Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

coriolanus

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

Genre: Drama
Page #: 339
Published in: 2009
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Rating: [4/5]

Official Synopsis:

Set in the earliest days of the Roman Republic, Coriolanus begins with the common people, or plebeians, in armed revolt against the patricians. The people win the right to be represented by tribunes. Meanwhile, there are foreign enemies near the gates of Rome.

The play explores one reason that Rome prevailed over such vulnerabilities: its reverence for family bonds. Coriolanus so esteems his mother, Volumnia, that he risks his life to win her approval. Even the value of family, however, is subordinate to loyalty to the Roman state. When the two obligations align, the combination is irresistible.

Coriolanus is so devoted to his family and to Rome that he finds the decision to grant the plebians representation intolerable. To him, it elevates plebeians to a status equal with his family and class, to Rome’s great disadvantage. He risks his political career to have the tribunate abolished—and is banished from Rome. Coriolanus then displays an apparently insatiable vengefulness against the state he idolized, opening a tragic divide within himself, pitting him against his mother and family, and threatening Rome’s very existence.

My Review:

This is one of Shakespeare’s later, much lesser known tragedies. I really had no interest in reading this play at first, but it was either this or Henry V and I hate Henry V. What started out as grudging acceptance morphed into pure and unadulterated love for this ridiculous play.

The play features Coriolanus, a Roman soldier with some pretty serious mommy issues. After winning valor for himself fighting against the Volscian rebellion, he tries to get elected consul but some of the tribunes ruin everything for him. Coriolanus is one of the most selfish and childish man-child characters I have ever come across. Seriously, this play is so weird and over-the-top.

Coriolanus is probably one of Shakespeare’s gayest plays too. There’s some really blatant homoerotic dialogue between the two main characters. It’s one of those plays where you can’t help but laugh as things just spiral out of control.

I also watched a bunch of movie adaptations for the same project I read the play for, and the one with Tom Hiddleston is my favorite. That one really captures the humor that I see in the play. Seriously, I really love this play.

One of the only things I don’t like about this play is some of the characters. There are a couple of characters that really serve no function to the story, so it’s kind of pointless that they’re there. Otherwise, I would really recommend it.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

tenant

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

Genre: Classics
Page #: 394
Published in: 2013
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions

Rating: [3/5]

Official Synopsis:

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a powerful and sometimes violent novel of expectation, love, oppression, sin, religion and betrayal. It portrays the disintegration of the marriage of Helen Huntingdon, the mysterious ‘tenant’ of the title, and her dissolute, alcoholic husband. Defying convention, Helen leaves her husband to protect their young son from his father’s influence, and earns her own living as an artist. Whilst in hiding at Wildfell Hall, she encounters Gilbert Markham, who falls in love with her.

On its first publication in 1848, Anne Brontë’s second novel was criticised for being ‘coarse’ and ‘brutal’. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall challenges the social conventions of the early nineteenth century in a strong defence of women’s rights in the face of psychological abuse from their husbands. Anne

Brontë’s style is bold, naturalistic and passionate, and this novel, which her sister Charlotte considered ‘an entire mistake’, has earned Anne a position in English literature in her own right, not just as the youngest member of the Brontë family.

This newly reset text is taken from a copy of the 1848 second edition in the Library of the Brontë Parsonage Museum and has been edited to correct known errors in that edition.

My Review:

I normally don’t like books that are in letter format, but this one actually managed to pull it off by being the longest letter ever written. By the time I was a couple chapters in, I actually forgot it was a letter. Even though a lot of the Bronte novels are retrospective or framed in some way, this book is different from the other Bronte sisters’ books. It’s not Gothic in the slightest, but it’s still rife with mystery.

Gilbert Markham is intrigued by the new widow who moved in next door with her young son. Despite efforts to get to know her, she remains fairly antisocial in the tight-knit community. While they slowly kindle a relationship together, Gilbert discovers the many secrets she’s hiding which complicate their romance.

