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The Essential Shakespeare Handbook.

The Essential Shakespeare Handbook

Leslie Dunton-Downer and Alan Riding

DK

New York

www.dk.com

ISBN: 0789493330 $25.00; 480 pp.

In the past decade or so DK has produced some of the most gorgeous and useful guidebooks ever printed. They basically reinvented the educational picture book on a whole new level of graphics, photography, and bold layouts. Dinosaurs to space to dictionaries, learning has never been so breathtaking to behold. They've done it again producing an absolutely beautiful Essential Shakespeare Handbook. The design is stunning and each selection has an explosion of photography, film, charts, artwork, etc., that perfectly illuminate the subject at hand. It is a busy, crammed full of life work, but what better way to celebrate Shakespeare? This book is dense yet accessible (plus easy to use with a color code system for forms--tragedies, comedies, histories, romances, poetry), well-informed and complete, covering every aspect of Shakespeare's life and works.

One thing that is nice about this volume is the combined review of all Shakespeare's works and their numerous adaptations. Most guides concentrate only upon the man, the texts, the plays, the times, or some such narrow niche of research. This book does study the man, his life, times, works, theaters, languages, and the canon in detail. However, it moves far beyond that. It is hard to ever find a compiled listing, say, of Richard the Third in its written and all its performed versions. This book does exactly that. For instance, the Romeo and Juliet screen adaptations mentioned here include not only the famed Olivia Hussey Juliet or worshipped West Side Story forms, but a 1920 silent film, some soft-porn, Mexican (Romeo y Julieta), and Arabic (Shuhaddaa el-gharam) versions, all the way up to the popular 1996 Di Caprio-Danes in gangland California film.

Like I said, this is a very thorough book. It has extensive referencing, which includes bar graph comparisons of such things as prose to verse percentages per play, sizes of the acts, dates and lengths of plays, etc. Beyond the usual listing of dramatis personae and summaries of each act, these listings give behind the scenes stories of how and why the play was developed and performed. It fully explores all aspects of the plays, from the writing, to the production, casting, performing, seeing, and study of said plays. Its "Beyond the Play" sections feature extra information, anecdotes, and little known stories, triumphs, or troubles about varied productions, actors, directors, etc., on each play. To quote All's Well That End's Well, "... great floods have flown / From simple sources." This is an absolutely amazing guide to Shakespeare. I have yet to find a more compact yet complete study of this global literary master. Nevermind the fact that it is a joyous riot to behold. The Essential Shakespeare Handbook should become a mandatory reference text in every classroom.
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Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Fortenberry, Thomas
Publication:Reviewer's Bookwatch
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2005
Words:473
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