Ok so here's the thing.
It turns out that when I'm interested in something and I'm not going to be marked on it, I am quite capable of becoming organised, researched and fully prepared. Though I prove almost incapable of actually doing the required amount of research for a lot of my college assignments, I have begun reading and researching for this blog like nothing else.
Having long ago read through the various prefaces and introductory chapters in my Collins Edition, (including a mini-bio by Ms Germaine Greer) I decided I needed more info. My first go-to was Bill Bryson's Shakespeare the Illustrated Edition (thank you super-cheap store under Central Station – hallelujah). And I've got one word to say to you. Faaasskinating.
Did you know that our William, Billy, ol' Billy Boy, is responsible for roughly one tenth of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations material (Bryson, pg 151)? He coined many phrases, a couple that I knew of (“one fell swoop” and “the milk of human kindness” for eg) and some that truly stunned me to know of their origin.
For example, a favourite amongst country folk to this day, Shakespeare created the description “blinking idiot”! Also “vanish into thin air”, “bag and baggage”, “flesh and blood” (!!), “foul play”, “be cruel to be kind”, “pomp and circumstance” and “foregone conclusion”. Wow!! What a wordsmith!
400 years after writing his plays, we still constantly quote Shakespeare, even when we don't realise it at all.
As I said, I don't think you have to be highly educated to read Shakespeare. You certainly don't have to be highly educated to call someone a blinking idiot! Quoting Shakespeare isn't an act of toffery, it's normal every day use of English!
One of the most interesting dilemmas my research has raised for me thus far is the issue of chronology. Almost no one can actually agree on the order in which Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him, and there simply is not enough historical data to go on! Personally I would prefer, I think, to read them as close to original birth order as possible, in order to gain a sense of Billy's development as an author, and scry out the development of particular themes. However, there are several major disputes to overcome in making that decision (not least of which my request for votes on where to start!).
The intro in the Collins lists Comedy of Errors, Taming of the Shrew and the Three Parts of Henry VI as his earliest works... And unfortunately the Tempest among the very last! (Why include it first I ask you?!!)
So I'm still pondering... What do you think? Is chronology important? Should I read them in order or not?