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Top 5 Shakespeare books for the festive season

Always here to help with your Christmas shopping - here are our top five book recommendations from the expert team at the Shakespeare Bookshop.

bookshop staff picks

With the weekend papers traditionally featuring book lists at this time of year, we asked our bookshop team to recommend some of their perennial favourite titles from the Shakespeare Bookshop.

1. Tales From Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb.

First published in 1807, this was one of the earliest- if not the earliest- versions of Shakespeare’s stories to be adapted for children. The Lambs’ Tales are an excellent way of introducing children (or indeed adults) to the basic narrative of 20 of Shakespeare’s plays. It also tries to include elements of his language throughout, integrated within everyday language in order to make it accessible to everyone. Of course, as it was written with a target audience of children from the 1800s (particularly “young ladies”), the stories are heavily adapted to make them appropriate and “proper”; therefore, these versions are somewhat condensed from the originals to remove the more racy or gruesome aspects! For anyone wanting an easy introduction to the stories of Shakespeare’s plays, this is certainly a most useful book!

Tales of Shakespeare

2. James Shapiro's 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare.

Mixing analysis of the plays and vivid history, James Shapiro takes an inventive look at Shakespeare's life through the lens of just one year: 1599. This is thought to be the year that Shakespeare was working on (and in some cases, staging) plays like Hamlet, Julius Caesar, As You Like It and Henry V. It also happens to be a really interesting year for late Elizabethan history - a fact that Shapiro doesn't neglect. The book opens with a beautifully written chapter which imagines Shakespeare and his fellow playhouse shareholders, on a snowy winter night, carrying the timbers of a deconstructed playhouse to build The Globe on the other side of the river. It makes a captivating and atmospheric start to an equally captivating biography!  

James Shapiro

3. First Folio Facsimile

Big, gorgeously bound and priced at a cool £150, our facsimile edition of the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare's plays continues to represent terrific value, attracting regular purchases from our wonderfully diverse customers.

Compiled using pages from the Folger Shakespeare Library's peerless collection of 82 First Folios, the volume offers an un-missable opportunity to time-travel across four centuries: absolutely the next best thing to owning the real thing (for which you'll need around £8million, should one come up at auction).

folio bookshop

4. Shakespeare Panorama Pop

Beautifully illustrated and presented in a slipcase, this pocket size pop-up extends into a 1.5 metre panorama, featuring scenes from six of Shakespeare's most famous plays on one side and the key places in the story of his life and legacy on the other.  Alongside each colourful cut paper play scene is a brief synopsis and quotation from the play, and there is a short introduction to each of Shakespeare's family homes, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe.

This is a lovely gift to introduce Shakespeare’s life and works to all ages - and is perfectly proportioned for Christmas stockings.

pop up book

5. Shakespeare by Bill Bryson

If anyone needs a straightforward but informative introduction to Shakespeare, this is definitely the right book. In terms of biographies, Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare is perfect for people who have no knowledge of Shakespeare, as well as for those who know plenty about him: intelligent whilst also very accessible for adult readers. It is full of interesting facts about Shakespeare, his contemporaries, and the Elizabethan era, giving a very well rounded view of what his life may have been like. Even though we know relatively little about Shakespeare as a man, Bryson packs plenty of information into this short biography, keeping it snappy, interesting and engaging throughout. 

bill bryson

Still not sure what to get? Browse lots of other options for Shakespeare fans in our bookshop.

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