The best books about William Shakespeare to help you love him even more

Jessica Barksdale Inclan Author Of The Play's the Thing
By Jessica Barksdale Inclan

Who am I?

While I taught Shakespeare’s plays all my teaching career, I stayed in my lanes: Hamlet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear. As a poetry teacher, I used his sonnets as examples of metaphor and form, but never did I consider myself an expert. However, when the idea for my novel popped into my head, I realized I had some serious reading to do. Not only did I study the facts, I delved into the fiction. While some of these books came out during my writing and others after, I didn’t lose my interest, picking up whatever new Shakespeare book appeared. These are some of my favorites.

I wrote...

The Play's the Thing

By Jessica Barksdale Inclan,

Book cover of The Play's the Thing

What is my book about?

Shakespeare professor Jessica Randall time travels back to 1598 and lands in the rooms of her favorite writer. However, things don’t go very well, as both their lives are in turmoil. Can they save each other and find a way for Jessica to return home? And will she want to? Will Shakespeare let her go? More importantly, how can they both use time to fix the wrongs in both their lives?

The books I picked & why

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Shakespeare in Love: A Screenplay

By Marc Norman, Tom Stoppard,

Book cover of Shakespeare in Love: A Screenplay

Why this book?

This is the screenplay of the movie that caught all our hearts. Until this film was made, most people imagined William Shakespeare as a balding, portly man who wrote plays that no one could understand then or now.

But in this film, Shakespeare is a (handsome) man, questing for love as well as a writer whose words speak to everyone’s heart. Plus there’s mistaken identities, subplots, intrigue, and Queen Elizabeth. What’s not to love?


By Maggie O'Farrell,

Book cover of Hamnet

Why this book?

We know the expression behind every great man is a woman. But here, in Hamnet, the great woman is in front of the man, and then together they forge their life together. This book really works around the traditional Shakespeare story, focusing on family, love, identity, and loss—and the worst loss, that of a child. We learn so much about Agnes (Anne Hathaway) and her dreams and hopes and steer around the known stories of the plays and who wrote them. So moving. Such beautiful language. I could read it again right now.

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare: A Novel

By Jude Morgan,

Book cover of The Secret Life of William Shakespeare: A Novel

Why this book?

One of the best ways to learn about a character is to listen to what other characters say (or think) about him, in this case, Shakespeare. As with Hamnet, much of this book focuses on Anne Hathaway, and we learn about Shakespeare as a very young man making his way in the world—not only as a writer—but as a lover and husband. Once in the writing world, we see the ripple effects of his writing, as fellow playwrights Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson provide their perspectives. A great look into Shakespeare and Elizabethan England.

Shakespeare After All

By Marjorie Garber,

Book cover of Shakespeare After All

Why this book?

This is a hefty tome, and Garber knows her Shakespeare. I used much of this in my research, and I was impressed by the breadth of her knowledge. Why should I have been surprised? Garber teaches at Harvard, so, well, duh. But what works so well here is that she approaches the plays in chronological order. We watch Shakespeare develop as a writer—his skills and themes deepening, growingas he grapples with comedy and tragedy. This is a book to dip in and out of but never does it disappoint.

The Tutor

By Andrea Chapin,

Book cover of The Tutor

Why this book?

With this piece of historical fiction, we are back to “Who is Shakespeare,” and did he write all those plays? We are asked to consider parts of Shakespeare’s life where there is no historical record at all. In this novel, he did pen his plays and poems, but he had a lot of help from a smart, learned woman. Yes, another great woman behind the man story. And yet, we are allowed into not only Will’s and Katherine’s collaborative writing process but into their love story. Thus we end this list as we started with Shakespeare in love.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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