I’ve been working my way through this book for the past couple of months. It’s a major undertaking, but I have to say that it’s been extremely satisfying. I was really only acquainted with a few of Shakespeare’s works from my High School English classes. And, of course there are loads of derivative works out there that use Shakespeare’s stories as springboards from which to launch their own established characters into new and compelling situations.
The book comprises two volumes – First the Greek, Roman and Italian plays and then the English plays. I have to say, the first volume was by far the more interesting. Asimov does a wonderful job in providing you with the context with which the educated Elizabethan would have enjoyed these plays. And in doing so, he explores and articulates many facets of mythology associated with the play being examined. There is a lot that I have encountered in my other reading that existed as “orphan” knowledge that this book has helped me tie together. Particularly with respect to the chronology of events and the meanings of turns of phrase and expression that I have heretofore taken for granted.
This is not a Cliff’s Notes nor is it a compendium of Shakespeare’s works. It is, rather, a valuable aid to understanding the motivations of the characters and circumstances driving the events of Shakespeare’s plays.
On completing this book, after a brief Shakespeare hiatus, I intend to pick and choose my way through several of the plays that seemed especially interesting and read them for the first time with this rich background laid out for me. As well, I will be revisiting some of my favorite Shakespearean works with an eye towards the many nuances that completely passed me by because of my lack of classical / historical knowledge.