Last year, I completed a project I’d been working on for years – to read the complete works of the Bard, in chronological order. It was a very up and down affair. You have to kiss a lot of frogs (King John, Comedy of Errors) before you find the princes (Hamlet (ha!), Lear, the HIVs).
All in all, I’m glad I did it. I can now speak with at least a little knowledge now about all the plays, but it was also a bit of a slog.
Anyway, throughout the course of the project, I wrote short review of some, but not all, of the plays for various blogs and websites. I’m transferring those reviews (and much else besides!) over here.
As part of that, here’s some general notes that may be of interest to other undertaking such a project.
What Did you Include?
I went with the maximalist approach in determining what to read. This means I included works such as Timon of Athens and the Noble Kinsman (bad as I think both these plays are) which are not in the first folio, but which modern scholars believe Shakespeare at least had a hand in writing. I did not read the sonnets, yet, as the project was confined to the plays and by the time I was done with that I’d have enough of the Bard for now, thanks.
In What Order Did You Read The Works?
Determining the chronology in which Shakespeare wrote the plays is problematic and scholars argue about it to this day. I simply googled “Shakespeare Plays Chronology” and read them in the order that was given on this website.
Here they are in the order I used. Linked titles lead to my idiosyncratic reviews:
|First Performed||Plays||First Printed|
|1590-91||Henry VI, Part II||1594?|
|1590-91||Henry VI, Part III||1594?|
|1591-92||Henry VI, Part I||1623|
|1592-93||Comedy of Errors||1623|
|1593-94||Taming of the Shrew||1623|
|1594-95||Two Gentlemen of Verona||1623|
|1594-95||Love’s Labour’s Lost||1598?|
|1594-95||Romeo and Juliet||1597|
|1595-96||A Midsummer Night’s Dream||1600|
|1596-97||The Merchant of Venice||1600|
|1597-98||Henry IV, Part I||1598|
|1597-98||Henry IV, Part II||1600|
|1598-99||Much Ado About Nothing||1600|
|1599-1600||As You Like It||1623|
|1600-01||The Merry Wives of Windsor||1602|
|1601-02||Troilus and Cressida||1609|
|1602-03||All’s Well That Ends Well||1623|
|1604-05||Measure for Measure||1623|
|1606-07||Antony and Cleopatra||1623|
|1607-08||Timon of Athens||1623|
|1610-11||The Winter’s Tale||1623|
|1612-13||The Two Noble Kinsmen*||1634|
Frankly, I didn’t much care about the precise order. I wanted to read the early works before the later to get a general sense of his development, but really all I needed was a basic organizing principle to the project. This was the one I chose. It was practically random.
In What Editions Did You Read The Works?
Through the project, I read different works in different editions including editions published by Penguin, Arden, Royal Shakespeare Company, and Folger. Arden is the gold standard in Shakespeare. It provides the most scholarly introductions and the most comprehensive notation. However, I found it heavy lifting for an amateur such as myself. As the project went on, I gravitated to the Folger editions with their more approachable modern explanations of the text, helpful glossaries of terms, and scene synopses.
If you, like me, are an amateur interested in digging into the Bard’s work, I’d suggest Arden. If you’re going to seriously look at a single work, I’d go with Arden. Everything else is second fiddle.
Of course, you can just enjoy the good plays, you know. You don’t have to be a fucking freak about it and read the crummy ones. Odds are if you’re familiar with the big dogs, you’ve gotten enough Shakespeare. No one but the pros and the masochists need to read Two Noble Kinsmen.