Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Amateur Shakespeare Library is Complete

This last weekend I had a serendipitous moment at The Coolidge House, during our stay in Ashland to see Julius Caesar. The house had a decent library, with an expected bias towards Shakespeare (The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is Ashland's economy).

I perked up to one book in particular titled "Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare". I was a shocked to see the name Asimov, who I always knew as the quintessential sci-fi author, attached to the epitome of English Renaissance theater. Honestly, I assumed it was a coincidence and only picked up the book to scratch my itching curiosity and confirm that it was indeed a different Asimov.

I was wrong.

After flipping through the book, I was hooked, and scrambled through his analysis of Julius Caesar in the days leading up to the play. This guide is exploding with historical, mythological, geographical, and legendary context to Shakespeares plays.

In the introduction, Isaac Asimov ponders how the works of Geoffrey Chaucer (late 14th century) had become unreadably archaic only 200 years after they were written because of the rapid evolution of the English language. Asimov then proposes:
"It is almost as though the English language dare not change so much as to render Shakespeare incomprehensible. That would be an unacceptable price to pay for change"
It's hard to resist Shakespeare, or this guide for that matter, after reading such a bold and arousing claim.

A few antique books shops in Ashland had copies, but they were going for the steep price of $60. I did a price match on eBay and realized this wasn't just "tourist trap pricing".

After seeing Julius Caesar, feeling supremely enlightened by Asimov's scrupulous research, I had committed to put down the $60 as a worthy investment. Last minute, I thought to check Powell's online database (one of the many great reason to live in Portland). They had a clean copy for $15!

Together with the 1853 Complete Works of Shakespeare I picked up a few weeks ago, my amateur Shakespeare library is now complete for a grand-total of $21.

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