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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

A few years ago, I purchased a copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I figured it was a fantastic investment; for less than twenty bucks I would have the Bard’s entire collection, including the sonnets! Little did I know that there’s a reason people prefer to spend more on individual editions.

For one thing, you can hold a single edition in your hand. Have you ever tried to read Macbeth while holding all of Shakespeare’s complete works in your hands? Impossible. Don’t even try doing it in the bathtub, let alone the bus.

Then there’s the page consistency—or, rather, lack of page consistency. To fit all of those pages in, they practically use rice paper. I’ve torn quite a few of the pages in my own copy—even as carefully as I turn the pages—just because of their thinness. It’s a good thing it’s Shakespeare; if it were as quick a page turner as, say, something by Neil Gaiman, I’d have ripped nearly all of the pages by now. (I’m not saying that Will didn’t write page turners—he wrote things you have to concentrate on to read, which does require more care overall.)

And the print! If I wear glasses for my crappy vision now, I can only imagine how it’s going to be reading this edition when I’m seventy years old. By then I’ll be listening to Hamlet on CD (or whatever device we’re using by then)—or simply watching Mel Gibson crappily act it out, complaining the entire time.

When you’re reading Shakespeare—which is most fun to read aloud, don’t you think?—it’s best to have your lines clearly visible, able to share with a friend and follow along easily as you enjoy the play (or poem). But that’s simply impossible to do with such tiny print and thin pages. The only thing you can do with such a book is really prop it up on the desk (don’t even think about using it for staged readings!) and squint while you silently read it without any mirth whatsoever.

A full volume just doesn’t do the works justice. It is handy to have as a reference, with everything right there when you need it if you’re looking for a quote or a creative insult to fling at someone; but otherwise, if you’re after Shakespeare’s works, I highly recommend buying them individually. And not just individually—why not splurge on lovely illustrated versions of your favorites? They’re deserving of it, I’d say. And if you have kids or teens in the house, they make editions that are “translated” to modern English in a double page format that you might be interested in as well.