Book Review: Tales From Shakespeare

Posted on in Books
Tales From Shakespeare, Wordsworth classics

This book is the one i remembered as the first novel I’ve ever loved so much when I was in junior high school. I still remember the day when I borrowed the book from Greta, my school friend. Greta was one of the coolest kids in my school, as she just got back from Australia. I thought, oh wow I should learn English from her since she’s so fluent and I was crazy about learning English at that time – considering my goal to be a diplomat (yes I was aiming the foreign ministry when I was still in 7th grade).

Anyway. Then being a bookworm I was (and still am), i asked Greta if she had an English book I could borrow. She recommended this book: Tales From Shakespeare, by Charles and Mary Lamb. It was an old book, belongs to her dad, but simple enough for me to understand. I read the whole book in about a week. Apparently I just realized – years later – that Charles Lamb made the adaptation from Shakespeare’s tragedies into short stories, while Mary Lamb wrote the comedies.

Once I read the stories in the book, I fell in love instantly with Shakespeare. Every word, every story, every page was mesmerizing. I never knew that Shakespeare’s play could be so much easier to understand with the narration from Charles and Mary Lamb. I always thought Shakespeare’s plays are boring, complicated, and it was hard for an Indonesian 7th grader like me to digest. But the Lambs described them in beautiful words, simple words that I could easily follow and soon I was drowned in the plots. Those stories were simply beautiful.

Illustration of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream by Arthur Rackham

This book has made me a Shakespeare fan. I then roamed around every bookstore in my town to find the real Shakespeare’s works. The first books I got was Romeo & Juliet, King Lear, and The Tempest. And trust me, reading the play script was horrible. I could barely understand what the heck I was reading. But thanks to the Lambs, i could now enjoy the play – and even memorized the dialogues from my favorite – of course, very predictable – Romeo and Juliet.

One of the scene, when Romeo met Juliet at the ball

I remembered at that time – around 1992, there was the movie Romeo + Juliet where Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the main casts. At that time, I was too young to watch the movie in the theater without an adult as guardian – my parent wouldn’t allow me to go to the theatre alone, and my friends weren’t as interested as me. So I snuck out and watched the movie alone in the theatre, and I could easily follow the dialogues since i’ve read and even remembered some parts of it. Yes Mom, I’m sorry I lied about going out to the bookstores with my friends, instead I was watching Leo Dicaprio kissed Claire Danes in the pool, in the balcony, and in bed, and drooling over John Leguizamo’s awesome gun.

Okay. Back in track. So my point is, this is a really good book. If you need to learn about English old literature, I suggest you to start with this book. This way, you will understand Shakespeare easily, and perhaps you’ll like him more, like I did. For non-English speakers, like most Indonesians, this could be your first step to learn about English in a form of novel. You can recommend this book to the younger reader – maybe your little sister/brother in 6th or 7th grade – like the first time I read it. There are also available the Illustrated Tales From Shakespeare, with beautiful illustrations from some famous artists. You can get those in BookDepository easily. Or if you’re just too busy to understand Shakespeare but you need to impress your English teacher, then this book is definitely a keeper.

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