My favorite books about Shakespeare’s plays and the visual arts

Why am I passionate about this?

When I studied Shakespeare’s works as an undergraduate, I became intrigued by the questions of why and how we got to the point where Shakespeare’s name is recognised all over the world, his plays are quoted in everyday conversation, and his works are central to every English Literature course. I’ve pursued these questions in my academic research, where I look at the history of Shakespeare in performance, but also at how these performances are remembered in souvenirs, pictures, and objects. 


I wrote...

Still Shakespeare and the Photography of Performance

By Sally Barnden,

Book cover of Still Shakespeare and the Photography of Performance

What is my book about?

Still Shakespeare and the Photography of Performance looks at the history of Shakespeare in performance alongside the history of photography. It asks how far we can rely on a photograph to tell us what a performance was like, looking at examples from the Victorian period to the present day. The book also explores how particular images, such as Hamlet’s interview with Yorick’s skull, have become iconic, and suggests that the answer is related to the contingencies of early photography. In the process, the book engages with philosophical questions raised by Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, and Walter Benjamin about whether photographs really tell the truth.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Exhibiting Englishness: John Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery and the Formation of a National Aesthetic

Sally Barnden Why did I love this book?

This book offers an art historian’s take on an exhibition that created a recognisable genre of ‘Shakespeare painting’ and included many paintings which informed illustration and stage design for generations. Rosie Dias looks at the connection between Boydell’s Gallery and English nationalism, noting that the gallery launched at the time of the French Revolution and of George III’s first attack of mental illness. Dias gives sensitive and informative readings of individual paintings and addresses the exhibition itself as a social and cultural event with a long-lasting influence. 

By Rosie Dias,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Exhibiting Englishness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the late 18th century, as a wave of English nationalism swept the country, the printseller John Boydell set out to create an ambitious exhibition space, one devoted to promoting and fostering a distinctly English style of history painting. With its very name, the Shakespeare Gallery signaled to Londoners that the artworks on display shared an undisputed quality and a national spirit. Exhibiting Englishness explores the responses of key artists of the period to Boydell's venture and sheds new light on the gallery's role in the larger context of British art.

Tracking the shift away from academic and Continental European…


Book cover of Hamlet and the Visual Arts, 1709-1900

Sally Barnden Why did I love this book?

Alan R. Young’s close focus on an individual play over nearly two centuries shows how far images can shape our ideas of what a play is about. He looks at paintings, illustrations, prints, photographs, and comic burlesques, demonstrating the incredible variety of images which have been inspired by Hamlet. I find Young’s chronological approach incredibly helpful, since it shows how one image influences another, and how representations of a single scene can change over time in line with fashions in the art world. 

By Alan R. Young,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hamlet and the Visual Arts, 1709-1900 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book examines the manner in which Shakespeare's Hamlet was perceived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and represented in the available visual media. The more than 2,000 visual images of Hamlet that the author has identified both reflected the critical reception of the play and simultaneously influenced the history of the ever-changing constructed cultural phenomenon that we refer to as Shakespeare.


Book cover of The Afterlife of Ophelia

Sally Barnden Why did I love this book?

If Young’s focus on just one play seemed hyper-specific, this book takes it a step further by looking at the afterlife of a single character from Hamlet. Deanne Williams and Kaara L. Peterson have brought together chapters looking at Ophelia in painting, photography, film, stage design, and even on social media. The international group of authors looks at Ophelia from different perspectives and demonstrates her connections with the history of women’s physical and mental health. The striking photograph on the cover – Gregory Crewdson’s Untitled (Ophelia) is a key example of the collection’s scope: it restages a famous nineteenth-century painting of the drowning Ophelia, but sets it in a modern living room. 

By Kaara L. Peterson (editor), Deanne Williams (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Afterlife of Ophelia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This collection of new essays is the first to explore the rich afterlife of one of Shakespeare's most recognizable characters. With contributions from an international group of established and emerging scholars, The Afterlife of Ophelia moves beyond the confines of existing scholarship and forges new lines of inquiry beyond Shakespeare studies.


