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The First Folio, the first collected works of Shakespeare’s plays, is dedicated to “The Great Variety of Readers.” The editors wrote in that dedication: Read him, therefore; and again and again.

Shakespeare’s plays were widely and voraciously read until relatively recently. Thousands of Shakespeare reading groups in the United States and Great Britain met regularly to read aloud and discuss the plays; in fact, reading the plays was so immensely popular that the actor Henry Irving in 1890 wrote an essay titled “Shakespeare as a Playwright” and had to apologize for insisting the plays were just as good on stage as they were on the page!

I daresay that it will appear to some readers a profanation of the name of Shakespeare to couple with it the title of playwright. But I have chosen this title for my introduction because I am anxious to show that with the mighty genius of the poet was united, in a remarkable degree, the capacity for writing plays intended to be acted as well as read.

Everyone read Shakespeare—shopkeepers, coal miners, dilettantes, butchers, gentlewomen, pioneers, farmers—out loud and in community. Shakespeare was so embedded in popular culture that parodies could act as advertising, and cigarette packs held Shakespeare trading cards. Sadly, once the insistence began that we should only experience Shakespeare on the stage, familiarity with Shakespeare declined.

The ISC plans a National Shakespeare Reading Initiative: iReadShakespeare, that provides encouragement and support to adults who want to read aloud together and discuss the text—in addition to seeing the plays on stage and film! Check our new site,, after August 1 to find resources, suggestions, support, editions of the plays specifically designed for reading groups, and much more.

Find yourself—and the world—in these luminous works.

The ISC Press publishes our original Readers’ Editions of the plays.

We now have our own Shakespeare Reading Room!
3209 Calle Marie, Unit A • Santa Fe • NM
More info and a schedule soon.



  • Experience the entire play instead of the shortened stage version.

  • Read plays you’ll rarely (sometimes never) see on stage.

  • Understand more words.

  • Discover more layers.

  • Take it personally.

  • See more ambiguities and make up your own mind about them.

  • Be an active participant in the play.

  • Enlarge your mind and thoughts.

  • Spend time to process the riches.

  • Memorize your favorite lines.

  • Savor the language and imagery.

  • Write notes in your book for posterity.

  • Hear it aloud.

  • Absorb the words visually and aurally at the same time.

  • Share a common experience.

  • Create community.

  • Expand your knowledge.

  • Invigorate your brain.

  • Make new friends.

  • Be a more interesting dinner guest.

  • Enjoy the performance more fully!

Two Santa Fe public Shakespeare reading groups: Shakespeare Close Readers

Albuquerque public Shakespeare reading group: Albuquerque Shakespeare Lovers