Shakespeare’s World: The Tragedies. By Douglas J. King. Historical Exploration of Literature. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2018. 225 pages. Acid-free $63 (ISBN 978-1-4408-5794-2). E-book available (978-1-4408-5795-9), call for pricing.

If you’ve ever been curious about the authenticity of references to plague in Romeo and Juliet, or wondered how Elizabethans treated melancholia, considered witchcraft, or treated actors, the resources in Shakespeare’s World will help you think like a Renaissance man or woman. This recent addition to Greenwood’s Historical Exploration of Literature series situates four of Shakespeare’s tragedies within the contemporary history of Renaissance England. In order to contextualize broad social considerations that the Bard’s audience recognized, the volume includes primary sources and additional references that will engage any student of new historicism or reader interested in a broader picture of society and social concerns of the day.

While individual components, including play synopsis and background, brief essays on specific topics relating to Elizabethan society and life, and primary sources, may be pieced together through a combination of sources such as Magill’s Survey of World Literature (Salem Press, 2009), the Dictionary of Literary Biography Complete Online (Gale, 2018), and free internet archives, the strength of this title lies in King’s successful weaving of literature and history. A historical exploration of each play points out similarities and differences between current society and that of the past, effectively introducing the social considerations explored in the context of each play.

Carefully excerpted sources highlight widely held beliefs, giving insight into the original audience and offering potential paths of inquiry for undergraduate researchers. For example, topics examined in relation to Julius Caesar include “Julius Caesar as Seen by Renaissance Britons,” “The Nature of Monarchy in Renaissance England,” and “Warfare in Renaissance England.” Suggested readings save a researcher time by recommending additional titles for deeper exploration, although some suggestions may be difficult to locate based on their age.

This title does a commendable job teasing out ways for modern audiences to (re)connect to plays that are standard in many high school curricula. It is a good fit for high school and college libraries, especially those that cater to liberal arts or humanities.—Amy F. Fyn, Coordinator of Library Instruction, Kimbel Library, Coastal Carolina University, Conway, South Carolina


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