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The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare

4.1 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0198117353
ISBN-10: 0198117353
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Companions to Shakespeare are ubiquitous, coming bound with various editions of the plays, in A-to-Z companions, and in many other manifestations. The Oxford Companion enters into this crowded field with both rigor and authority. Following in the very large footsteps of The Oxford Shakespeare (2001), this companion has the same formatting (from text lines to play names and character spellings) and is of the same stellar quality. Comprising more than 3000 entries, it covers topics such as Shakespeare's biography, legend, works, literary features and terms, individuals (both real and fictional), and a host of topics such as Elizabethan and Jacobean literature and theater, which help put in context both the times and the works. Of particular note are the entries on each play, which include scene-by-scene explanations as well as examinations of the play's particular artistic features, critical history, and stage and screen history, and a listing of recent editions and selected criticism. There is enough in each play summary to aid students from middle school to college. The attention paid to the poetic work of Shakespeare is also noteworthy. From "Venus and Adonis," "The Rape of Lucrece," and "Lover's Complaint" right through to a general section on the sonnets, the treatment is as in-depth and as helpful as that of the plays. Enlivened by photos and illustrations and an excellent map keyed to the history plays, this work is highly recommend for all libraries. Neal Wyatt, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., VA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

It is difficult to think of a topic that is not touched upon in this new handbook designed "to inform readers about Shakespeare's works, times, lives, and afterlives." As one might expect, there are entries for the plays and sonnets, sources and themes, and significant people and places in Shakespeare's life, as well as for aspects of interpretation and performance over the years. What one might not expect are entries that throw light onto obscure details (Mulberry tree; Performance times, lengths; Shakespeare Society of China; Trapdoors), as well as those for topics that at first glance seem only remotely relevant (Ceramics; Melville, Herman; Romania; Tobacco).

Among the more than 3,000 signed entries are brief identifications of every character and in-depth treatments of each play. Articles on plays are several pages long and provide background information on text and sources, followed by plot summaries and discussions of artistic features, stage history, and screen presentations. Other entries cover biographical details, literary and cultural context, publishing history, literary terms, criticism, and scholarship. Particular emphasis is placed on theatrical history, from the productions of Shakespeare's time to Royal Shakespeare Company, Silent films, and Television. Notable players, from Thomas Betterton (1635-1710), "the greatest actor of the Restoration period," to Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, and Ian McKellen are included. Also represented are countries and regions, among them Arab world, Japan, and Scandinavia. Most entries are quite short, but broader topics, such as Music, Nineteenth-century Shakespearian production, and Trade, travel, and colonialism, are given at least a page. Many entries conclude with a brief list of resources. A detailed "Thematic Listing of Entries" helps compensate for the paucity of cross-references. Among other supplemental aids are a chronology and a bibliographic essay noting introductory studies and standard reference works.

