Shakespeare for Beginners is just what it sounds like, a non-threatening introduction to the works of the Bard, though it does not pretend to be a stand-alone book. Almost the moment you start reading, the author is encouraging you to see Shakespeare's plays performed, not just read and study them -- which I found to be incredibly boring and frustrating, with my first exposure to Shakespeare, until I saw an actual production that brought the dead words on the page to vibrant life.
The author offers a brief biography, acknowledging that factual evidence is scanty, and after a short discussion of Shakespeare's use of language, launches into the plays. He presents the plays in what he hopes is chronological order (chronological by the time they were written and produced on stage -- I say "hopes" because, once again, the facts are somewhat scarce), showing the development of Shakespeare's grasp of the language as well as his ability to weave a story.
For each play, there's a synopsis of the plot, with characters' names bolded as they are introduced. The action can get pretty convoluted, and I was glad for the bold type at times, needing to look back to figure out just who a character was later on in the action. There are plot twists and disguised identities and convoluted subplots and things can get very complicated before they are straightened out in the end. The author also provides a list of recurring themes to watch for in each play, along with background information on the play, quotes from Shakespeare's critics, and memorable lines. He also lists "Some Cool Things" about each play, interesting trivia about things that happen in the play, or the background of the play.
In addition to the more well-known plays, there are plays represented here that I've never heard of. I had no idea that Shakespeare was so prolific.
The author also deals with Shakespeare's sonnets and other poetry, very briefly. The book concludes with a bibliography and a list of videos, both comical (Laurel and Hardy? Really?) and serious.
Black and white illustrations spill from the pages in wild, cartoonish pen-and-ink. Altogether this is a breezy tour through the works of Shakespeare, written to and for teen sensibilities, and yet with a great deal of meat for mental digestion.
Note: I noticed a few words in the text that we'd consider rude, and some of the illustrations are a little skimpily dressed in the way that you'll see in classical statues and paintings, just to give you a hint.