Announcing Shakespeare in a Year

Arden Shakespeare Complete Works, available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook

I’ve set a goal to read all of Shakespeare’s work in 2023. Why?


Last summer YouTube recommended a video to me by Benjamin (Ben) McEvoy titled How to Get an Oxford English Education for Free. Since I’m all about getting fancy literary things for free, I was intrigued.

Ben is a graduate of the University of Oxford’s English literature program. In the video he explains how you can get the literary knowledge that he did without the expense and high-pressure environment of Oxford or another university. It’s more than I want to do right now, but I was interested enough in his views on literature that I immediately watched another video of his about building your own personal literary canon.

While I didn’t necessarily want to follow Ben’s advice to the letter, he did sell me on the value of deep reading great literature enough that I joined his Hardcore Literature Book Club on Patreon. In the club we get a reading schedule, and at certain points, Ben will post his thoughts on a given work and encourage us to post our own. I won’t get into the details of that content because most of it’s posted privately, but he posts occasional videos publicly, including this year’s planned reading schedule, if you’re interested (I’m so behind on War and Peace, but more on that another time).

You might infer that reading all of Shakespeare in 2023 is one of the book club’s projects, and you’d be correct. But why take up the challenge? I’ll freely admit that I don’t have the bandwidth to read everything Ben recommends when he recommends it; I have to choose my literary battles. So why am I so keen to choose this one?


There’s a personal aspect to this project, as Shakespeare was one of the first great authors whose work I connected with growing up. My grandmother had some booklets that contained two or so plays each. I won’t claim that 11-year-old me understood every nuance, but between some decent footnotes and frequent trips to the dictionary, I got the gist of it. Even then I could laugh at Nick Bottom being temporarily given the head of a donkey in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Also Bottom, teehee. In any case, I look forward to revisiting those early favorites.

Another goal of mine is getting a stronger grasp on Shakespeare’s influence in English literature. Over 400 years after his death, he’s still considered one of the greatest playwrights who ever lived and holds the top spot for many people. Filmmakers continue to use his work in both straightforward and reinterpreted performances.


However, we’re going through all his work, not just the “hits.” Furthermore, we’re going through his work chronologically. Even an all-time great like Shakespeare developed his voice and craft over time, and reading his plays in chronological order allows us to sort of follow him on that journey.

A word on chronology: we’ll probably never know the exact order in which Shakespeare wrote his plays, but we have educated guesses from multiple scholars. For this website, I’m going to use the one presented by E. K. Chambers, originally published in 1930.

Ben also asks us to rank the plays, taking inspiration from an assignment Kurt Vonnegut gave his students at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The point is not how closely our ranking matches anyone else’s, but rather that we can articulate what does or doesn’t work for us in a given play. We can then reuse this approach when we want to do a deep dive into the works of other authors.

I hope to get through the equivalent of a play a week. Shakespeare wrote or co-wrote 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and 4 longer poems that survive today. At that pace I should be able to meet my goal, even after basically missing January.

To keep things simple I’m just going to post a roundup of my Shakespearean activities at the end of each month. I’ll include my general thoughts on each work, but I think I’m going to defer assigning a rating as such until the end. Maybe I’ll do a tier ranking on YouTube – who knows?

Have you done any deep dives on great authors? What is your favorite Shakespeare work? Let’s talk about it in the comments!





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