen Gilchrist’s Writing Life, also one of my favorite books, about her Shakespeare group, and also just today, I tracked down such a group in the village where I’m currently living, Ojai, CA. One final “sync:” Annie Dillard was my thesis chair when I was learning to write.


  11. Hey Kirie, thanks so much for reading The Empty Armchair and for loving it and for finding me and leaving such a wonderful comment. I’ve been working all day on my new novel and it’s been tough and slow going. Your comment made it all worth it. And I wanted to be sure to respond today so I could get in on the Ellen Gilchrist / Shakespeare train. I would love to hear more about the Shakespeare group in Ojai. And how lucky are you that Annie Dillard was your thesis chair! I have corresponded with her but never met her. (I’m in Provincetown as I write to you!) I look forward to getting to know you and to reading your writing.


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