Explore Shakespeare’s plays in relation to the social, political and cultural context in which they were written, and in which they have been interpreted over the last four centuries.

Featured articles

  • Conjuring darkness in Macbeth

    Conjuring darkness in Macbeth

    Much of Macbeth is set at night, yet its first performances took place in the open air, during daylight hours. John Mullan explores how Shakespeare uses speech and action to conjure the play's sense of growing darkness.

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    Prospero: a Renaissance Magus

    Malcolm Hebron explains how the Renaissance figure of the Magus, as a force of both good and evil, helps us understand the character of Prospero in The Tempest.

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    Ghosts in Shakespeare

    Ghosts in Shakespeare

    John Mullan explains the position of ghosts in Elizabethan and Jacobean culture, and shows how the ghosts in Shakespeare's plays relate to and boldly depart from ghostly representations in other drama of the period.

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    The three witches from Shakespeare's Macbeth.

    Witchcraft in Shakespeare's England

    Did Shakespeare’s contemporaries believe in witches? Carole Levin looks at witchcraft trials in the 16th century and considers their relation to the ‘weird sisters’ of Macbeth.

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  • Manhood and the ‘milk of human kindness’ in Macbeth

    Manhood and the ‘milk of human kindness’ in Macbeth

    The tragedy of Macbeth revolves around the question of what it means to be a man, argues Kiernan Ryan.

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    Hamlet: looking backwards

    Emma Smith reads Hamlet as a play obsessed with retrospection, repetition and the theatre of the past.

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    The first night of the Tempest

    The first night of The Tempest

    The Tempest was first performed in the enclosed, candlelit space of the new Blackfriars theatre. Here Professor Gordon McMullan describes how audience members would have found themselves participating in an innovative and captivating theatrical experience.

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    King Lear: madness, the fool and poor Tom

    King Lear: madness, the Fool and Poor Tom

    Gillian Woods considers how the Fool and Poor Tom, two characters in King Lear who stand outside the social order, enhance the play's investigation of madness, civilisation and humanity.

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  • Dream, illusion and doubling in A Midsummer Night's Dream

    Dream, illusion and doubling in A Midsummer Night's Dream

    Having one actor play more than role was convenient for Shakespeare, whose acting company was limited in size, but doubling also enabled him to intensify the atmosphere of his plays, and to make connections and contrasts between scenes and storylines. Emma Smith explores the way that the doubling in A Midsummer Night's Dream heightens the play's dreamlike and fantastical elements.

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    Prospero: magician and artist

    In his portrayal of Prospero's 'art', Shakespeare seems to draw parallels between theatre and magic. Emma Smith explores these, but questions the idea that the magus is a self-portrait of the playwright.

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    Fairies re fashioned in A Midsummer Nights Dream

    Fairies re-fashioned in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

    Farah Karim-Cooper shows how Shakespeare combined classical and courtly traditions with medieval folk lore to create the benevolent fairies and changeling child of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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    Shakespeare’s festive comedy: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night

    Shakespeare’s festive comedy: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night

    Both A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night take their names from seasonal celebrations. Francois Laroque considers the cultural and theatrical context for Shakespeare's festive comedies, and their exploration of merrymaking, disguise and the natural world.

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Themes

Explore Shakespeare’s plays by theme.

Shakespeare’s life and world

From the open air Globe to the candlelit Blackfriars; from countryside to city; and from noblemen to strangers, discover the world that shaped Shakespeare’s work and that influenced his legacy.

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dreams and doubling themes

Magic, illusion and the supernatural

Mischievous fairies, monstrous apparitions and scheming witches: examine the ways in which Shakespeare played with the magical and supernatural

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King Lear: madness, the fool and poor Tom

Interpretations of ‘Madness’

From Lear’s breakdown to Ophelia’s malady, examine the ways in which Shakespeare depicts ideas of ‘madness’

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Tragedies theme

Tragedies

From Hamlet’s melancholy to Juliet’s eloquence; and from Lear’s madness to Othello’s misunderstanding, discover the richness of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

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Works

Explore 15 of Shakespeare’s plays.

Romeo and Juliet

Created by: William Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet begins with a Chorus setting the scene in the Italian city of Verona, where the Capulets and the ...

The Merchant of Venice

Created by: William Shakespeare

The title page of the first quarto printing of The Merchant of Venice (1600) gives a succinct summary of the plot: ...

Richard III

Created by: William Shakespeare

In Henry VI, Parts 1, 2 and 3, Shakespeare traces the 15th-century dispute between the houses of York and Lancaster ...

Shakespeare in Ten Acts

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