How to Read through Shakespeare in a Year

Have you ever read The Complete Works of Shakespeare? Seeing the film Lincoln inspired me to set an informal goal of reading all Shakespeare’s plays and poetry this year, and then I came across this quote in Another Sort of Learning:

Not too long ago, I heard a tape of the memorial service held at Stanford University Chapel at the death of Eric Voegelin. On the tape, Professor William Havard, I think, remarked that Voegelin read the Complete Works of Shakespeare once a year all his adult life.

Voegelin read the Complete Works of Shakespeare the way that many read the Bible: yearly. That prompted me to think about reading Shakespeare the same way that one would approach reading through the Bible in a year–with a systematic plan of action involving reading a little bit every day.

There are 1,675 pages in the edition of Shakespeare’s Works I have from college. But there are about 330 pages of introductory material, so the actual page count of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry comes to around 1,336. Divide that number by 365, and you read about 3 and a half pages per day to get through everything Shakespeare wrote in a year. If you want to read all the introductory material too, it’s about 4 and a half pages per day.

Another way to come at it would be to do it by plays and poetry per month. There are 37 plays, and then there are another 74 pages of sonnets and longer poems. The plays are about 30 pages each, so we can count the sonnets as two more plays. 39 plays in 12 months would be about 3 and a quarter plays per month. Which is to say that four months of the year you’ll read 4 plays, then the other 8 months you read 3 plays per month.

There are 224 days left in 2013, so if you start now, skip the introductory material, you’re looking at just under 6 pages of Shakespeare a day. At the end of May there will be 7 months left in the year, which means that if you start June 1 you’d need to read 5 and a half plays per month to finish at the end of the year.

The main thing is not to finish in a year, but to steep your mind in the words and the themes, to be elevated by Shakespeare’s vision, his ability to put life and morality on display in words, to let the Bard make you better.

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