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(picture credit: Folger Shakespeare Library)
William Shakespeare, in terms of his life and his body of work, is the most written-about author in the
history of Western civilization. His canon includes 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and 2 epic narrative poems. The
First Folio (cover shown at left) was published posthumously in 1623 by two of Shakespeare's acting
companions, John Heminges and Henry Condell. Ever since then, the works of Shakespeare have been studied,
analyzed, and enjoyed as some of the finest masterpieces of the English language.
It is all the more wondrous when one can study the works and see Shakespeare developing as a playwright
right there upon the pages. Love's Labours Lost and the early
comedies are the work of a gifted and clever author. Perhaps such plays alone would have earned him literary
fame in later days. The grandeur of a Hamlet or King Lear, however, is the work of a master who learned from his own
writing and long practice.
In his time, Shakespeare was the most popular playwright of London. As centuries have passed, his genius
eclipses all others of his age; Jonson, Marlowe, Kyd, Greene, Dekker, Heywoodnone approach the craft or
the humanity of character that marks the Bard's work. He took the art of dramatic verse and honed it to
perfection. He created the most vivid characters of the Elizabethan stage. His usage of language, both lofty
and low, shows a remarkable wit and subtlety. Most importantly, his themes are so universal that they
transcend generations to stir the imaginations of audiences everywhere to this day.
His plays generally fall into four categories:
- Pre-1594 (Richard III, The Comedy of Errors)
- 1594–1600 (Henry V, Midsummer Night's Dream)
- 1600–1608 (Macbeth, King Lear)
- Post-1608 (Cymbeline, The Tempest)
The first period has its roots in Roman and medieval dramathe construction of the plays, while good,
is obvious and shows the author's hand more brusquely than the later works. The earliest Shakespeare also owes
a debt to Christopher Marlowe, whose writing probably gave much inspiration at the onset of the Bard's career.
The second period showed more growth in style, and the construction becoming less labored. The histories of
this period are Shakespeare's best, portraying the lives of kings and royalty in most human terms. He also
begins the interweaving of comedy and tragedy, which would become one of his stylistic signatures. His
comedies mature in this period as well, portraying a greater characterization in their subjects.
The third period marks the great tragedies, and the principal works which would earn the Bard his fame in
later centuries. His tragic figures rival those of Sophocles, and might well have walked off the Greek stage
straight onto the Elizabethan. Shakespeare is at his best in these tragedies. The comedies of this period,
however, show Shakespeare at a literary crossroadsmoody and without the clear comic resolution of
previous comedies. Hence, the term "problem plays" to describe them.
The fourth period encompasses romantic tragicomedy. Shakespeare at the end of his career seemed preoccupied
with themes of redemption. The writing is more serious yet more lyrical, and the plays show Shakespeare at his
most symbolic. It is argued between scholars whether this period owed more to Shakespeare's maturity as a
playwright or merely signified a changing trend in Elizabethan theatre at the time.
- Shakespeare's King Henry V: Drama Versus History
- A look at how Shakespeare's play King Henry the Fifth compares with English history.
- Shakespeare's King John: Drama Versus History
- A look at how Shakespeare's play King John compares with English history.
- Shakespeare's King Richard II: Drama Versus History
- A look at how Shakespeare's play King Richard the Second compares with English history.
- Shakespeare's Richard III: Portrait of a Villain
- The real Richard III probably wasn't as wicked, deformed, or witty as the villain we know from Shakespeare.
- Shakespeare's Source Material
- William Shakespeare was a gifted writer that made a career out of borrowing from a variety of sources.
- Shakespeare's Worst Speaking Roles
- Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. Then there are these roles.
- Collected Works of Shakespeare
- Matty Farrow's Shakespearean works page
- Internet Shakespeare: Draft Early Texts
- Michael Best presents records of the original quarto and folio versions, available to scholars, teachers,
and the general public for educational purposes.
- Internet Shakespeare EditionsHome Page
- The aim of the Internet Shakespeare Editions is to make scholarly, fully annotated texts of Shakespeare's
plays available in a form native to the medium of the Internet.
