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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible to scholars and novices alike
When I first saw Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare in a bargain book section of a local bookstore, I was a bit surprised that Asimov had a guide to Shakespeare. I decided to pick it up because it was on sale and read his entries on some plays that I have read.
I didn't know what to expect, but after reading a few pages into it, I was hooked. Asimov, with amazing...
Published on Aug. 14 2001 by Patrick Mcgranaghan

versus
1.0 out of 5 stars Poorly Done
This is one of those books I wish I had borrowed from the local library before buying it. The author's style is crude and preumptuous suggesting (for exampmle) Shakespeare was a homosexual because of many scenes of fraternal friendship in his plays. While the author gives some interesting history as the basis of Shakespeare's plays, he contradicts what other authors...
Published on May 28 2001


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible to scholars and novices alike, Aug. 14 2001
By 
Patrick Mcgranaghan (Midwest, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Ce commentaire est de: Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Works of Shakespeare (Hardcover)
When I first saw Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare in a bargain book section of a local bookstore, I was a bit surprised that Asimov had a guide to Shakespeare. I decided to pick it up because it was on sale and read his entries on some plays that I have read.
I didn't know what to expect, but after reading a few pages into it, I was hooked. Asimov, with amazing astuteness, has given a thorough analysis of twenty three of Shakespeare's plays and the poems Venus and Adonis and the Rape of Lucrece. At the beginning of every play he has a map of all the locations pertinent to the play. I found this to be very helpful in understanding the varied settings in Shakespeare's plays.
The chapters on the plays read a bit like something you might find in Monarch or Cliffs notes. He goes through the tale and gives pertinent information along the way. However this book isn't merely a substitute for reading Shakespeare, nor is the aim of it to prepare you for an exam. Rather this book's aim is to guide the modern reader, who is distanced by time and geography from Shakespeare's stories, along to better understand Shakespeare.
If you're looking for a down-to-Earth book on Shakespeare, this is it. No one, quite as well as Asimov does, can make the reader feel so at ease in reading the fancy language of Shakespeare.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good Companion to the Complete Works, April 28 2001
By 
WifeofBath3 (Hattiesburg, Mississippi United States) - See all my reviews
Ce commentaire est de: Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Works of Shakespeare (Hardcover)
First, the "bad" things. Asimov often stops to explain things I already know. Also, I don't much care about the geographical speculations at the front of each play's discussions (for the most part, Shakespeare's plays take place in a Never-never Land that greatly resembles Elizabethan England, so why worry about the real Bohemia or Verona.)
But these "bad" things are greatly outweighed by the work's better qualities. Asimov can be an entertaining as well as an informative writer: who else would point out the accidental accuracy of Shakespeare's timing of Puck's flight? Although Asimov mostly abstains from criticism in favor of explaining historical, scientific, or other allusions, his own delightful personality and sometimes idiosyncratic opinions shine through at times. And on the informative side, his explanations can be very helpful. On the history plays, they are invaluable; the section on Shakespeare's history plays (Book Two, The English Plays--Asimov eccentrically divides the plays into Greek, Roman, Italian, and English plays) is alone worth the price of the book. The real history behind the history plays is equally as interesting as Shakespeare's plays (albeit in a different way), and Asimov tells you about both. Buy this book, and you'll not only have some profitable reading once, but many times, because you will refer to Asimov's Guide again and again.
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5.0 out of 5 stars *In that it is precise, it suits me well; in that it..., Feb. 5 2001
By 
John McConnell (Boston, MA) - See all my reviews
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Ce commentaire est de: Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Works of Shakespeare (Hardcover)
...is too concise, it pleases me not.*
Asimov presents, for each of the plays, a well-researched and fascinating social, political and historical background of their production along with a plot analysis with direct quotes (and etymologies). Many of the details presented appear either to have escaped the notice of standard Shakespearean commentators, or to be buried away.
His synopsis of KING LEAR is characteristic...
"Shakespeare wrote fifteen plays which, in one way or another, involve English history. Four of these are laid in the relatively dim time prior to the Norman conquest in 1066, and the one which deals with the oldest and the most purely legendary events is KING LEAR."
