Shakespeare: History in an Hour – a review

As a high school English Literature teacher I am always interested in exploring new resources that will enable my students to better comprehend the challenging themes and complex elements of Shakespeare’s plays. In order to do this successfully, the students first need to have an understanding of who Shakespeare was and the period in which he wrote.

Shakespeare IAHWith curriculum deadlines and hastened time periods, I have been unable to find to one comprehensive resource that is suitable to create this foundation for my students. Prior to this I have often cited sections of Anthony Burgess’ Shakespeare, which is among the best summative and concise assessments of his life, but contains challenging vocabulary and contextual issues that are too complex for the high school level. What Ms. Fitzgibbon has written is one comprehensive book that meets all my requirements while challenging my students in an engaging manner.

Shakespeare: History in an Hour, much like Burgess’ book, is an outline of The Bard’s life and not his plays or poems. Unlike Burgess’ book this is far more concise and avoids any entanglements with his contemporaries and remains narrowly focused Shakespeare. This book provides insightful commentary on his family, childhood, and marriage without engulfing itself with pedantic facts and timelines. There are, however, a plethora of vital facts and tidbits of information about The Globe and Lord Chamberlain’s Men that my students found engaging throughout its quick pace.

Following the conclusion of this we moved into a short unit on Shakespeare’s sonnets and read Romeo and Juliet, all of which was more engaging due to the foundation of information that Ms. Fitzgibbon provided in Shakespeare: History in an Hour.

Bruce Roderick
New York City Department of Education
English Language Arts Teacher