Since their first production four centuries ago, the plays of William Shakespeare have been the most widely produced, popularly acclaimed, and critically examined works in the world's literature. In this unique book, Victor L. Cahn, an acclaimed teacher of drama, guides the reader scene by scene through each of Shakespeare's thirty-seven plays, re-creating the freshness and theatrical effect of performance. Cahn has based his approach on the assumption that the fundamental appeal of Shakespeare's plays lies in the characters, and with clarity and subtlety he focuses on how the implications of the characters' actions and the nuances of their language contribute to the plays' impact.
The introduction briefly traces Shakespeare's life and career, and explains some of the social and artistic circumstances that influenced his work. The plays are grouped by genre: Tragedies, Histories, Comedies, and Romances. This structure allows Cahn to explore Shalespeare's development in all four dramatic forms, as well as to suggest relationships between characters, themes, and images throughout the works. In addition, Cahn discusses the plays as reflective of Shakespeare's age, particularly the Renaissance concern with the tension between individual rights and social responsibility. The text is free from extensive scholarly apparatus, but valuable suggestions for further reading follow the analysis of each play, and a selected bibliography concludes the volume. The comprehensiveness of the book, as well as the accessibility and quality of its interpretations, make it a valuable resource for courses in Shakespeare, drama, and British literature, and a worthy addition to high school, college, university, and public library reference collections.
While this thematic guide examines all of Shakespeare's plays, particular attention is devoted to those works most often read by students; the tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Macbeth, the comedies including A Midsummer Night's Dream and Merchant of Venice, as well as the historical plays like Richard II, and the romantic works such as The Tempest. Students who wish to investigate a particular play in greater depth can refer to this book's title index to identify all citations of that work. This valuable literary resource serves myriad uses, enabling students to trace the thread of a theme, to compare its treatment in several plays, and to understand better a play, its characters, plot and language, by examining Shakespeare's central themes.