Monday, July 08, 2013

No Fear Shakespeare (Much Ado About Nothing)

The Much Ado About Nothing volume of the series is my first experience with the No Fear Shakespeare books.  For those unfamiliar with the concept, the “No Fear” books are aimed at students and readers who sometimes find reading Shakespeare to be a bit of a challenge.  In my own case, after reading one of Shakespeare’s plays, no matter how well I felt I understood it, I still wondered what I had missed.  These little books make sure that I do not miss a thing.

The concept is a simple one.  The play is presented in Shakespeare’s words on the book’s odd-numbered pages, and the even-numbered pages present the same material “translated” into everyday English.  I chose to read Shakespeare’s words first, and then read the translated version of the same section of the play before I moved on to the next odd-numbered page.  Within just a few pages, I found myself falling into Shakespeare’s rhythms and I needed the modern version less and less to understand the various comings and goings of all the characters. 

But even at that point, the No Fear Shakespeare book remains a useful tool to readers because it explains all the relatively obscure references that Shakespeare makes throughout his work to Greek and Roman mythology.  These little asides, almost throwaway references though they may seem, often add depth to characters that otherwise likely would have gone right over the heads of most readers.  Too, the book explains the slang terms used in the many risqué conversational back-and-forth jabs between characters that may have remained meaningless to those unfamiliar with the language of the day (language that would likely earn Much Ado About Nothing at least a PG rating if it were a modern movie).  The No Fear books also include a helpful listing of all the play’s main characters, complete with a description of each character’s background and how they all relate to each other.

Best of all, the books are a confidence-builders for readers who want to read Shakespeare but have often been disappointed with the results of their efforts.  They are training-wheels that can be discarded as soon as a reader feels comfortable doing so, or those who want to wring every little detail and nuance from their reading can continue to use them.  It is all up to the individual reader.


  1. I can't stand the No Fear Shakespeare books! The tips on word meanings, etc. that are helpful are also wonderfully set out in the Folger editions and the Barnes & Noble editions.

    The problem with the No Fear versions is two-fold. First, it chooses to interpret the play for the reader. The minor problem with that is the reader loses the opportunity to interpret for themselves and the some of the best literary conversation I've ever had were discussions over Shakespeare interpretation. The major problem is that the one and only No Fear I ever read interpreted things incorrectly. I was shocked and dismayed.

    Second, the beauty of reading Shakespeare is the beauty of the language. Otherwise you might as well be reading "Clueless" or "10 Things I Hate About You" (both modern movie adaptions of Shakespeare). If people were to truly use them to augment their true reading of Shakespeare that'd be one thing, but the majority of readers of No Fear Shakespeare are high school students trying to do everything they can to NOT read Shakespeare. You said you read it because you were considered about missing out on something. I can assure, anyone who relies on the No Fear version, is truly missing out - on the interpretation, the language, and the experience.

    It became my rep at Barnes & Noble - don't bring up No Fear Shakespeare around Janda. :) And the poor customers who were unfortunate enough to ask me to help me find it always got a lecture. :)

  2. Annie (you will always be "Annie" to me, sorry), I read the original first and then tested my understanding by reading the No Fear version. I was usually pretty close to the same interpretation but I have forgotten most of what I ever knew about Greek and Roman mythology, so their references to that were much appreciated.

    The book actually built my self-confidence to the point that I'm probably going to go back and revisit other of Shakespeare's plays soon. For me, they work. For the typical high school student, probably not.

  3. I understand that. :) And I'm in favor of anything that helps people feel confident about reading Shakespeare (I just kind of wish it wasn't No Fear Shakespeare :) ).

    (And I'd be disappointed if you called me anything but Annie. ;) )