Book cover of Shakespeare, Performance and the Archive

Sally Barnden Why did I love this book?

Barbara Hodgdon’s sensitive, thoughtful, and often funny writing about how we remember Shakespeare's performances was one of the main reasons I wanted to explore this topic; her essay "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Still" shaped my thinking about Shakespeare's photography. This book reflects on her lifetime of theatregoing and puts personal memories and souvenirs into conversation with other kinds of records – photographs, sketches, prompt books, and props. In the process she explores the relationship between rehearsal, performance, and archives. Her approach is consciously playful, acknowledging the role of the imagination in the workings of memory.

By Barbara Hodgdon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shakespeare, Performance and the Archive as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shakespeare, Performance and the Archive is a ground-breaking and movingly written exploration of what remains when actors evacuate the space and time of performance. An analysis of 'leftovers', it moves between tracking the politics of what is consciously archived and the politics of visible and invisible theatrical labour to trace the persistence of performance.

In this fascinating volume, Hodgdon considers how documents, material objects, sketches, drawings and photographs explore scenarios of action and behaviour - and embodied practices. Rather than viewing these leftovers as indexical signs of a theatrical past, Hodgdon argues that the work they do is neither strictly…


Book cover of Shakespeare on Silent Film: An Excellent Dumb Discourse

Sally Barnden Why did I love this book?

Today, one of the most prominent visual media in which Shakespeare’s plays are recreated is cinema. Judith Buchanan’s work exposes the role of Shakespeare in building intellectual credibility for the early film industry and addresses the paradox of adapting plays celebrated for their language in a medium with no spoken words. She shows how early films were shaped by the visual conventions of the Victorian stage and by popular technologies such as the magic lantern. The book demonstrates some of the techniques used by silent films to remake familiar images and adapt Shakespeare’s long speeches to visual storytelling. 

By Judith Buchanan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shakespeare on Silent Film as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Several hundred films based on Shakespearean material were made in cinema's 'silent' era. What economic and cultural ambitions combined in order to make Shakespeare such attractive source material for the film industry? What were the characteristic approaches of particular production companies and of particular national film industries? How were silent Shakespeare films marketed, distributed, exhibited and received? Through a series of close readings, and drawing upon a wealth of primary research, this engaging account tells an evolving story that both illuminates silent Shakespeare films already known, and brings into critical circulation other films not yet commercially available and therefore little…


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Book cover of Adventures in the Radio Trade: A Memoir

Joe Mahoney Author Of Adventures in the Radio Trade: A Memoir

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Why am I passionate about this?

Author Broadcaster Family man Dog person Aspiring martial artist

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What is my book about?

Adventures in the Radio Trade documents a life in radio, largely at Canada's public broadcaster. It's for people who love CBC Radio, those interested in the history of Canadian Broadcasting, and those who want to hear about close encounters with numerous luminaries such as Margaret Atwood, J. Michael Straczynski, Stuart McLean, Joni Mitchell, Peter Gzowski, and more. And it's for people who want to know how to make radio.

Crafted with gentle humour and thoughtfulness, this is more than just a glimpse into the internal workings of CBC Radio. It's also a prose ode to the people and shows that make CBC Radio great.

By Joe Mahoney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Adventures in the Radio Trade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In dozens of amiable, frequently humorous vignettes... Mahoney fondly recalls his career as a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio technician in this memoir... amusing and highly informative."
— Kirkus Reviews

"What a wonderful book! If you love CBC Radio, you'll love Adventures in the Radio Trade. Joe Mahoney's honest, wise, and funny stories from his three decades in broadcasting make for absolutely delightful reading!
— Robert J. Sawyer, author of The Oppenheimer Alternative''

"No other book makes me love the CBC more."
— Gary Dunford, Page Six
***
Adventures in the Radio Trade documents a life in radio, largely at Canada's…


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