Classic Literature

In Search of Shakespeare

Author(s): 
Michael Wood

This is a fascinating documentary, but not suitable for children. Although it leans secular to a certain extent, it provides a very helpful (and detailed) background of the nature of the political and religious conflicts going on in Shakespeare’s world. It also makes a pretty strong case that Shakespeare grew up in a Catholic household and had some Catholic sympathies throughout his life, that at least seem to reflect the basic morals found in his plays. There is plenty of ugliness too, but I think it’s worth sorting through the muck to get a better understanding of the Bard.

Much Ado About Nothing

Author(s): 
William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing is an uproarious comedy (with plenty of dramatic elements) about love and hate. While awaiting the marriage of Hero and Claudio, several plots unfold. One is an incredibly funny conspiracy to set up Beatrice and Benedick, two swift-tongued sworn enemies, to fall in love with each other. The other is nefarious, a plan to ruin Hero by convincing Claudio and company that she has been unfaithful.

King Lear

Author(s): 
William Shakespeare

King Lear is the heart-wrenching tragedy of a king with three daughters who decides to test their love for him as a condition for inheriting a part of his kingdom. Naturally the two who are most interested in the prize are the most willing to tell him what he wants to hear. The youngest, Cordelia, in her honesty and simplicity, refuses to flatter him and is disinherited. Over time, Lear realizes his mistake, as his two other daughters are only “nice” when they have something to gain from it.

Othello

cover from first quarto, c 1619
Author(s): 
William Shakespeare

Othello, which we studied in tenth grade, is a dark play, a tragedy brought about by Othello's surrender to Iago's campaign of deceit.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Title page of the play, from the first quarto
Author(s): 
William Shakespeare

We studied this Shakespeare comedy in 9th grade using an "interleaved" edition featuring the original text on one side and notes to clarify the meanings of archaic terms on the facing pages. Looking at the text on the pages was a little daunting, but it is amazing what a difference reading it aloud in class made. Suddenly the words were not so strange or difficult to follow any more, and as it is a play -- not a novel -- reading aloud really helped bring it to life. Our class was also able to attend a live outdoor performance, which further enhanced our study of the play.

Kristin Lavransdatter

Kristin Lavransdatter
Author(s): 
Sigrid Undset
Translator(s): 
Tiina Nunnally

I am delighted to see a popular edition by Penguin Classics of one of the world's greatest woman writers settling itself to be in print for any foreseeable future. This review refers to the 2005 paperback edition of the combined trilogy of Sigrid Undset’s master work Kristin Lavransdatter, translated by Tiina Nunnally.

The Penguin Classics page does a great job at introducing the novel to the public:

Helena

Author(s): 
Evelyn Waugh

I usually make it a point not to read an introduction to a book; I never want to be prejudiced by someone else’s take on a story. But since this would be the fourth time I would read Helena by Evelyn Waugh, I decided to read the introduction by George Weigel in Loyola Press’ reprint of this classic. And I am so glad I did.

Misty of Chincoteague

Author(s): 
Marguerite Henry
Illustrator(s): 
Wesley Dennis

When a Spanish galleon carrying live ponies as cargo to be sold for labor in the mines of Peru is wrecked in a storm off the coast of Assateague Island, Virginia one stallion and fourteen mares swim ashore. There, they adapt to the island's climate and populate its beaches. Over time, the Spanish galleon becomes a remote memory to residents of nearby Chincoteague Island-- almost a legend.

The Man Who Was Thursday

Author(s): 
G.K. Chesterton

The Man Who Was Thursday is a great classic, beloved by many, and not easy to do justice to in a review (even after reading it twice, leading a teen discussion on the book and attending a Chesterton conference which particularly highlighted this book!), but I'll give it my best shot.

In This House of Brede

Author(s): 
Rumer Godden

“This extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life centers on Philippa Talbot, a highly successful professional woman who leaves her life among the London elite to join a cloistered Benedictine community. In this gripping narrative of the crises surrounding the ancient Brede Abbey, Rumer Godden penetrates to the mysterious, inner heart of a religious community – a place of complexity and conflict, as well as joy and love. It is a place where Philippa, to her own surprise and her friends’ astonishment, finds her life by losing it.” – from the back cover

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