Deciphering Shakespeare’s Plays

A Practical Guide to the Twenty Best-Known and Enduring Works

Get into the spotlight with the world’s greatest playwright . . .

Deciphering Shakespeare’s Plays: A Practical Guide to the 20 Best-Known and Enduring Works brings William Shakespeare’s 400-year-old dramas alive in a new introduction for students, playgoers, and general readers.

This guide invites you to go behind the curtain to better understand the comedy, tragedy, history, and romance that flowed from the quill of the legendary dramatist.

Inside, you’ll see:

  • An in-depth look into the 20 major plays as well as the lesser-performed works.
  • A handy reference to the most famous speeches and quotations.
  • A look at the heady, behind-the-scenes world of freelance playwriting and the London theatre scene of the1590s.
  • A look at how the plays have been staged from the time of the earliest playhouses to our contemporary auditoriums.
  • The actor’s and director’s take on the meaning of Shakespeare’s verse.
  • Photos and suggested viewings of live performances and filmed adaptations.

Raise the curtain on all things Shakespearean.

  • Translate Elizabethan English into a language you can understand.
  • Learn how actors and directors approach performances and staging.
  • Hear the music within the Bard’s verse and wordplay.
  • Uncover Shakespeare’s most likely collaborations.
  • Explore the facts and the fictions of Richard III, Henry V, and Julius Caesar.
  • Laugh aloud at the antics of As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing.
  • Witness the rise and fall of Macbeth and King Lear.
Deciphering Shakespeare’s Plays: A Practical Guide to the Twenty Best-Known and Enduring Works

What People Are Saying

“If you think Shakespeare is stuffy and impenetrable, then allow Cynthia Greenwood’s new guide to take you through his greatest plays and unlock all the marvels. While his plays are always best revealed in performance, this book will help you understand the language of Shakespeare, reveal the heart of some Shakespeare’s most beloved characters, and entertain you with insights about the plays from veteran actors and directors. Whether you’re new to Shakespeare, a student or inveterate theatre patron, you’ll find this book invaluable.

Jeffrey Bean, veteran member of the Alley Theatre resident
company and Broadway actor

“Greenwood’s goal is to make Shakespeare’s plays accessible to general readers and playgoers, and her aim comes through in every chapter of her introductory guide. Readers who want a quick brush-up on a play’s plot, character, and historical context will find everything they need. Others who seek facts about Shakespeare’s life as a poet and playwright, clues to deciphering his Elizabethan verse, or why some plays are controversial won’t be disappointed.”

—Ron Severdia, Publisher and editor of

“A handy reference for theatre students of all ages. Something you’d want on your desk at home when you are pulling for inspiration for an audition tomorrow, or preparing for a final and need ‘a quick take’ on a specific text or general Elizabethan background. Greenwood’s guide to Shakespeare’s plays will come through with a helping hand, making sense of the language and the motivations of Shakespeare’s enduring characters.”

Diana Howie, Playwright and author of Susanna & Will and Susanna of Stratford

“In her new book, Greenwood gives students and playgoers the chance to inhabit Shakespeare’s plays as actors and directors do. Here she translates soliloquies and speeches, making sense of ancient verses that still inspire speakers of modern English. The plots of King Lear, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, and others are clearly set forth, and symbols and structures underlying the bard’s familiar comedies and tragedies are carefully interpreted.”

Raymond Caldwell, founder and artistic director of the Texas Shakespeare Festival

“Cynthia Greenwood up – ends Shakespeare as a chore for school days, turning it into the thrilling theater it truly was…and is.

Thomas C. Dulaney, author of 1777: Invasion

Photo Credits:

Images taken from The Bodleian First Folio: digital facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, Bodleian Arch. G c.7.

Illustration of Globe theatre by Robert P. Molder