There are endless amounts of scholarship on Shakespeare, so any writer who can come up with a new angle for approaching the Bard is worth reading. Ted Hughes has done just that in A Choice of Shakespeare's Verse. Hughes himself is a highly respected British poet with a background in literary criticism, so his reputation holds some weight when it comes to Shakespeare scholarship.
This compact book contains a selection of speeches from most of Shakespeare's plays. Hughes chose these because they could stand alone outside of the play, and separating them from the play's context imbues them with fresh new meaning. In fact, Hughes asserts in the book's introduction that separating these speeches from their respective plays makes them easier to understand.
Interspersed with these monologues are Shakespeare's sonnets and songs. Hughes arranges all of Shakespeare's verse in a pattern. Additionally, he doesn't label them, but an index is included in the back for readers who want to look up which sonnet or play the verse came from.
A Choice of Shakespeare's Verse contains a lengthy note by Hughes at the end, explaining the historical landscape in which Shakespeare wrote, where Catholicism and Protestantism were at odds and the theatre was in danger of being closed much of the time.
Hughes thoroughly examines Shakespeare's use of diction and how it was important in communicating his ideas to a wide audience, an audience that included an intellectual aristocracy and an illiterate lower class. Shakespeare used more than twice the number of words that his contemporaries used in writing their plays, and Hughes gives a good explanation of why that was the case, shedding new light on Shakespeare's genius.
A Choice of Shakespeare's Verse is a good volume to add to any collection of Shakespeare scholarship. Those who are not as familiar with Shakespeare or who find him intimidating will appreciate this book for the way that it is able to break down some of his speeches and make them more accessible.