Plays and Readers’ Support

Our goal is to make it as easy as possible to jump into a Shakespeare reading group!

The Shakespeare plays produced by the ISC Press are the only editions edited and designed specifically for groups reading aloud together. You don’t need an “expert” in your midst to read Shakespeare! At the moment we have five Readers’ Editions in print (Julius Caesar, Comedy of Errors, Winter's Tale, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream); many more are in the works.

Click an image below to find support material for that play: cast lists for reading groups, character charts to make your own cast lists, background material,  sometimes a free lecture or course we've found for you, and more. We are constantly adding new material.


 

A Commonplace Book

This is not a play but a commonplace book to record your favorite lines as well as your thoughts about them.

All's Well that Ends Well

Is that true? A vibrant heroine, a lackluster hero. War and passion, miraculous cures, and a bitter taste of reality mingle in one of Shakespeare’s darkest and most intriguing comedies.

Antony and Cleopatra

Two legendary lovers play a high-stakes game with each other and with the Roman republic. What’s most important: passion or politics?

As You Like It

Glittering courtly games play out in the Forest of Arden with the wittiest of cross-dressed heroines stage-managing the whole thing

 

The comedy of errors

A brilliantly crafted gem with two sets of twins, two sisters, two maids, and lots of mayhem, yet with undertones of darkness and sincerity.

coriolanus

Can a man have too much integrity? A war hero refuses to become a politician and it turns into a tragedy.

Cymbeline

One of Shakespeare’s most fantastical plots: lost children, banished lovers, seduction, betrayal, murder, Romans fighting ancient Britons, and at its heart another intrepid cross-dressed heroine.

Hamlet

This most famous of tragedies brings together a grieving prince, a court and family in turmoil, a ghost, murder most foul, a troupe of itinerant actors, and a witty gravedigger.

 

Julius Caesar

A compelling story of betrayed friends and bids for political power, of leaders and insurrections, ambition and honor, history and legacy.

King Lear

Bleak and powerful, this tragedy speaks of love and betrayal, old age and madness, and explores the limits and depths of what it means to be human.

Love's Labor's Lost

Four men swear to give up women and you can guess what happens next—wit, romance, and one of Shakespeare's most unexpected endings.

Macbeth

A thrilling, dark, and complex view of ambition, the struggle between desire and conscience, of supernatural forces that influence human actions—or do they? Why does Macbeth do what he does?

 

Measure for Measure

A disguised duke, a puritanical deputy, and a would-be nun collide in this satirical comedy of political, sexual, and urban corruption.

the merchant of Venice

This play could be subtitled Christians Behaving Badly, from Portia’s belittling of foreigners to her lack of mercy, the cruelty of the merchant and the noblemen, broken promises and insincere oaths.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Two housewives run rings around the fat knight, Jack Falstaff, and a runaway marriage ends with a final fairy-filled deception in Windsor Great Park.

a midsummer night's dream

The forces of love, magic, and amateur theatricals teach the court of Athens to dream. And most of the action takes place in the woods . . .

 

Much Ado About Nothing

The first rom-com. Is true love found in witty exchanges or in romantic silence? When we try to deceive others do we only end up deceiving ourselves? A sunny comedy with a serious heart.

Othello

A shattering exploration of blackness in all its forms, showing the destructive force of racism and the insidiousness of jealousy. A passionate, innovative tragedy.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

A displaced king travels the Mediterranean in search of redemption and his lost daughter. Romance, shipwrecks, and magical encounters bring wonder to an unlikely plot.

romeo and Juliet

The famous star-crossed lovers find a new language for love and tragedy as they pit their passion against uncontrollable forces.

 

the taming of the shrew

Shrew or wife? Tamer or husband? Can we change what society says we are? Controversial and fast-paced, this comedy may not be what you expect it to be.

the tempest

A magical island is home to exiled and shipwrecked inhabitants. A profound meditation on the power of love, forgiveness, and the imagination.