This book is the epitome of Victorian scandal. There’s so much gossip and drama and general craziness that makes the story very enjoyable to read. I was totally on board until it reached the diary portion of the story. Then it just got kind of sad. But it ended happily, so it was worth the slow patch.

Helen, the widow, is an incredibly strong female character and this novel has a strong feminist message. She takes charge of her life and her own situation, and even is able to support herself as a single mother on the moors in Victorian England.

I would definitely recommend this book to people who are interested in Victorian fiction or strong female characters. There’s also a delicious slow-burn romance if you’re in to that kind of thing, which I am.

As You Like It by William Shakespeare

asyoulikeit

As You Like It by William Shakespeare

Genre: Drama
Page #: 263
Published in: 2011
Publisher: Penguin

Rating: [2/5]

Official Synopsis:

As You Like It is a pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in 1599 or early 1600 and first published in the First Folio, 1623. The play’s first performance is uncertain, though a performance at Wilton House in 1603 has been suggested as a possibility. As You Like It follows its heroine Rosalind as she flees persecution in her uncle’s court, accompanied by her cousin Celia and Touchstone the court jester, to find safety and, eventually, love, in the Forest of Arden. Historically, critical response has varied, with some critics finding the work of lesser quality than other Shakespearean works and some finding the play a work of great merit. The play features one of Shakespeare’s most famous and oft-quoted speeches, “All the world’s a stage”, and is the origin of the phrase “too much of a good thing”. The play remains a favourite among audiences and has been adapted for radio, film, and musical theatre.

My Review:

If I had one word to describe this play, I would say boring. I know that sounds really unfair, but I honestly did not really care for this play. Seeing it performed is actually much better than reading; I would recommend watching the most recent Globe Theater staging online.

In this play, Orlando flees to the forest of Arden after his brother takes all of his late father’s estate. Also fleeing to Arden are Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone. Rosalind and Orlando are in love, but Rosalind diguises herself as a man in Arden for safety reasons. While she is disguised as a man, she befriends Orlando and tries to help him with his pining over Rosalind. Like any good Renaissance play, there’s a triple wedding at the end.

I like Rosalind as a character because she challenges a lot of stereotypical gender roles and facilitates a lot of homoerotic tension in the play. However, I literally hated Touchstone. I despised everything that came out of his mouth. Because of this, I was incredibly bored and frustrated by all the subplots.

While there are some good qualities to this play, I would recommend Shakespeare’s other comedies if that’s what you’re looking for.

The Odyssey by Homer

theodyssey

The Odyssey by Homer (translated by Robert Fagles)

Genre: Classics
Page #: 541
Published in: 1997
Publisher: Penguin Classics

Rating: [4/5]

Official Synopsis:

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.

So begins Robert Fagles’ magnificent translation of the Odyssey, which Jasper Griffin in The New York Times Review of Books hails as “a distinguished achievement.”

If the Iliad is the world’s greatest war epic, then the Odyssey is literature’s grandest evocation of everyman’s journey though life. Odysseus’ reliance on his wit and wiliness for survival in his encounters with divine and natural forces, during his ten-year voyage home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, is at once a timeless human story and an individual test of moral endurance.

In the myths and legends that are retold here, Fagles has captured the energy and poetry of Homer’s original in a bold, contemporary idiom, and given us an Odyssey to read aloud, to savor, and to treasure for its sheer lyrical mastery.

Renowned classicist Bernard Knox’s superb Introduction and textual commentary provide new insights and background information for the general reader and scholar alike, intensifying the strength of Fagles’ translation.

This is an Odyssey to delight both the classicist and the public at large, and to captivate a new generation of Homer’s students.

Robert Fagles, winner of the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation and a 1996 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, presents us with Homer’s best-loved and most accessible poem in a stunning new modern-verse translation.

My Review:

The first time I read The Odyssey, I was in high school. And I hated it. So when I found out I had to read it again for my World Literature class, I was less than excited. However, I found that I enjoyed it much better the second time because I was reading a different translation.

