100 books like Shakespeare in a Divided America

By James Shapiro,

Here are 100 books that Shakespeare in a Divided America fans have personally recommended if you like Shakespeare in a Divided America. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Hamnet

Ana Veciana-Suarez Author Of Dulcinea

From my list on bringing to life the forgotten Baroque Age.

Why am I passionate about this?

I became fascinated with 16th-century and 17th-century Europe after reading Don Quixote many years ago. Since then, every novel or nonfiction book about that era has felt both ancient and contemporary. I’m always struck by how much our environment has changed—transportation, communication, housing, government—but also how little we as people have changed when it comes to ambition, love, grief, and greed. I doubled down my reading on that time period when I researched my novel, Dulcinea. Many people read in the eras of the Renaissance, World War II, or ancient Greece, so I’m hoping to introduce them to the Baroque Age. 

Ana's book list on bringing to life the forgotten Baroque Age

Ana Veciana-Suarez Why did Ana love this book?

I love O’Farrell’s use of language–the depth and the poetry—and have read most of her books. I especially liked this book because I read it shortly after my daughter died in 2020, and the maternal and complicated feelings of Hamnet’s mother (Shakespeare’s wife) are so well rendered.

O’Farrell also has a magical way of recreating a time and a place. I think she’s one of the best writers when it comes to getting into a character’s head, too.

By Maggie O'Farrell,

Why should I read it?

32 authors picked Hamnet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE 2020 WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION - THE NO. 1 BESTSELLER 2021
'Richly sensuous... something special' The Sunday Times
'A thing of shimmering wonder' David Mitchell

TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.

On a summer's day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a sudden fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London.

Neither…


Book cover of The Private Life of William Shakespeare

Carole Levin Author Of The Reign and Life of Queen Elizabeth I: Politics, Culture, and Society

From my list on to enjoy Shakespeare in the twenty-first century.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been fascinated with Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare since I was a child and read a kid biography of the queen and saw a Shakespearean comedy. The two topics are completely intertwined—Elizabeth saw Shakespeare’s plays at court and the strong women in Shakespeare’s plays reflect the queen. Elizabeth and Shakespeare have been both my passion and my profession. I have loved teaching and writing about them. One of my favorite things to do is to go see Shakespeare plays and to see portraits of the queen at museums. This passion has so enriched my life. The queen and the playwright have been very good to me. 

Carole's book list on to enjoy Shakespeare in the twenty-first century

Carole Levin Why did Carole love this book?

Gorgeously illustrated and elegantly written, Lena Orlin’s new study of William Shakespeare shows her great skill at doing research to give us new ways to understand the playwright. She puts the evidence of his life within the context of other Elizabethan documents. Orlin proves that we can know more about Shakespeare by examining the lives of the people in his circles. As she tells us, this is neither a literary biography nor a full biography, but it is a book that follows the evidence to tell us much more about Shakespeare the man. Shakespeare cared deeply about his father and his marriage to Anne was much less contentious and a more pleasant partnership. Though there have been so many books about Shakespeare, Orlin helps us understand him beyond the myths. Her brilliant and thorough reading of documents presents a wonderful read.

By Lena Cowen Orlin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Private Life of William Shakespeare as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A new biography of William Shakespeare that explores his private life in Stratford-upon-Avon, his personal aspirations, his self-determination, and his relations with the members of his family and his neighbours.

The Private Life of William Shakespeare tells the story of Shakespeare in Stratford as a family man. The book offers close readings of key documents associated with Shakespeare and develops a contextual understanding of the genres from which these documents emerge. It reconsiders clusters of evidence that have been held to prove some persistent biographical fables. It also shows how the histories of some of Shakespeare's neighbours illuminate aspects of…


Book cover of Women Talk Back to Shakespeare: Contemporary Adaptations and Appropriations

Carole Levin Author Of The Reign and Life of Queen Elizabeth I: Politics, Culture, and Society

From my list on to enjoy Shakespeare in the twenty-first century.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been fascinated with Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare since I was a child and read a kid biography of the queen and saw a Shakespearean comedy. The two topics are completely intertwined—Elizabeth saw Shakespeare’s plays at court and the strong women in Shakespeare’s plays reflect the queen. Elizabeth and Shakespeare have been both my passion and my profession. I have loved teaching and writing about them. One of my favorite things to do is to go see Shakespeare plays and to see portraits of the queen at museums. This passion has so enriched my life. The queen and the playwright have been very good to me. 

Carole's book list on to enjoy Shakespeare in the twenty-first century

Carole Levin Why did Carole love this book?

