The Norton Shakespeare is a great volume that contains all the Bard's plays in a hard binding with a very readable typeset and thoughtful critical prefaces to each play. If you are only going to ever take one book recommendation from this site, then make it this one. This book will pay dividends for the rest of your life.
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This site chronicles the strangest, most thrilling moments in early modern drama. You can head over to the blog now and start checking them out, or hang around and let me fill you in on why this is such a cool period of literature and theater!
The early modern period means the 16th and 17th centuries. This period sometimes gets called the Renaissance, but about a decade ago some medievalists got their knickers in a twist and now every one has to call it the "early modern period." Of course, everyone knows this period's bright, shining star William Shakespeare, aka Billy Shakes, aka Shax. Shakespeare, along with Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe, make up a kind of holy trinity of early modern drama, but there are a ton of other awesome playwrights in this period who now languish forgotten in university libraries: Thomas Middleton, John Webster, the dynamic duo, Beaumont and Fletcher, Phillip Massinger, Elizabeth Carey, the list goes on and on.
Now, all of these writers produced some fantastic work, but I am interested chiefly in the weird bits. What kind of weird bits, you ask? Well, there are some famous examples like when a hellmouth opens up below Hamlet's feet as he swears vengeance on his uncle Cladius, or when Titus Adronicus bakes Tamora's two sons (they were jerks) into meat pies and then feeds them to her. Gross, I know, but it is Shakespeare, so we are being gross in the name of culture.
For every famous example though there are literally thousands of strange forgotten moments. Take the Revenger's Tragedy by Thomas Middleton, for instance. Here, Vindice, the revenger, wants to kill the Duke who poisoned Vindice's wife on the day of their wedding. Rather than just take a knife to him though, Vindice fetches his wife's skull from the family crypt, dresses it up to appear to be a fine young lady, and coats the teeth with poison. He then begins an elaborate plot to get in the Duke's good graces. Once he gains the Duke's trust, he escorts him to a private place, tells him a young lady is waiting for him, and presents him with the dolled up skull. The Duke, oblivious, begins a serious make out session, and only too late realizes that he is, in fact, kissing a dressed up skull with poison-coated teeth.
You can't make this stuff up -- at least not anymore.
Want to hear even more bizarre excerpts from these plays? Head over to the blog