Asimov then traces the original Celtic tale to Geoffrey of Monmouth's "Historia Regum Britanniae" (1135), then through "The Faerie Queene", Holinshed's "Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland", (1577), Edmund Spenser's play "The True Chronicle of King Lear", (1594), and finally to Shakespeare's version, first performed on 26th December, 1606.
1. Good example: Asimov describes why the name "Gloucester" may have been chosen for the father of the hero and villain, (Edgar and Edmund):
"The first Earl of Gloucester in actual history was Robert, a son of King Henry I of England. He lived from 1090 to 1145 and played a prominent role in the civil war that followed the death of Henry I. He was the chief supporter of Henry's daughter, Matilda, against the claims of Henry's nephew, Stephen.
"But since Robert of Gloucester was Henry's son, why was he not himself the claimant of the throne? Ah, it so happens he was Henry's bastard son and therefore unqualified to succeed. The Gloucester subplot is intimately concerned with the matter of a bastard son and perhaps that is why 'Earl of Gloucester' suggested itself to Shakespeare."
2. Bad example: Asimov may have tripped up on his astrology. At least one Shakespearean pundit has suggested that Edmund's birth under Ursa Major,("the Dragon's Tail"), was taken as ill-omened because of a malign/retrograde Martial-Venusian influence which would predispose a child born under it to villainy, according to the notions of the Elizabethan masses. Apparently, the constellations themselves were understood to express planetary influences, (if you're an astrologer, help me out here!):
"-MY FATHER COMPOUNDED WITH MY MOTHER UNDER THE DRAGON'S TAIL, AND MY NATIVITY WAS UNDER URSA MAJOR, SO THAT IT FOLLOWS I AM ROUGH AND LECHEROUS. FUT! I SHOULD HAVE BEEN THAT I AM, HAD THE MAIDENLIEST STAR IN THE FIRMAMAENT TWINKLED ON MY BASTARDIZING.
"The Dragon's Tail is a reference to the constellation of Draco, a winding string of moderately bright stars in the neighborhood of the north celestial pole... Astrologically, this is meaningless, since these constellations are not part of the zodiac and it is through the zodiac that the paths of the sun, moon, and planets make their way..."
What Asimov does NOT do here is discuss possible symbolic interpretations or textual criticisms of each play, (e.g., was King Lear really mad, was he incestuous, is this simply a morality play, a Platonic-Aristotelian conflict, or the perennial youth vs. maturity conflict? etc..).
Personally, I think the book is pure gold.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare for anyone and everyone, May 31 2000
By 
P. Matthew Wesley (St. Louis, MO USA) - See all my reviews
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Ce commentaire est de: Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Works of Shakespeare (Hardcover)
Asimov's guide might seem to be a large volume, but is relatively small, considering the amount of information and knowledge stored within. Asimov effortlessly takes any reader of Shakespeare, whether novice or expert, through the histories, tragedies, and comedies in order to reveal small plot intricacies, character motivation, and background that may be unknown to the bard's audience. Asimov expresses his own feelings freely, a reason that I am sure many people have ranked this book lower than a 5, but I maintaint the superior rating because any and all of the authors feelings are sufficiently backed, even if not universally accepted. For example, I do not feel that Hamlet's primary motivation is the crown of Denmark, but Asimov feels as such and backs his thoughts, a style that is to be commended and considered. I learned a great deal from the book, especially customs prevalent in the Elizabethan period that are not practiced in the modern world. The explanation of these customs is a priceless companion to any reader. Asimov's astonishingly in depth/easily read work is a must for anyone that has a wish to understand Shakespeare either a lot more, or just a little.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Makes Shakespeare more approachable, June 18 2001
Ce commentaire est de: Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Works of Shakespeare (Hardcover)
I find this book quite helpful when being introduced to an unfamiliar Shakespearean play. The plot summaries, character descriptions, and surrounding histories--liberally sprinkled with explanatory quotes--are of great use in placing me in the correct frame of mind. I would recommend this to anyone looking to acquaint themselves with Shakespeare's works--especially the lesser-known plays--but are feeling daunted by what is perceived as high-brow content.
