Book Review: Shakespeare’s Works

Before you sigh, groan, and close out of this article- hear me out! I love Shakespeare, but not just because I am sucking up to the literature teachers.

Have you ever read “Othello” or actually paid attention in class to “Taming of the Shrew”? Every aspect of these plays bleeds excellent reading, if you give them the time of the day! Shakespearean English can be a bit confusing at times (thank goodness for those footnotes), but it is colorful! Insults include “your abilities are too infant-like for doing much alone” (Coriolanus); “your brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage” (As You Like It); “Thou lily-livered boy” (Macbeth); and, one of my personal favorites, “there’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune” (Henry IV). These insults are hilarious without the context, but, if you research Victorian-era context, you begin to chuckle even harder.

Furthermore, the morals of the stories are applicable to all time periods and face many issues. Shakespeare was a man before his time and wrote about many different topics. His morals focused on aspects of racism, xenophobia, sexism, classism, the tyranny of extremism, politics, familial relationships, and religious intolerance. Whenever I read one of Shakespeare’s works, I learn to see the world in a different light- a beautiful opportunity to learn. Please, if you feel that the story is interesting after reading this, go find it! If you find a play and ask others about their perspectives, you learn more about the world around you than if you chose to evade it.

Othello

Written in the Victorian era Italy, this story premises ideas of racism, classism, sexism, and familial bonds. Essentially, Othello- a freed Black slave- engages the beautiful aristocrat, Desdemona. However, many schemes rise against this man because he is a different race and different social class than Desdemona, and- despite his stellar character- many rise against him. First is Iago- his “honest” friend- angry and distraught that he was only given flag-bearing duties under Othello’s military rule. Iago plots against Othello for the entirety of the play and is purely sexist and racist- making crude and cruel comments behind everyone’s back. He plots with Roderigo- a fool who had previously attempted to get married to Desdemona- to bring an end to the happy marriage. But, alas, tragedy befalls the characters. I cried several times throughout the play but, at the end, began to have a deeper understanding of racial and gender biases.

This play is fantastic for those who understand what it feels to be minimized due to their race, gender, spiritual, or purely for their martial status. There are several parts in the play that may make your jaw drop, but don’t put it down until you have read it all- it’s worth it.

(Barbantio accuses Othello of using sorcery to entice Desdemona)

The Taming of the Shrew

This story focuses heavily on sexism, so get ready for a ride! The wealthy Lucentio comes to Padua, a small town in Italy, to pursue his studies in university. However, he is distracted by Bianca- a beautiful, wealthy woman still in her father’s home. However, her father tells Lucentio that his first-born daughter, Katherine, must be wed first. But, Katherine is a “shrew”- a strongly spoken woman, who has no time to “mind her manners” and act in lady-like ways. Lucentio has a strong distaste for this woman and decides instead to convince his rough-mannered friend, Petruchio, to marry her. Petruchio treats her harshly and at the end, forces her to become a submissive Italian housewife.

This play is clearly satirical- Shakespeare speaks against the culture against women and clearly has a disdain for them. This play centers around ideas of self respect, marriage roles, sexism, and prejudice. Jaws-to-the-floor is a clear understatement. This play will open your eyes to the culture of sexism and how it impacts even the most simple components of life, such as marriage.

The Taming of the Shrew: 'Household Kates' | Shakespeare's Globe | Rent or Buy on Globe Player - YouTube

(Petruchio and Katherine, his “Kate”)

Comedy Of Errors

Now, this is not a fable or tragedy, like the aforementioned stories. This is a comedy- it really is hilarious!

Essentially, two sets of twins are separated at birth. Both twins are named Dromio and Antipholus- which is very confusing at first. One twin is set up in a small village in Italy and is a prosperous aristocrat, with his sideman, Dromio I. The other Antipholus (Antipholus I’s twin) is a merchant from the opposite side of Italy who lived with their father until he revealed, at his death, that Antipholus II had a mother and brother elsewhere. Thus, Antipholus II visited the small village with his sideman, Dromio II.

The problem is: the twins are identical in every aspect. They look exactly alike. This becomes a problem when Antipholus II falls in love with Antipholus I’s sister-in-law… she is absolutely horrified and accuses him of infidelity towards his own wife (Antipholus I’s wife). Similarly, Antipholus II is brought a chain by a local merchant and accepts it, believing it to be a gift. This is fine until Antipholus I is asked to pay for this chain, that he did not receive. Thus, he refuses and is held in jail for his debt, much to his and Dromio I’s confusion. As Antipholus II and Dromio II flee the city, fearing it to be evil, they are caught by officers and run into a nearby abbey. There’s also a brief drama between Dromio II and Dromio I’s love interest.

This play is purely for fun! But, it does bring small mentions about racism, sexism, and the overall oppressive culture. I suggest this play if you want to start regarding Shakespeare but have no idea where to start.

The Comedy of Errors — The Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse

 

These are my top 3 reads! But, I have plenty more I have read. I’m proud to say I have read nearly all of the plays, but would love to have reading buddies to appreciate it with!