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  • Published: 15 April 2020
  • ISBN: 9780241361634
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $26.00

This Is Shakespeare

How to Read the World's Greatest Playwright

A revelatory new look at Shakespeare, from 'one of the stars of her generation of Shakespeare scholars' Eric Rasmussen


'An outstanding book ... lively, curious and passionate' Literary Review

Why should you read a book about Shakespeare and his plays?
Because he is a timeless genius whose work encapsulates the human condition?
Or is it something more unexpected?

  • Published: 15 April 2020
  • ISBN: 9780241361634
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $26.00

About the author

Emma Smith

Professor Emma Smith is a lecturer in English at the University of Oxford, Professor of Shakespeare Studies, and a Fellow of Hertford College.

Also by Emma Smith

See all

Praise for This Is Shakespeare

If I were asked to recommend one guide for readers keen on discovering what's at stake in Shakespeare's plays, This Is Shakespeare would be it. Deeply informed, never dogmatic, and alert to how performance matters, Emma Smith understands that Shakespeare's plays prompt questions rather than provide answers. Her elegantly written and sharply observed book is richly rewarding.

James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

A fascinating new perspective and an absolute pleasure to read

Eimear McBride, author of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

A joy to read, full of questions, surprises, and new ideas. Smith brings us remarkable new readings of Shakespeare, and a sense of how his work lives on the stage. A wonderful book

Margaret Drabble

I like this book very much. It explains accessibly, with learning lightly worn, why Shakespeare retains such a hold in our culture. Smith has done an exemplary job of restoring the greatest of English writers to his own time, and explaining why he then speaks to ours ... An invigorating examination of the pre-eminence of the most revered figure of English letters

Oliver Kamm, The Times

Quirky, brilliant ... what's most bracing about Smith's book is the way she sees the plays as almost organic: not only contradictory but alive

Daniel Swift, Spectator

Intriguing ... Smith argues that the defining characteristic of Shakespeare's plays is their 'permissive gappiness'. This must also surely be the first book on Shakespeare to use the slang term 'woke'

Evening Standard

The best introduction to the plays I've read, perhaps the best book on Shakespeare, full stop. This is a model of unpretentious, deeply researched, profoundly approachable criticism. It's a book to give to anyone who loves Shakespeare, but particularly to those who think they don't ... What This Is Shakespeare gives the reader most of all, though, is a licence to enjoy the plays without the cultural and historical baggage they so often carry

Alex Preston, Observer

The question that hangs over every new book on Shakespeare is, "Why read this one?" The short answer is, because it is very good indeed. There is no shortage of eminent Shakespeare scholars, and in her role as professor of Shakespeare studies at Oxford, Smith certainly ranks among them; but more importantly for a book like this, she is perhaps the pre-eminent Shakespeare communicator working today ... This is Shakespeare cuts through the accumulated crust of "schoolroom platitudes", cant and literary piety in order to dust Shakespeare off and see him as he is, was, and might be

Tim Smith-Laing, Daily Telegraph

Thought-provoking, fizzing with jokes ... Smith is celebrating a Shakespeare who talks to the present. She does it all with such a light touch you barely notice how much you're learning ... Anyone who doesn't understand what the fuss is all about should read This Is Shakespeare

Colin Burrow, Guardian

An outstanding book ... a distillation of intricate conceptual and textual cruces into readable prose ... lively and unexpectedly moving ... curious and passionate ... [It reminds me] why I came to enjoy Shakespeare so much in the first place

Sophie Duncan, Literary Review

This is Shakespeare wears its learning very lightly, although there are clear signs of that learning in every chapter ... Sane, sensible and suitably woke ... original and provocative analysis

Lisa Hopkins, Times Higher Education

Impeccable ... This is Shakespeare is the ideal book of its moment for unlocking the works of that most miraculous, mysterious and be-pedestalled figure in English literature [...] Smith's fresh approaches reveal something crucial about Shakespeare's ongoing relevance

The Saturday Paper

There's an invigorating frankness to Smith's approach [...] She generously leads an accessible and insightful route towards a provocative, complicating reading of Shakespeare's work.

GLOBE Magazine

Shakespeare pulled from his pedestal and made contemporary...this book is terrific...informative and, more importantly, very enjoyable

This England

Smith salvages Shakespeare from the status of isolated genius, and reveals him as an active participant in his own time and place. In turn, we the audience become active participants in the remaking of Shakespeare...This book puts the pleasure back into the plays, and there is no better reason to read about Shakespeare than that

Sarah Ditum, The Lancet

Packed with sharp observations and illuminating commentary on the works and their afterlives...acute on the plays' modern resonances and how today's theatre troupes handle Will's less woke moments, such as The Taming of the Shrew. They won't cancel Shakey yet!

The Times Books of the Year 2019

A brilliant and accessible tour of Shakespeare's plays that is also a radical manifesto for how to read and watch his work. Witty, irreverent and searching, this book shines dazzling new light on the oeuvre of the world's greatest literary genius.

Economist Books of the Year

A tonic ... This Is Shakespeare will, for some time to come, remain required reading for all those with more than a passing interest in Shakespeare ... ['Gappiness' is] a compelling way of evaluating afresh an author about whom we are often told that everything has been said ... Outstanding ... A model for almost everything that Shakespeare criticism for the general reader should be striving to achieve

Rhodri Lewis, Prospect

Consistently fascinating [...] there's no denying the wit and intelligence [...] nor the dangerous readability of this thoughtful study.

Alexander Larman, Observer

Praise for previous works by Emma Smith "Emma Smith is a courteous and helpful guide who wears her considerable learning lightly in this enjoyable, well-conceived, well-written book"

Andrew Hadfield, Irish Times

Praise for previous works by Emma Smith: "A fascinating and provocative book"

Daniel Swift, Spectator

Praise for previous works by Emma Smith: "Delightful... there is a bite in Smith's exuberant tales of buying, selling and displaying Shakespeare... beautifully judged, impeccably researched yet wry and affectionate"

Jerry Brotton, Financial Times

Praise for previous works by Emma Smith "Brilliantly approachable and entertaining ... anarchic, counterintuitive, critical ... perfect"

Alex Preston, Observer

Praise for previous works by Emma Smith "Delightful"


Read this and you will be seduced

Val McDermid (Radio 4, A Good Read)

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