Asimov writes as if he were speaking directly to the reader. This not only makes the book easy to read, but lends a feeling of comfort to the experience. One feels as if a friend has taken their time out to give a helping hand.
This book makes me much more comfortable giving the extra effort that it takes, given the time--and sometimes language--barrier. Without it, it is doubtful I would have introduced myself to the minor plays, some of which I have come to like better than the more popular ones.
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5.0 out of 5 stars For the novice as well as knowledgeable scholar of the Bard., Sept. 20 1999
By 
nanash@thegrid.net (Susanville, California) - See all my reviews
Ce commentaire est de: Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Works of Shakespeare (Hardcover)
I bought my old edition of Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare at the Southern Oregon Shakespearean Festival bookstore some twenty years ago. I have used the text to prepare my neices, nephews, and grandchildren for their first experiences with live performances of the tragedies, comedies, and romances performed by the Ashland repertory company. Asimov's narrative includes just enough Shakespearean diaglogue to allow the novice playgoer a glimpse of the richness of language, wit, and perception contained in each play. That glimpse is all my young pupils needed to attend (in all senses of that word) their first plays at age 10 and to keep attending these twenty years. And Asimov's insightful interpretation of each play has kept me reading him as well as the Bard as I prepare to introduce a second generation of children to great threatre. I am ordering a new copy of the book, as my old one has been worn out.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Reading!, May 11 2000
Ce commentaire est de: Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Works of Shakespeare (Hardcover)
My only complaint about this book is that Asimov gets too strong in some of his personal opinions. (Harsh opinions of Banquo, Brutus, Richard II etc.) But aside from that I value this book highly. He helps us to see some things Shakespeare's original audience would be able to pick up on WITHOUT being told. This helps one to understand Shakespeare's plays more. Also for the most part he DOES avoid the absurd marxist views that tend to over simplify the anaylisis. He is especially helpful in the history plays. Understanding Shakespeare's historical plays depends to a large extent on knowing the facts that Shakespeare does not mention (but that the original audience would have known). He also offers educated speculation that offers deep insights. While I do not agree with him on EVERYTHING, his views are interesting.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Poorly Done, May 28 2001
Ce commentaire est de: Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Works of Shakespeare (Hardcover)
This is one of those books I wish I had borrowed from the local library before buying it. The author's style is crude and preumptuous suggesting (for exampmle) Shakespeare was a homosexual because of many scenes of fraternal friendship in his plays. While the author gives some interesting history as the basis of Shakespeare's plays, he contradicts what other authors wrote, making me wonder who to believe about Shakespeare. Opinionated and self righteous in style, the studies do not go too deeply into the morality of the plays or explain the mind and culture of Shakespeare's England. For a better - more objective study I recommend Cliff's Notes on Shakespeare's Tragedies, Comedies, and Histories.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I love this book!, March 19 2002
By A Customer
Ce commentaire est de: Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Works of Shakespeare (Hardcover)
I probably bought my copy 25 years ago during my college days. I've kept it handy since then and have referred to it often. Its always my starting place when I want to research some aspect about one of the plays. It's insightful and brief, but, best of all, it approaches The Bard with a sense of pleasure. I recently bought this book for a friend (who teaches Shakespeare at the college level), explaining it would help him develop a more sophisticated understanding of the plays - like mine! He's enjoying it too, in spite of my smart aleck crack. If you like Shakespeare or if you don't like Shakespeare, treat yourself to this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable reference to the Bard!, Dec 9 1997
Ce commentaire est de: Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying the Works of Shakespeare (Hardcover)
I've just started looking through this massive volume, but it is simply incredible. Asimov offers no real commentary to the tales; what he DOES do, however, is much more useful, especially in this day and age. He gives information on the variety of historical backgrounds for Shakespeare's plays, explains the meaning of references to myth and legend in the Bard's works, and includes maps to better understand the geography of the land. This is truly an invaluable resource for someone interested in the most accurate interpretation of Shakespeare's works.
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