Keywords: Shakespeare, fiction, narrative, collection, age 9+, illustrations, classic.
At last, an excuse to talk about Shakespeare! We all knew I had to review this guy eventually. I mean, he’s literally one of the most famous writers of all time. I cannot stress enough how famous this guy is. So, let’s look into why he’s so well-known and why we’re even talking about him over 400 years after he passed away.
William Shakespeare was a playwright (a person who writes plays) and poet. He lived from 1564-1616, in England. He was considered a brilliant actor and playwright, even becoming a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I! We’ll be talking about the plays that he would’ve performed for royalty and for countless people who watched them at the Globe Theatre.
Shakespeare’s plays can be divided into three categories: comedies, histories, and tragedies. You might have heard of some of his most popular plays before: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If you’ve never heard of those plays before, don’t worry! We’re going to explore them a bit in today’s reviewed book: A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories, written by Angela McAllister and illustrated by Alice Lindstrom.
A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories is a collection of 12 Shakespearean plays, rewritten as narratives. You can read it on your own or have someone else read it for you (it’s a wonderful bedtime story!). The 12 stories you’ll read in this book are:
- Romeo and Juliet (a romance between a boy and a girl whose families are sworn enemies)
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream (a comedy where fairies make four people fall in love randomly, leading to hilarious trouble)
- The Tempest (a story about a shipwreck, a magical island, and a wizard guy)
- Othello (a tragedy about a man lying so much that a husband thinks his wife is cheating on him)
- Hamlet (a tragedy about a dramatic prince who sees his murdered father’s ghost and promises to avenge his death)
- Twelfth Night (a comedy where a girl dresses up as a boy, but when her twin brother comes to town, there’s a lot of confusion!)
- Macbeth (a man with a powerful wife is driven mad by ambition as he kills people so that he can become king)
- King Lear (an aging king tells his three daughters that he’ll give his kingdom to the daughter who loves him most, and chooses the wrong daughters)
- As You Like It (a comedy where the characters fall in love at first sight and have fun in a forest)
- Much Ado About Nothing (an island where a man is tricked into thinking his fiance is cheating on him, and a man and woman who hate each-other are tricked into falling in love with each-other)
- The Merchant of Venice (a scheming money-lender tries to trick a man into an evil money loan. The man must be saved in court by a woman dressed up as a man.)
- Julius Caesar (the historical story of a Roman senator and how his fellow senators assassinated him)
Every single story is well-written and engaging. Having said that, you might prefer some stories over others, depending on the type of stories you like. For example, my personal favourite Shakespearean play is A Midsummer Night’s Dream (it was the first of Shakespeare’s plays I’d ever read, and it made me laugh so hard that at one point I spat out my tea!).
“But,” you might ask me, “If the original plays are so good, why would you rewrite them as narratives?” An excellent question! You see, the original plays are written in Elizabethan English. This is the kind of English that was written and spoken while Queen Elizabeth I was ruling England. It’s very different from modern English, since 400 years have changed the language a lot.
I’ll give you an example of what I mean. Here’s one part of A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Hermia is telling her friend Helena that she and her lover Lysander will escape the city to get married. Keep in mind, Hermia is basically just saying, “Helena, I’ll leave Athens with Lysander. Athens used to be such a great place to me, but since I met Lysander, my opinion of Athens has become sour. I just love Lysander so much!”
“Take comfort: he no more shall see my face;
Lysander and myself will fly this place.
Before the time I did Lysander see,
Seemed Athens as a paradise to me.
O then, what graces in my love do dwell,
That he hath turned a heaven unto a hell?”(Hermia talking to Helena, Act 1, Scene 1, lines 202-207.)
So…yeah. The way the characters speak in the original plays is challenging to understand, especially if you’re not used to Elizabethan English. It takes some practice and reading to understand the original plays.
That’s why 12 of the plays have been rewritten as narratives: to make them easier to read and to be a nice introduction into Shakespeare’s stories. It’d be so easy to be scared by the original plays’ language and think, “Um, I don’t understand this. I don’t want to read anymore.” But then you’d miss out on some of the greatest stories ever written!
So, did I like A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories? Of course! I found it very fun to read and to see how the Elizabethan English can be translated into modern English. The only thing I can criticize is that a lot of cool details and jokes are left out of the narratives. But I think leaving some things out is necessary, since if you wrote absolutely every detail, the book would be way too long. Each story cuts down the plays to its most important details, which means that the stories aren’t usually longer than 4-5 pages.
The illustrations are really interesting too. They’re paper cutouts painted over in gorgeous colours. I haven’t seen this art style very often in books, so it was lots of fun to look carefully at the illustrations and guess how they were made! Sometimes you can see how the artist used their paintbrush to make different patterns on the characters’ clothes. It’s beautiful work! It makes me want to try out this art style for myself, actually.
This was a long review, I know, but it needed to be long! There’s just so much to talk about when it comes to Shakespeare. If you’re interested in learning more about him and his stories, A Stage Full of Shakespeare Stories is a brilliant introduction. You see, there’s information about Shakespeare and the 12 plays at the end of the book!
It’s not only me who enjoyed this book, by the way. Dmitri adored it, since he’s such a fan of Shakespeare (he can even recite passages from Hamlet by heart!). Surprisingly, Gus liked this book too, even though he’s told me before that he doesn’t like Shakespeare’s stuff. When I asked him why he liked this particular book, he said that the way it was written made it easier for him to understand the actual stories. “I don’t understand the original plays,” he said, “So I’m happy that I can enjoy the stories in a way that I do understand!”