Let me tell you that the translation makes all the difference. I won’t get in to translation theory in my review because that’s a whole other can of worms, but please trust that the Fagles translation is better than the Fitzgerald edition.

I really enjoy the characters in this book. Odysseus is smart, cunning, and so obtusely prideful sometimes. It’s kind of hilarious how many problems he causes for himself. Penelope is my favorite, though. She is simply wonderful, and she has to put up with so much nonsense from everyone.

It can be a little difficult to read from a modern perspective, though. Especially when it comes to the double standards between Odysseus and Penelope. I literally wrote about what a dog Odysseus is in the margins of my book. But because it’s such a culturally significant work of literature, I would recommend reading The Odyssey for a better understanding of culture in general.

Rosalynd by Thomas Lodge

rosalynd

Genre: Classics
Page #: 128
Published in: 16th century originally, 1977 for this edition
Publisher: Edinburgh Press for this edition

Rating: [2/5]

Official Synopsis:

Interlaced with beautiful songs and lyrics, Lodge’s elegant “Rosalynd” is among the finest works of Elizabethan prose, of intrinsic interest in its own right and, as the source for “As You Like It,” essential reading for students of Shakespeare. The current image of English Renaissance literature, often confined to drama and poetry, will be enhanced by this new edition–the first accurate and annotated modern-spelling version of the text.

My Review: 

I had to read this book in my Topics of British Literature class last semester, and I will be totally honest here and say that I had no desire to read it at all. Plus, it is incredibly difficult to find. The one I ended up buying was like twenty bucks. For a paperback. Ridiculous.

In the book, the main character’s father dies and he finds out that his father left all of the wealth to the older brother. The older brother essentially keeps him as a slave until he escapes to a forest. Rosalynd, whom he has fallen in love with, flees to the forest as well, disguised as a man. They continue their courtship despite the fact that she is cross-dressing and he does not recognize her.

There are a lot of poems and songs in this book, which did not appeal to me very much. One of the main things I like is the way Rosalynd challenges gender norms and traditional gender roles for women. She is a very strong female character and is definitely past her time.

I would recommend this book to those interested in classic or Renaissance fiction. Other than that, it’s really not worth it.

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

MuchAdomech.indd

This is probably my favorite Shakespeare play ever. I’ve seen all the film adaptations and I love every single one of them for different reasons. In high school, I even got the chance to act in this play. So I was really excited when I found out we were reading it in my Shakespeare class. Basically, I think it’s hilarious and Benedick and Beatrice are one of my most favorite fictional couples ever.

Rating: [5/5]

Reading Challenge: A classic romance

Summary: After returning home from war, Count Claudio enlists the help of his friends to win the heart of Hero. Once he is engaged to her, Don Pedro plots a distraction to keep the couple entertained while they wait to marry. They will each trick Benedick and Beatrice, sworn nemeses, into falling in love with each other. While they plan to bring this couple together, Don John, the prince’s bastard brother, has his own plot to tear Claudio and Hero apart.

Likes: Benedick and Beatrice. They are so funny and their chemistry is incredible. Plus, Shakespeare strongly hints at the back story of their relationship, which makes their banter all the more interesting.

Dislikes: Claudio’s treatment of Hero during the end of the play is pretty problematic, and the ending seemed kind of abrupt to me.

TL;DR: This is a great play and I would definitely recommend it.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth

I only ever watched a minimalist performance of this play. The whole time, I was really confused about where everyone was and who everyone was. Reading it made the play make a lot more sense.

Rating: [2/5]

Reading Challenge: A book you were supposed to read in high school but didn’t

Summary: After a tense battle, Macbeth meets three witches, one of whom predicts he will become Thane of Cawdor and one who predicts he will become King of Scotland. He doesn’t believe them at first, but after he is announced as the new Thane of Cawdor, he and his wife concoct a plan to murder the current king.

Likes: I really liked all the scene with the Weird Sisters. They’re really amusing and were only in the play because King James thought witches were cool.

Dislikes: I personally had a difficult time following the story and getting into it.

