Top critical review
Really wanted to like this book...I can't
Reviewed in the United States on September 18, 2019
I bought this book hoping it'd provide an engaging summary of Shakespeare's plays. Was it going to give me all the details? Didn't expect it to. But I did hope it'd give me a good enough feel for each play that'd it give me a starting point, a sense of the characters and flow of the play.
At a glance, the colorful and illustrated timelines look like they'd be a great start. But you actually try to dig in, and you realize you can't make sense of the play, or how actions evolve from scene to scene even after consulting the lengthier summary. For instance, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW:
INDUCTION- Christopher Sly settles down to watch a play, wrongly believing himself to be a lord
1.1- Lucentio spies Bianca and hatches a plan to woo her.
1.2- Hortensio tells Petruccio about Katherine
Ok, so where the hell is Christopher Sly in all of this? Not clear. You skim through the rest of the acts in the timeline and see there's no other mention of him. Uh ok?
You read the summary below and it then becomes clear that all of the Taming of the Shrew is this play within a play. Still no other mention of Christopher Sly beyond this initial introduction. Ok? I guess he's not important?
Each individual scene in the timeline will reference events that is not clear how they relate to other scenes, where characters came from, or characters' motivations.
Continuing from above:
2.2 Katherine breaks a lute over Hortensio's head, and is told by Petruccio that they will marry on Sunday
3.1 Lucentio and Katherine tutor Bianca, taking the opportunity to divulge their love for her
3.2 Petruccio arrives "fantastically dressed" for his marriage to Katherine
3.3 Katherine asks Petruccio to stay for their wedding dinner to no avail
3.4 Petruccio chases his servants from his house and throws the food they have made on the floor.
4.2 Lucentio and Hortensio reveal their disguises to Blanca
4.3 Petruccio shreds a cap and gown that have been made for Katherine
4.6 Petruccio tries Katherine's patience by calling the sun the moon
5.1 Lucentio's father, Vincentio, is confronted by a merchant assuming his identity
5.2 Petruccio kisses Katherine having won a wager testing her obedience
So now obviously you have a good sense of what happened here? Yeah right. What the hell happened here? Petruccio wins Katherine (from some wager) and...what else? What happens to Bianca after Lucentio and Hortensio reveal their disguises? Vincentio is confronted by a merchant assuming his identity....and? Why did Petruccio chase his servants? What happened there?
A timeline should provide a basic summary of major events and what happens to the main characters. This doesn't. It also occupies more of the page than the summary itself.
Well, maybe the summary will clarify the timeline then, right? Nope. the summary itself still doesn't help. The summary is not laid out act by act, so it's not possible to look at the timeline, see an event, then find that part in the summary to understand what happened.
In fact, the summary section then completely ignores the highlights from the timeline.
Why did Petruccio chase his servants, as the timeline in 4.1 mentions? The summary entirely omits ANY mention of Petruccio chasing his servants! No mention of 4.3's shredding a cap and gown, no mention of 4.6's Petruccio calling the sun the moon. No mention of Katherine breaking a lute...holy hell a ton of the events laid out in the timeline are ignored in the summary! Do these events in the timeline not matter? What was going on?
It's basically as though the person making the timeline was entirely different from the person making the summary. The timeline seems to have been made based on what could be easily illustrated, not on what actually helps in understanding the play.
The "in context" pages that follow the summary and timeline of a play are interesting, but mean very little to someone who has just encountered a new play and has only a very vague understanding of what actually happened after having read the summary and timeline from the prior pages.
I simply can't recommend this book. It feels like this book was thrown together by someone who thought pretty pictures would sell. I'll be looking towards SparkNotes or something else.