No Fear Shakespeare
We sometimes forget that Shakespeare's plays were meant to be heard, seen, experienced rather than read. In fact, they are difficult to read because of the centuries of language transformation that lies between their conception and us. But Shakespeare holds an enduring place in literary history - memorable characters, startling stories, skillful punning, and quotable quotes. No Fear Shakespeare is a better start down that path to lifelong appreciation. The playbooks provide a readable side-by-side, line-by-line translation - original language on one side and its meaning in understandable modern English/American peppered with editorial notes and comments on the other. Thus the necessity of reading and constantly consulting footnotes is eliminated. A complete listing and description of characters precedes the play and completes the book. That's all! No study questions, no copious endnotes, and no handwringing. You can choose to "study" the plays or just learn to read them for enjoyment. I suggest the latter.
If you do want to flesh out your Shakespeare reading with just a little extra perspective, the No Fear Shakespeare, A Companion is the answer. Part 1 humbly claims to cover everything you need to know about his life (there's not much, really), career, and world. In similar humility, Part 2 claims to provide everything you really need to know about each of his plays; divided into the "top ten," the ones that "show you're really well-read," the plays with which to "seriously impress your teacher," and those for "hardcore Shakespeareans." For each of these plays there is a brief synopsis and then three or four brief essays that encompass what is the most important to know/remember about each play. I'm fairly versed in Shakespeare (I've read a couple of the "hardcore" plays) and I found these essays insightful. For instance, I've never coupled Romeo and Juliet with Midsummer's Night Dream nor considered they have parallel plots, were likely written in sequence, etc. It was new perspective. I love it! There's a concluding "bonus" section on poetry that includes the Sonnets and his two long poems.
Shakespearean plays require a certain caution. They are ribald and bawdy. When we read them in the original language this can sometimes be missed. When we see them performed, it's almost always a noticeable element. By providing a relevant modern translation, you might, in some instances, find you would rather have the meaning obscured. Just so you know! Books range from approximately 250 to 350 pgs. pb ~ Janice