The Cambridge Shakespeare Guide


by Emma Smith 

I enjoyed this book and not just because I have loved Shakespeare since the age of eleven when I studied The Merchant of Venice in school; I was Portia.  For students and theatre enthusiasts this Shakespeare guide is a useful resource, providing valuable information for the individual and prompting discussion for groups.

alls well thats ends well

I particularly enjoyed the commentary for Sonnets 18 and 116; rarely have I found such thorough analysis.  I also enjoyed the performance history of the plays, the early staging and more recent productions, including films.  The book is illustrated throughout with performance photographs, featuring great names, such as Judi Dench in All’s Well that Ends Well and Derek Jacobi in Twelfth Night.  



There are also brief accounts of Shakespeare’s life and language, Shakespeare in print and theatre in Shakespeare’s time, and  suggestions for further reading. I was very impressed by the content, format and style of this authoritative guide.

Jean Marshall 

richard II

shakespeare guide


Shakespeare’s poetic and dramatic works are listed alphabetically. Information is set out clearly and covers context and composition as well as themes and interpretation.  For each poem there is a synopsis while every play has a ‘key facts’ box providing the play’s date and length, statistics for verse and prose and a breakdown of the major roles (eg Macbeth: 1606, 2,528 lines, 95%/5%, Macbeth 29%, Lady Macbeth 11%, Malcolm 9%, Macduff 7%); another section outlines the plot and characters.

twelfth night

As I read, I was frequently reminded of the timeless quality of Shakespeare’s plays: the human condition never changes and history constantly repeats itself.  I was faced with thought-provoking questions.  King Richard’s overthrow: political coup or personal tragedy?  Measure for Measure has been a difficult play for readers and audiences to enjoy: why?  What does it signify about The Winter’s Tale that its most famous line is: ‘exit, pursued by a bear’?

king lear

All images credited © Geraint Lewis


All’s Well That Ends Well with Judi Dench and Claudie Blakley


Twelfth Night with Derek Jacobi


Hamlet with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart


King Lear with Michael Gambon and Romola Garai


Richard II with Kevin Spacey