10 books like Shakespeare, Our Contemporary

By Jan Kott,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Shakespeare, Our Contemporary. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Soul of the Age

By Jonathan Bate,

Book cover of Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare

Critics argue that William Shakespeare did not write the works attributed to him because he lacked the knowledge of classical myth and history basic to his plots and imagery. Jonathan Bates proves that the curriculum of the grammar school in Stratford-on-Avon provided an education sufficient to explain Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Bate reviews books in English and Latin that Shakespeare would have read and that created his rhetorical brilliance. 

I treasure Bate’s biography because my own background originated in a rural, agricultural setting outside the social and economic circles that usually produce academic types. Bates disproves the fallacy that only the privileged and elite can survive and thrive in life and careers.

Soul of the Age

By Jonathan Bate,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“One man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.”

In this illuminating, innovative biography, Jonathan Bate, one of today’s most accomplished Shakespearean scholars, has found a fascinating new way to tell the story of the great dramatist. Using the Bard’s own immortal list of a man’s seven ages in As You Like It, Bate deduces the crucial events of Shakespeare’s life and connects them to his world and work as never before.

Here is the author as an infant, born into a world of plague and syphillis, diseases with which he became closely familiar; as a…


Will in the World

By Stephen Greenblatt,

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

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.

Will in the World

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.


Shakespeare's Kings

By John Julius Norwich,

Book cover of Shakespeare's Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages: 1337-1485

Shakespeare’s magnificent history plays have been described as “a feast of Henrys and Richards.” Who were those kings in real life? This book tells their true stories, and compares those stories to what Shakespeare wrote about them. Turns out he stuck pretty close to history!

Shakespeare's Kings

By John Julius Norwich,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Synopsis coming soon.......


Contested Will

By James Shapiro,

Book cover of Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

Shakespeare scholars hate discussing the “authorship question” for the same reason astronomers hate discussing whether space aliens kidnap human beings. There is no real “question.” But because guessing who wrote the plays has become such a parlor game, James Shapiro took on the challenge. His book tells the crazy history of the “authorship question” and makes irrefutably clear that yes, the fellow from Stratford really did write those plays. This should settle the issue forever—but of course it won’t.

Contested Will

By James Shapiro,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For two hundred years after William Shakespeare's death, no one thought to argue that somebody else had written his plays.

Since then dozens of rival candidates - including The Earl of Oxford, Sir Francis Bacon and Christopher Marlowe - have been proposed as their true author. Contested Will unravels the mystery of when and why so many people began to question whether Shakespeare wrote the plays (among them such leading writers and artists as Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Orson Welles, and Sir Derek Jacobi)

Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro's fascinating search for the source of this controversy…


A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

By James Shapiro,

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

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.

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

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…


Hag-Seed

By Margaret Atwood,

Book cover of Hag-Seed: William Shakespeare's the Tempest Retold: A Novel

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.

Hag-Seed

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

1 author 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…


Shakespeare in a Divided America

By James Shapiro,

Book cover of Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us about Our Past and Future

This book was amazing in helping me think about Shakespeare and the history of divisions in our own history. Like all of James Shapiro’s work, Shakespeare in a Divided America is filled with fascinating information delivered in lively and engaging prose. This book provides a cultural and historical exploration of how readings and performances of Shakespeare’s plays in the past two centuries have exposed fault lines in our country’s political and social fabric. In the nineteenth century, the assassination of President Lincoln and the deadly Astor Place Riots; in the twentieth-century debates over free speech, gender, immigration, and race; and in our own time controversies over political division and Trump-era extremism: Shapiro shows how all of these have issues played out through the vehicle of Shakespeare’s plays, particularly Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Othello

Shakespeare in a Divided America

By James Shapiro,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shakespeare in a Divided America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year * A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist * A New York Times Notable Book

A timely exploration of what Shakespeare's plays reveal about our divided land.

"In this sprightly and enthralling book . . . Shapiro amply demonstrates [that] for Americans the politics of Shakespeare are not confined to the public realm, but have enormous relevance in the sphere of private life." -The Guardian (London)

The plays of William Shakespeare are rare common ground in the United States. For well over two centuries, Americans of all stripes-presidents…


The Shakespeare Stealer

By Gary Blackwood,

Book cover of The Shakespeare Stealer

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.

The Shakespeare Stealer

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.

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…


The Rise of the Victorian Actor

By Michael Baker,

Book cover of The Rise of the Victorian Actor

I’ve often wondered how it was that actors went from the ‘rogues and vagabonds’ of Shakespeare’s time through the days of early Victorian theatre, when acting was considered a highly disreputable profession, to apparent respectability at the end of the 19th century with the creation of the first theatrical knight, Sir Henry Irving. This book—again meticulously- and widely-researched—explains in a highly readable form how changing attitudes among politicians, audiences, and playwrights contributed to the rise in the status of actors, so that by the beginnings of the 20th century it was considered perfectly respectable for even a middle-class man—or woman—to enter the profession.  

The Rise of the Victorian Actor

By Michael Baker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rise of the Victorian Actor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Originally published in 1978. Between 1830 and 1890 the English theatre became recognisably modern. Standards of acting and presentation improved immeasurably, new playwrights emerged, theatres became more comfortable and more intimate and playgoing became a national pastime with all classes. The actor's status rose accordingly. In 1830 he had been little better than a social outcast; by 1880 he had become a member of a skilled, relatively well-paid and respected profession which was attracting new recruits in unprecedented numbers.

This is a social history of Victorian actors which seeks to show how wider social attitudes and developments affected the changing…


Shakespeare for Squirrels

By Christopher Moore,

Book cover of Shakespeare for Squirrels

Christopher Moore’s Shakespeare-themed novels are a hoot! He takes the hallowed works of the Bard and turns them into hysterical adventures starring Pocket (King Lear’s fool), Drool, and their pet monkey Jeff. The second in a trilogy is Shakespeare for Squirrels, Moore’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s irreverent and hilarious and left me breathless with admiration for Moore’s incredibly fertile imagination.

Shakespeare for Squirrels

By Christopher Moore,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

New York Times Bestseller!

Shakespeare meets Dashiell Hammett in this wildly entertaining murder mystery from New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore-an uproarious, hardboiled take on the Bard's most performed play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, featuring Pocket, the hero of Fool and The Serpent of Venice, along with his sidekick, Drool, and pet monkey, Jeff.

Set adrift by his pirate crew, Pocket of Dog Snogging-last seen in The Serpent of Venice-washes up on the sun-bleached shores of Greece, where he hopes to dazzle the Duke with his comedic brilliance and become his trusted fool.

But the island is in turmoil.…


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