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What books will help me understand Shakespeare's plays, their language, and their historical background?

There are an almost infinite number of books and articles on Shakespeare related topics, and many are excellent.  The following is a brief list of some that are useful, and their primary subject matter.

Sylvan Barnet, "Shakespeare: An Overview".  This is usually the first article in the Signet Classic paperbacks of each of the plays, and is a brief discussion of Shakespeare’s life, world, and art.

Marchette Chute, Shakespeare of London. Information on Shakespeare, London, and the theater.

Michael Dobson and Stanley Wells, The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare.  An alphabetically organized reference book on all things Shakespearean.

Garrett Mattingly, The Armada.  Political and religious conflicts of Europe during Elizabeth I's reign, including the 1588 Armada.

A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy.  Seminal work in modern Shakespeare literary criticism.

Harley Granville-Barker, Prefaces to Shakespeare.  Essays which stress performance issues.

Caroline Spurgeon, Shakespeare’s Imagery.

Harold Bloom, Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human.  A current romantic interpretation of the plays.

Lenz, Greene & Neely, The Woman’s Part, Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare.

Eric Partridge, Shakespeare’s Bawdy.  Sexual language and sexual puns in the plays.

E.M.W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture.

G. Blakemore Evans, The Sonnets

Stephen Booth, Shakespeare’s Sonnets


Katherine Duncan-Jones, Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Helen Vendler, The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

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