Review: Shakespeare A to Z

by Charles Boyce

When I’m working on one of Shakespeare’s plays there are a few books that I won’t go too far without. This is one of them. Shakespeare A to Z is a sort of encyclopedia of Shakespeare’s plays and characters, along with entries on people, places, things, stories, mythology, times, days, and more that is mentioned in any of The Bard’s works.

This book contains over 700 pages of concise information. I don’t usually label something that’s 700 pages as ‘concise,’ but there’s a lot of data in this work. All the entries are in alphabetical order making everything easy to find. Who needs a table of contents when it’s alphabetical? Not I.

There is an entry in this book for every single character in the plays. All the servants with one or no lines who are on for just a moment get an entry. It isn’t very long of course, but it just goes to show how thorough this volume is. There are 30 entries for a character named Servant. Who knew?

Each play’s entry is a few pages long and offers a scene-by-scene sypnosis of the show, some commentary, notes on the sources of the story, the text, and any notable history if the play in performance. Plus each character is given their own entries elsewhere. The major characters have a nice long passage about them which includes their journey through the plays, perhaps some actual history of the character, and some other general notes about them.

This is a great companion to reading, studying, and acting anything from Shakespeare. A very handy first stop for research. Yes, first stop. Don’t use this as your only source of information. If you want to understand anything really well it needs to come from a variety of sources. Even so this text is amazingly useful and completely indispensable.

Shakespeare A to Z:
The Essential Reference to His Plays, His Poems, His Life and Times, and More