Sutcliffe presents an enjoyable, if slightly rocky, introductory reconnaissance into Shakespeare’s wordplay.
Shakespeare could turn a phrase, and Sutcliffe brings a number of them to readers’ attention, smartly worked into a vest-pocket history of London theater during Shakespeare’s days. Shelley’s artwork is a lively accompaniment, delicate in color and linework but bustling as only a big population in small confines can be. Each double-page spread presents a few paragraphs of text about London theater on verso, the occasional word or phrase printed in boldface. On recto are boxed items that give the meanings of the highlighted words—and how some have changed considerably: “wild-goose chase” meant a horse race with the leader and followers in the shape of geese in flight; now it means a useless search. The location of the words in Shakespeare’s works is also provided, and there’s a handy timeline at the end of the book. There are gems—“too much of a good thing,” “a sorry sight,” “foul play” (“fair play,” too)—but then there are some complete mysteries: “excitement,” “fashionable,” “well behaved,” all of which underwhelm. Why bother with these when there are so many goodies to choose from? “Crack of doom,” “break the ice,” “brave new world”—treasures all.
Still, even if what’s done is done, there is absolutely no need to knit a brow or make short shrift of this well-tempered piece of work. (Informational picture book. 7-10)