Jo Carney’s book is a wonderful way of appreciating both Shakespeare and contemporary literature that responds to the themes he developed all those centuries ago. This study explores more recent adaptations published in the last decade whereby women—either authors or their characters—talk back to Shakespeare in a variety of new ways. Carney puts modern works such as Prospero’s Daughter, Desdemona, Hag-Seed, The Gap of Time, The Porpoise, Station Eleven, and Hamnet into dialogue with the plays Othello, The Tempest, The Winter’s Tale, Pericles, and King Lear. This beautifully written and very accessible book allows us to think about contemporary issues of sexual assault, gender expectations, and differences in new and very exciting ways as well as allowing readers to develop a new appreciation of Shakespeare.  

By Jo Eldridge Carney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women Talk Back to Shakespeare as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This study explores more recent adaptations published in the last decade whereby women-either authors or their characters-talk back to Shakespeare in a variety of new ways.

"Talking back to Shakespeare", a term common in intertextual discourse, is not a new phenomenon, particularly in literature. For centuries, women writers-novelists, playwrights, and poets-have responded to Shakespeare with inventive and often transgressive retellings of his work. Thus far, feminist scholarship has examined creative responses to Shakespeare by women writers through the late twentieth century. This book brings together the "then" of Shakespeare with the "now" of contemporary literature by examining how many of…


Book cover of Kingship, Madness, and Masculinity on the Early Modern Stage: Mad World, Mad Kings

Carole Levin Author Of The Reign and Life of Queen Elizabeth I: Politics, Culture, and Society

From my list on to enjoy Shakespeare in the twenty-first century.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been fascinated with Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare since I was a child and read a kid biography of the queen and saw a Shakespearean comedy. The two topics are completely intertwined—Elizabeth saw Shakespeare’s plays at court and the strong women in Shakespeare’s plays reflect the queen. Elizabeth and Shakespeare have been both my passion and my profession. I have loved teaching and writing about them. One of my favorite things to do is to go see Shakespeare plays and to see portraits of the queen at museums. This passion has so enriched my life. The queen and the playwright have been very good to me. 

Carole's book list on to enjoy Shakespeare in the twenty-first century

Carole Levin Why did Carole love this book?

Today concerns over madness and disability are very much with us, especially if they connect with issues of power and masculinity. This was also true in the age of Shakespeare. Christina Gutierrez-Dennehy’s collection of essays on the topic of mad kings on the Renaissance stage is very readable and interesting, and tie in with contemporary issues. The book is divided into three sections: distracted kingship, fractured masculinity, and performed madness. The plays under discussion include Shakespeare’s King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III, Henry VI, and All’s Well That Ends Well. Gutierrez-Dennehy brilliantly and explicitly brings the topics raised in the collection into the twenty-first century

By Christina Gutierrez-Dennehy (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kingship, Madness, and Masculinity on the Early Modern Stage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book provides a fascinating study into the history of kingship, madness and masculinity that was acted out on the early modern stage. Providing students of early modern history, theatre and performance studies and disability studies with interesting case studies to inform their upper level seminars and research.

Throughout the volume the authors engage with the field of disability studies to show how disability and mental health were portrayed and what that tells us about the period and the people who lived in it. Showing students, a new dimension of early modern Europe.

The chapters uncover how, as the early…


Book cover of Lord Strange's Men and Their Plays

David McInnis Author Of Shakespeare and Lost Plays

From my list on to understand the history of Shakespeare's theatre.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Shakespeare scholar with a particular interest in theatre history and the repertories of the London commercial playing companies of the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries. I’m particularly fascinated by the hundreds of plays written during this period that have not survived, whether as the result of fire, vandalism, censorship, or more mundane causes like a lack of interest in or opportunity for publication. The surviving plays from the period are the distinct minority; yet the plays lost to us were known to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, who often wrote in response to what else was being performed across London.

David's book list on to understand the history of Shakespeare's theatre

David McInnis Why did David love this book?

In the wake of Knutson’s work, a number of seminal studies of individual playing companies from Shakespeare’s London have appeared, but I particularly value Manley and MacLean’s for the prominence they give to the role of lost plays in the repertory of Lord Strange’s Men. This book normalised the understanding that if one is to study a companyits patron, its players, its performance venues (including touring), and its stylethen one cannot do so without attending to the plays once performed by the company but which have since been lost.

