General Works on Shakespeare

These are good studies of Shakespeare, which do not necessarily focus on politics, but nevertheless frequently illuminate political issues in the plays. As noted, some of these books offer alternative political approaches to Shakespeare, such as new historicism, cultural materialism, or postcolonialism.

W. H. Auden, “The Shakespearian City,” The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays (New York: Vintage, 1968), 171-274

W. H. Auden, Lectures on Shakespeare, ed. Arthur Kirsch (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000)—Auden is perhaps the best example since Samuel Taylor Coleridge of another poet displaying special insight into Shakespeare, and he is particularly alert to the political dimension of the plays

C. L. Barber, Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959)—a classic treatment of the nature of comedy in Shakespeare, with good essays on The Merchant of Venice, Henry IV, and As You Like It

A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth (London: Macmillan, 1904)—one of the most influential and widely-cited books on Shakespeare; still one of the best treatments of the plays it covers

Graham Bradshaw, Shakespeare’s Scepticism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987)

Graham Bradshaw, Misrepresentations: Shakespeare and the Materialists (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993)—a critique of new historicism and cultural materialism, with chapters on Henry V and Othello

Reuben Brower, Hero and Saint: Shakespeare and the Graeco-Roman Heroic Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971)—a comprehensive interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays in relation to the classical literary tradition

Jonathan Dollimore, Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984)—a good representative of the cultural materialist approach to Shakespeare

Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, eds., Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985)—a good collection of essays representing the cultural materialist approach to Shakespeare

Mark Edmundson, “Shakespeare and the Early Modern Self,” Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015), 137-84—wide-ranging and provocative essay on Shakespeare; especially important on Othello

Leslie Fiedler, The Stranger in Shakespeare (New York: Stein & Day, 1973)—one of the most original books ever written about Shakespeare; by a specialist in American literature, it prefigured the race/class/gender criticism that has become prominent in Shakespeare criticism

Northrop Frye, A Natural Perspective: Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965)—one of the best general treatments of comic form in Shakespeare

Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare After All (New York: Random House, 2008)—one of the best synoptic volumes covering all of Shakespeare’s plays

John Gillies, Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994)—an important contribution to our understanding of the geographic range of Shakespeare’s plays

René Girard, A Theater of Envy: William Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991)—an application of Girard’s theory of mimetic desire to the understanding of Shakespeare’s plays

Harold C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, 2 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951)—one of the best synoptic volumes covering all of Shakespeare’s plays

Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energies in Renaissance England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988)—a good representative of the new historicist approach to Shakespeare

Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespeare’s Freedom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010)—Greenblatt raises doubts about his own new historicism

Andrew Hadfield, Shakespeare and Republicanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)—a persuasive argument that Shakespeare supported republicanism

Walter Kaufmann, “Shakespeare: Between Socrates and Existentialism,” from Shakespeare to Existentialism (Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1960), 1-24—an important essay on Shakespeare’s relation to the classical tradition

Ania Loomba, Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)

Ania Loomba and Martin Orkin, eds., Post-Colonial Shakespeares (London: Routledge, 1998)—together Loomba’s books offer good examples of the postcolonial approach to Shakespeare

Katharine Eisaman Maus, Being and Having in Shakespeare (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013)—an examination of legal and economic aspects of Shakespeare’s plays, concentrating on the issue of property rights

Michael McCanles, “The Dialectic of Right and Power in Eight of Shakespeare’s Plays,” Dialectical Criticism and Renaissance Literature (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1975), 159-211

Thomas McFarland, Shakespeare’s Pastoral Comedy (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1972)—one of the best treatments of comedy in Shakespeare

Franco Moretti, “The Great Eclipse: Tragic Form as Deconsecration of Sovereignty,” Signs Taken For Wonders (London: Verso, 1983), 42-82

A. D. Nuttall, A New Mimesis: Shakespeare and the Representation of Reality (London: Methuen, 1983)—an incisive critique of contemporary critical approaches to Shakespeare, together with insightful analyses of individual plays, including Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Henry IV; Nuttall views Shakespeare as imitating the real world: “Shakespeare saw that Rome was not England. He also saw that Venice was not London.”

A. D. Nuttall, Shakespeare the Thinker (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003)—one of the best synoptic volumes covering all of Shakespeare’s plays

Sharon O’Dair, Class, Critics, and Shakespeare: Bottom Lines on the Culture Wars (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2000)—an insightful critique of trends in contemporary Shakespeare criticism

Norman Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Common Understanding (New York: Free Press, 1967)

Norman Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981)

James Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996)—particularly relevant to The Merchant of Venice

E. M. W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture (London: Macmillan, 1942)

E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare’s History Plays (London: Chatto & Windus, 1944)—together Tillyard’s two influential books offer good examples of the old historicist approach to Shakespeare

Derek Traversi, An Approach to Shakespeare, 2 vols. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969)—one of the best synoptic volumes covering all of Shakespeare’s plays

Frederick Turner, Shakespeare’s Twenty-First Century Economics: The Morality of Love and Money (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)—a novel approach to the economic dimension of Shakespeare’s plays, particularly good on The Merchant of Venice

Daniel Vitkus, Turning Turk: English Theater and the Multicultural Mediterranean (New York: Palgrave, 2003)—one of the best books representing the postcolonial/multicultural approach to Shakespeare; particularly useful on The Merchant of Venice and Othello