Coeditor Wells also edited (with Gary Taylor) the modern-spelling edition of Oxford's Complete Works (1986) upon which the companion is based. In their introduction, Wells and Dobson admit to "some small bias" toward theaters in London and Stratford-upon-Avon. North American readers may take issue with the short shrift given to the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, and its "Hollywood-like emphasis on costumes, props, and gimmicks." The entry United States of America talks about the Classics Illustrated comic-book versions of the plays and notes Shakespearian elements in television series such as Gilligan's Island, but does not mention the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, or any of the many other serious American enterprises devoted to Shakespeare's work. Some entries, such as Cultural materialism, will baffle nonspecialists. A few entry headings are arcane (movies are discussed under Shakespeare on sound film), and the lack of indexing means that information can be hard to retrieve. But its embrace of all things Shakespearian makes this volume a necessity for academic and public libraries. High-school libraries should also consider it, although high-schoolers may find Scribner's Shakespeare's World and Work [RBB S 1 01] more accessible. RBB
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 541 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (November 29, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198117353
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198117353
  • Product Dimensions: 10.6 x 1.5 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #831,439 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this based on the Amazon.com reviews. I haven't been as impressed as others. It's written for a high school or a very general audience. As a high school reference, it's probably very good. At anything beyond a basic level, however, the book falls short. For example, the entries for many of the minor historical characters are so brief as to merely mention the play in which they appear -- even though I know these characters have relevant familial ties, particularly to royal families. I'm not sorry I bought it; I was just expecting a bit more depth considering its cost. It's fun to browse through (lots of interesting facts to stumble upon, and many beautiful illustrations) but the bottom line is that this book rarely provides sufficient answers to my specific questions. It doesn't really qualify as a reference book beyond an elementary level. I doubt this is the best source of its kind. I plan to do what I should have done in the first place, go to a library and compare the available Shakespeare handbooks. I'm certainly not going throw this book away, but I'm going to have to look for one that better suits my needs.
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Format: Hardcover
This guide is beautifully illustrated and carefully written by many of the finest Shakespeare scholars alive (there are entries by Helen Vendler, Park Honan, Jonathan Bate, Stephen Orgel, and many others). It is a joy to simply open it to a random page and read. There is an admitted and fairly strong bias toward British Shakespearians and productions, but this helps focus the book and give it a depth many similar guides lack. That doesn't mean it's a provincial book, however, for there are numerous entries surveying Shakespeare across the world and in a variety of contexts. One of the most helpful aspects of the book is an outline of categories and entries at the beginning, a remarkably useful aid when terminology or names slip your mind. It is helpful, but not necessary, to have a copy of the Oxford Shakespeare to refer to, since titles, chronologies, and line references are all keyed to it.
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Format: Hardcover
Here's a book about Shakespeare that isn't written as if the only people who had ever cared about him were graduate students -- not that graduate students won't use it all the time, or that it isn't written by the top Shakespeare experts in the world (the contributors include the likes of Stephen Orgel and Helen Vendler), but unforced, unpretentious enthusiasm for Shakespeare and all sorts of things done in his name breathes from every page. It's beautifully illustrated and what's more the research is all fresh -- there's lots of stuff in here that has never been in a Shakespeare reference book before (eg some of the images, lots of stuff about Shakespeare on recent film and TV and radio and in popular culture, newest finds in textual studies and biography). You can read it from A to Z and it's a good read. Fabulous present for anyone studying Shakespeare at any level and especially for anyone who just likes reading the stuff or seeing it acted. It'll help you fall in love with Shakespeare all over again.
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Format: Paperback
Browsing this book fills me with mixed feelings. On the positive side, it is remarkably comprehensive for a single volume of less than 600 pages. On the other hand, there are certain perfunctory treatments, and even certain omissions, which strongly smack of foolish academic prejudice.

Good things first. All of Shakespeare's works are very well-covered. Textual problems, sources, synopsis, artistic features, critical and performance history, even short section about screen versions are provided in each and every case. Numerous other issues related to Shakespeare also enjoy concise, well-written and informative entries. Examples include the authorship controversy, various social issues (law, education, etc.) during Shakespeare's time and what use he made of them, history of reception and performance in countless countries (from Russia to Brazil), historical background as regards Elizabethan England (especially an extensive discussion of the theatrical world), biographical sketches of actors, actresses, directors and critics and who not involved with Shakespeare (from Burbage and Garrick to Olivier and Gielgud, from Dryden and Johnson to Shaw and Auden) and many, many more. Browsing the volume is exhilarating and educational.

Many of these entries do look too short and superficial, and some areas are not as comprehensive as they might have been. But that is to be expected, and it is not one of the reasons for my (slight but certain) disappointment with the volume. To take a musical example, there is not even the shortest entry on Liszt, so the reader is never told about his fine symphonic poem "Hamlet".
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Format: Hardcover
Like Shakespeare, this book is as strong on comedy as it is on the serious stuff, and like Shakespeare it's very rarely dull. The American Library Association have awarded it a prize as one of the best reference books of the year, and you can see why -- it's very up to date, very handsome, very easy to use and has lots and lots of really unusual and enlightening pictures. It's particularly good on Shakespeare movies, and is really international -- lively North American scholars cover Shakespeare's presence in Canada and the US beautifully, and it's really bright and surprising about Russia and China and about everywhere else. It's a book that will help explain to high school students why Shakespeare matters and that actually shows how much fun can be had around the plays and poems in so many different ways -- quite apart from telling college students all sorts of things that their professors had better be up on too. I didn't agree with everything it said about the shows at the rebuilt Globe, sure, but then I like seeing guys in tights.
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