By Lawrence Manley, Sally-Beth MacLean,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lord Strange's Men and Their Plays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For a brief period in the late Elizabethan Era an innovative company of players dominated the London stage. A fellowship of dedicated thespians, Lord Strange's Men established their reputation by concentrating on "modern matter" performed in a spectacular style, exploring new modes of impersonation, and deliberately courting controversy. Supported by their equally controversial patron, theater connoisseur and potential claimant to the English throne Ferdinando Stanley, the company included Edward Alleyn, considered the greatest actor of the age, as well as George Bryan, Thomas Pope, Augustine Phillips, William Kemp, and John Hemings, who later joined William Shakespeare and Richard Burbage in…


Book cover of A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599

Larry Silver Author Of Europe Views the World, 1500-1700

From my list on values in European historical periods.

Why am I passionate about this?

A retired professor, an art historian who taught at Berkeley, Northwestern, and the University of Pennsylvania. Since my main interest is the emergence of Europe from the late Middle Ages and into the Early Modern period around 1500, I naturally gravitate to non-fiction books that engage with the shifting interests and values of that era, and my own books include similar efforts to discuss visual art in relation to religion, literature, politics, and wider contemporary cultural movements. Among my own books I would cite: Rubens, Velázquez, and the King of Spain (with Aneta Georgievska-Shine); Europe Views the World, 1500-1700; and the forthcoming Art and Dis-Illusion in the Long Sixteenth Century.

Larry's book list on values in European historical periods

Larry Silver Why did Larry love this book?

A brilliant combination of biography and history during the amazing moment of creation of some of the Bard’s greatest plays (Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and even Hamlet). These varied dramas played out against the sensitive moment in London of an aging, heirless Queen Elizabeth I after the Armada and Irish wars but also at the formation of the East India Company.  Shapiro’s (and Shakespeare’s) sequel, The Year of Lear. Shakespeare in 1606, deserves attention, as does the vivid historical fiction, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, told from the viewpoint of Stratford village and Bard’s family during the era of the lingering Black Death.

By James Shapiro,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What accounts for Shakespeare’s transformation from talented poet and playwright to one of the greatest writers who ever lived? In this gripping account, James Shapiro sets out to answer this question, "succeed[ing] where others have fallen short." (Boston Globe)

1599 was an epochal year for Shakespeare and England. During that year, Shakespeare wrote four of his most famous plays: Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and, most remarkably, Hamlet; Elizabethans sent off an army to crush an Irish rebellion, weathered an Armada threat from Spain, gambled on a fledgling East India Company, and waited to see who…


Book cover of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

Arlene Naylor Okerlund Author Of Elizabeth: England's Slandered Queen

From my list on biographies that tell the truth.

Why am I passionate about this?

Fake news is not new. Biographies, in particular, are fraught with fallacies and fake stories. When fake news slanders individuals, reputations are ruined and lives destroyed. That’s what happened to Elizabeth Wydeville, Queen Consort to Edward IV, and mother of the two princes who disappeared during Richard III’s reign. When I discovered the slander that destroyed Queen Elizabeth’s reputation, I began a 5-year research project to set the record straight. Some fallacies are deliberate, originating in envy or power putsches. Others derive from historical laziness or incompetence. What I learned from my research has determined my choices of biographies, stories that tell previously unrevealed truths about individuals.

Arlene's book list on biographies that tell the truth

Arlene Naylor Okerlund Why did Arlene love this book?

A literary biography, Will in the World connects the plots of Shakespeare’s plays and the sentiments of his poems to the writer’s life and career. No one living knows more about Shakespeare than Stephen Greenblatt. His research is solid and impressive. In this book, Greenblatt verges a bit into speculative possibilities. Where, exactly, was Shakespeare living—what was he doing?—during “The Lost Years”? Was the “Shakeshafte” mentioned in a Lancashire document our man, perhaps tutoring as a schoolmaster in a Catholic home? 

Greenblatt carefully points out that he is discussing possibilities, not certainties. But a possibility mentioned too many times by a scholar of Greenblatt’s authority often becomes accepted as fact. Yet, I appreciate this book because it provides a huge amount of information about Shakespeare’s milieu, and it forces readers to examine critically every claim. In our current milieu, we need exercises in critical thinking and analysis.

By Stephen Greenblatt,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Will in the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A young man from a small provincial town moves to London in the late 1580s and, in a remarkably short time, becomes the greatest playwright not of his age alone but of all time. How is an achievement of this magnitude to be explained? Stephen Greenblatt brings us down to earth to see, hear, and feel how an acutely sensitive and talented boy, surrounded by the rich tapestry of Elizabethan life, could have become the world's greatest playwright.