TL;DR: I know this is one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays but I’d probably pick up Hamlet if you’re wanting to read a classic where everyone goes crazy and kills each other.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

hamlet

I’m taking a Shakespeare class this semester. Initially, I was really concerned about it but I’m actually really enjoying the class so far. In high school, I never read a single Shakespeare play. My teacher believed the plays were meant to be watched, so that’s what we did. Not the best move. But hey, the David Tennant version of Hamlet is amazing, in case anyone was wondering!

Rating: [3/5]

Reading Challenge: A book more than 100 years old

Summary: After Hamlet, the Danish prince, discovers that his Uncle Claudius murdered his father and married his mother, he begins to plan his revenge. In order to get revenge and still achieve his place on the throne, Hamlet must reveal the king’s guilt in front of witnesses. But Hamlet’s life could be in danger, so in order to buy time, he must fake madness in order to avenge his father’s murder.

Likes: I really like the characters in this play. They’re all really crazy and over-dramatic, which makes for an interesting read. Certain interpretations of key characters, such as Gertrude and Polonius, make the play much more interesting as well.

Dislikes: Obviously, the play is written is early modern English, making it tough to understand at times. Plus, there are rhymes and puns that are completely lost in translation without the original Shakespearean accent, so truly understanding the play involves some extra research or reading.

TL;DR: Hamlet is a classic for a reason and everyone needs to read it. But don’t stick to the same Plain Jane interpretations that they teach you in high school!

Daisy Miller by Henry James

daisy

I signed up for a class next semester called “American Literature: Realism to Present” and the teacher emailed the class recently, saying that we could read the longer works over break if we wanted. One of those longer works was Daisy Miller, a short novella by Henry James. I’m hoping to read the other two books on the list before school starts up again, but we’ll see if that’ll happen.

Rating: [3/5]

Summary: Daisy Miller is a young, innocent, and chatty girl from America visiting Europe on a tour with her family. Every gentleman she meets is immediately taken with her, including Frederick Winterbourne: a young American man who has lived in Geneva most of his life. Though Winterbourne pursues her unfailingly–even following her and her family to Rome–he is confused by Daisy’s flirty and uninhibited demeanor. Soon, her attitudes cause her to be rejected by the society she so craves to be a part of.

Likes: It’s a very short little story and pretty simple to follow. I like Daisy a lot as a character. If the story were written now, she would probably be classified as a manic pixie dream girl. It touches on a lot of ideas about cultural differences and what’s acceptable or unacceptable in different places.

Dislikes: There wasn’t much of a plot to propel the story forward, other than figuring out what would happen with Winterbourne and Daisy. However, the story was short enough that this wasn’t much of an issue. If the book was longer, it probably would have been a pain to keep going.

TL;DR: It’s a short, simple book that touches on cultural differences in the late 1800s. I would say it’s a good introduction to modern American literature.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

return-of-sherlock-holmes

A couple of years ago, I managed to snag this really nice hardback copy of all of the Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories. It could probably be used as a murder weapon; it’s so big and heavy. And–this is the best part–it was only $6. I read about half of it before I got burnt out. I picked it back up again this week and finished off The Return of Sherlock Holmes, which you can check out here.

Rating: [2/5]

Summary: This book is actually a collection of short mystery stories featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The first story attempts to explain how Sherlock managed to survive his encounter with Moriarty from the last book. After that, the stories all stand alone as individual mysteries.

Likes: I obviously like the relationship between Sherlock and Watson. It’s classic. It’s also really interesting to see how the modern mystery story archetype was established. Plus, reading Sherlock Holmes stories is a great way to cope with the Sherlock hiatus. Just saying.

Dislikes: If you’ve read one Sherlock Holmes story, you’ve pretty much read them all. I’m not a big fan of mystery as a genre in the first place, so reading story after story with the same overall plot got really repetitive.

TL;DR: If you love mystery or classic fiction, Sherlock Holmes is a must. And, if you’re looking for a way to survive until the next episode of the BBC show airs, why not try a little original Sherlock?