Essential Shakespeare Handbook
By Leslie Dunton-Downer and Alan Riding
Dorling Kindersley pound;16.99
This is a compact 480-page travel guide, in DK's engaging and effective manner, to the continent that is Shakespeare. It's full of statistics, summaries, background information, time lines and other useful references. You can compare all the plays in terms of dates, scene lengths, and proportion of verse to prose, or look at a map of London in 1600 and see where the playhouses stood. It's also full of pictures. These range from contemporary portraits of Tudor notables to stunning photographs of dramatic locations, including Venice, Rome, Athens and an island that could easily be Prospero's.
Above all, its concern is drama. Play by play, each plot is condensed into three or four pages, and every character is equipped with a sentence outlining their contribution to what happens on stage. There is a page on reading the play, a page on seeing it and a further page on moving beyond it into adaptations, film versions or other interpretations.
The illustrations here are especially rich in variety. Eighteenth-century engravings rub shoulders with Victorian paintings, supplemented by a wealth of scenes from modern productions, some as recent as last year's all-female Richard III at the Globe. The Shakespearean explorer is generously equipped.