Timon of Athens

An over-generous man gives away everything he has and loses all his so-called friends. Then he retires to a cave and rails at the world. It's a tragedy, so you know how it ends.

titus andronicus

Violent, blackly comic, and shocking, this heart-rending play tells of the shattering grief of parents who witness the slaughter and mutilation of their children and the terrifying revenges they exact.

 

Troilus and Cressida

Wily Greeks defeat romantic Trojans and love is a casualty of war. Shakespeare takes on the epic tradition and gives it a satirical spin.

twelfth night

Ahh, love and friendship in many confusing forms—brother and sister, master and servant, servant and master, man friends, woman friends, mistaken identities in love.

Two Gentlemen of Verona

Two friends fall in love with the same woman. Includes the best part ever written for a dog.

The winter’s tale

A beautiful and disturbing play that entwines lethal tragedy with life-affirming comedy, destructive madness with faithful love. How will it end?

 

The English history plays

King John takes place the earliest; it begins in 1199. There there is a break of almost two hundred years before the next sequence of eight plays (two tetralogies, or sets of four) begins. Then there is another break of a thirty-five years between the end of Richard 3 and the opening of Henry 8. These plays are great to read in order because they follow one right after the other—the numbers you see on eight of the plays below is the order in which the history happens. You might be familiar with Richard 3 already, so it's especially good fun to read the three Henry 6 plays to see Richard and his family develop.

 

King John

No Magna Carta but a slippery king, his nephew, and a lively bastard son of Richard the Lionheart vie for control of the English throne. Meanwhile, they fight the French and defy the Pope.

Richard 2

A play that asks more questions than it answers: Is it a history play or a tragedy? Who has the right to rule England, a careless king or his politically astute cousin? Is political murder justified?

Henry 4, part 1

The story continues—a king in trouble: rebellious nobles are stirring and his son carouses in taverns with Falstaff, but the king-in-waiting has a plan. A bloody battle may solve the problems.

Henry 4, part 2

A dying king and the heir apparent try to ensure the safety of their kingdom. As rebellion stirs once again, Henry V ascends his throne but he must reject Falstaff—and maybe his humanity. Is he a legitimate king?

 

Henry 5

Some see Henry V as the ideal king, others see him as a war criminal. While you're making up your mind, the English beat the French against overwhelming odds.

Henry 6, Part 1

The English are still fighting the French. Henry VI is a child and England reels toward civil war as his powerful uncles fight each other. Meanwhile Joan of Arc is burned at the stake . . .

Henry 6, part 2

York or Lancaster? White rose or red rose? The English are now fighting each other. Queen Margaret takes a lover and grabs control from her pious husband, Henry. Meanwhile, Jack Cade kills all the lawyers.

Henry 6, part 3

The chaos deepens as kings rise and fall. Richard of York becomes king for a scene and is murdered. His son (another Richard) emerges as a deadly, unstoppable force. The white rose wins and the saintly King Henry is murdered. Now…

 

Richard 3

Shakespeare's most murderous and charismatic king. Richard kills his way to the throne, smiling as he does so, and the women who are left lament the destruction of their families. Richard dies in battle ushering in the Tudor dynasty.

Henry 8

Great men fall as Henry Tudor seeks an heir. Katherine of Aragon defies her husband's desire for a divorce. Princess Elizabeth is born and a golden age is promised.

 

Plays from Shakespeare’s contemporaries

Many reading groups like to read some of Shakespeare's contemporaries because they provide remarkable insights into why Shakespeare's plays have endured. We will be adding to this list—let us hear about your experiences!


the images

Most of the images on this page are from the out-of-copyright series The Plays of W. Shakespeare in Thirty-Seven Volumes, published in 1938 by The Limited Editions Club, Inc. This is a gorgeous letterpress edition that uses the original spelling of the First Folio of 1623. The volumes were published for subscribers so there were only 1,950 copies printed. Each one is embellished by a famous illustrator of the time, as shown and honored by the images above.