- The Oxford Shakespeare
- The 1914 Oxford edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare ranks among the most
authoritative published this century. Bartleby.com presents this edition online in its entirety. Edited by
W. J. Craig.
- Project Gutenburg
- The Project Gutenberg Philosophy is to make information, books and other materials available to the
general public in forms a vast majority of the computers, programs and people can easily read, use, quote,
- Shakespeare Play Summaries/Synopses
- Matthew Monroe's index of Shakespeare's plays with synopses.
- Shakespeare Searched
- Shakespeare Searched is a search engine designed to provide quick access to passages from Shakespeare's plays and sonnets.
- Shakespeare's Monologues
- Making it easier to find monologues since 1997.
- William Shakespeare in Quarto Archive
- This British Library archive is a digital collection of the 21 known pre-1642 quarto editions of William Shakespeare's plays.
- The Works of William Shakespeare at MIT
- The Web's first edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. This site has offered
Shakespeare's plays and poetry to the Internet community since 1993.
- A. C. Bradley's Shakespearean Tragedy
- A. C. Bradley's classic work goes online thanks to the Shakespeare Navigators' Web site. It's the complete book,
which makes it a valuable resource.
- Internet Public Library
- A collection of critical, biographical, and other sites devoted to Shakespeare.
- Limbs of Alarbus Shakespeare Blog
- Dr. Alfred J. Drake presents his collection of lecture notes on Shakespeare's plays.
- Samuel Johnson's "Shakespeare" Preface
- The preface to Samuel Johnson's famous 1765 work on Shakespeare.
- Shake Sphere
- Mike Cummings, a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania, presents a number of essays and analyses that
explore the works of Shakespeare.
- Shakespeare and his Critics
- Thomas Larque's collection of 18th and 19th century Shakespearean criticism.
- Shakespeare Association of America (SAA)
- The Shakespeare Association of America (SAA) is a non-profit, academic organization devoted to the
study of William Shakespeare and his plays and poems, the cultural and theatrical milieu in which he
lived and worked, and the various roles he has played in both Anglo-American and world culture ever
- Shakespeare in Connotations
- A listing Shakespeare-dedicated articles from Connotations: A Journal for Critical Debate,
including links to online articles.
- Shakespeare Online
- Here you will find many resources to help you in the study of Shakespeare and his works. Shakespeare
Online has something to offer everyone, whether you are a teacher, a student, or a Shakespeare enthusiast
- University of Basel, Switzerland
- The University of Basel English Department has pages dedicated to Shakespeare criticism from the
16th to early 20th centuries as well as
a recent criticism page.
- UTEL: Characters of Shakespear's Plays, by William Hazlitt (1817)
- The University of Toronto presents Hazlitt's original 19th century work on the Bard's work. The online
version was scanned directly from a primary source.
- World Shakespeare Bibliography
- Provides over 83,000 annotated entries for all important books, articles, book reviews, dissertations,
theatrical productions and their reviews, audiovisual and electronic media related to Shakespeare and
published or produced between 1969 and 2012.
- ELHEarly Literary History Journal
- Since 1934, ELH has consistently published superior studies that interpret the conditions affecting
major works in English and American literature. Edited by Ronald Paulson.
- Early Modern Literary Studies Journal
- Early Modern Literary Studies is a refereed journal serving as a formal arena for scholarly
discussion and as an academic resource for researchers in the area. Articles in EMLS examine English
literature, literary culture, and language during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
- Shakespeare and the Classroom
- Shakespeare and the Classroom is a publication jointly sponsored by Ohio Northern University
and Shakespeare's Globe Centre (USA). The journal is published twice a year and includes widely ranging
topics of interest to Shakespeare teachers, scholars, and theatre practitioners.
- Shakespeare Magazine
- A convergence of in-depth and up-to-the-minute information from Shakespeare scholars, teachers, and
- Shakespeare Quarterly
- Founded in 1950 by the Shakespeare Association of America, Shakespeare Quarterly is a refereed
journal committed to publishing articles in the vanguard of Shakespeare studies.
- SHAKSPER: The Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference
- SHAKSPER is the international electronic conference for Shakespearean researchers, instructors,
students, and those who share their academic interests and concerns.