Book cover of Shakespeare, Our Contemporary

Stephen Kinzer Author Of The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War

From my list on to understand Shakespeare and his times.

Why am I passionate about this?

My book is about political intrigue, violence, war, heroes and villains, libels and dreams, secret plots to overthrow governments, and murders most foul. It unfolds during a tense era of cultural upheaval and radical social change. A lifetime immersed in the works of Shakespeare helped prepare me to write it. I spent more than 20 years working for the New York Times, most of it as a foreign correspondent. My foreign postings placed me at the center of historic events and, at times, in the line of fire.

Stephen's book list on to understand Shakespeare and his times

Stephen Kinzer Why did Stephen love this book?

This classic work, first published in the 1960s, interprets Shakespeare’s work as portraying societies corrupted by injustice, cynical political maneuvering, and government surveillance. When it first appeared in the 1960s, it made Shakespeare’s plays seem chillingly relevant. It has the same effect today.

By Jan Kott,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Penelope is about to turn eleven and can't wait to see what life has in store. But on the morning of her birthday, Pen- elope wakens to discover she can no longer hear, just as the Pied Piper, leads the other children of Hamelin out of town. Now Penelope must set out to rescue the children. Age 10 plus.


Book cover of Hag-Seed

Jinny Webber Author Of Bedtrick

From my list on relating to Shakespeare.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a long-time teacher of Shakespeare’s plays who’s performed in and directed amateur productions and written spin-off plays myself, I love all aspects of William Shakespeare. Before writing my own books set in his era I did intensive research into its theatre and politics, but the more imaginative approach of novelists offers different delights. I like shedding our reverence for The Bard and looking at the man, his relationships, and what contributed to his plays beyond his sources. Rather than real or fictional biographies of Shakespeare, my list features creative stories for both pleasure and learning. 

Jinny's book list on relating to Shakespeare

Jinny Webber Why did Jinny love this book?

The chronology of my Shakespeare-era novels hasn’t reached The Tempest, but I love how this novel features a production of the play—in a prison. The relation of the inmates to their roles and the protagonist’s personal crisis give Prospero and his island new life in a setting also set apart from society. I enjoyed how the characters come to realizations about Shakespeare’s play as they rehearse, the goal of my own novels from a different angle. Many spinoffs from Shakespeare use his plot devices, but Atwood relies on The Tempest for her plot. Each ‘best’ novel here reveals new visions to the reader and gains plot and suspense from the links to Shakespeare. Though my goals aren’t identical to these authors', their works offer inspiration.

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Hag-Seed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

** Longlisted for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction **

Selected as a Book of the Year -- Observer, Sunday Times, Times, Guardian, i magazine

`It's got a thunderstorm in it. And revenge. Definitely revenge.'

Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he's staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds.

Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by…


Book cover of The Shakespeare Stealer

Nancy McDonald Author Of One Boy's War

From my list on historical middle grade exceptional child heroes.

Why am I passionate about this?

A longtime student of history, particularly WW2 and the Cold War, my interest was personally piqued when I started to discover more about how my husband’s family narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo – and certain death in a concentration camp. I’m driven to write novels set in this era for middle grade kids – featuring brave young heroes faced with moral dilemmas– so they can learn about the horrors of antisemitism, tyrants, and war because “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

Nancy's book list on historical middle grade exceptional child heroes

Nancy McDonald Why did Nancy love this book?

Widge is an orphan in Elizabethan England, where orphans are sadly too common. But Widge is unusual. He has a unique talent which he learned from his first master: he knows a secret kind of shorthand. Sold to a dastardly villain who wants to use that talent to steal Shakespeare’s newest play, Widge finds himself in London apprenticing with the theatre company. Will he steal the play or risk his life to be loyal to the only “family” he’s ever known? Inspired by Shakespeare’s Lord Chamberlain's Men – and a very real problem of plays being stolen – there’s plenty of action, including swashbuckling swordplay. From the first page, I found myself rooting for Widge, hoping he would make the right choice and live to become an actor in the company.

By Gary Blackwood,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Shakespeare Stealer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

A delightful adveture full of humor and heart set in Elizabethan England!

Widge is an orphan with a rare talent for shorthand. His fearsome master has just one demand: steal Shakespeare's play "Hamlet"--or else. Widge has no choice but to follow orders, so he works his way into the heart of the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare's players perform. As full of twists and turns as a London alleyway, this entertaining novel is rich in period details, colorful characters, villainy, and drama.

* "A fast-moving historical novel that introduces an important era with casual familiarity." --School Library Journal, starred review

"Readers…


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