Explore the works of Shakespeare and Renaissance writers in relation to the social, political and cultural context in which they were written, and investigate the ways in which these works have been interpreted over the last four centuries.

Featured articles

  • An introduction to Doctor Faustus: ambiguity and duality

    An introduction to Doctor Faustus: morality and sin

    Eric Rasmussen and Ian DeJong explore the ambiguities and dualities of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.

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    Key features of Renaissance culture

    Andrew Dickson follows the progress of the Renaissance through Europe, and examines the educational, religious, artistic and geographical developments that shaped culture during the period.

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    Shakespeare, sexuality and the sonnets

    Shakespeare, sexuality and the Sonnets

    Aviva Dautch traces how Shakespeare's Sonnets have been read and interpreted through the lens of biography, identity, gender and sexuality.

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    An introduction to The Alchemist: the artist and the con

    An introduction to The Alchemist: the artist and the con

    Eric Rasmussen and Ian DeJong introduce Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, which combines self-conscious theatricality with sharp satire.

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  • ‘O Rare Ben Jonson!’

    ‘O Rare Ben Jonson!’

    Ben Jonson went from a classically educated schoolboy to an apprentice bricklayer and solider, before becoming one of the 17th-century's most eminent playwrights and poets. Andrew Dickson recounts Jonson's eventful life, and how his success was often marred by a difficult relationship with alcohol, with fellow playwrights and actors, and with theatre itself.

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    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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    Critical approaches to Othello

    Critical approaches to Othello

    There have been numerous interpretations of Othello over the last 400 years. Virginia Mason Vaughan discusses four recent critical approaches: feminist, new historicist, marxist and post-colonial.

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    John Donne and metaphysical poetry

    John Donne and metaphysical poetry

    Michael Donkor explains what makes John Donne a metaphysical poet, and looks at the creative and distinctive ways in which Donne used metaphysical techniques.

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  • Ophelia, gender and madness

    Ophelia, gender and madness

    The character of Ophelia has fascinated directors, actresses, writers and painters since she first appeared on stage. Here Elaine Showalter discusses Ophelia's madness as a particularly female malady, showing how from Shakespeare's day to our own Ophelia has been used both to reflect and to challenge evolving ideas about female psychology and sexuality.

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    Christopher Marlowe: The man, the myth and the mighty line

    Andrew Dickson looks at the infamous mysteries and controversies surrounding Christopher Marlowe's life, and celebrates the ambition, daring and skill of his work.

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    Questions of Value in The Merchant of Venice

    Questions of Value in The Merchant of Venice

    The valuation of property and people – particularly women – in Shakespeare’s Venice reflects contemporary anxieties nearer home, suggests Farah Karim-Cooper.

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    Verbing: Shakespeare’s linguistic innovation

    Verbing: Shakespeare’s linguistic innovation

    'Enjailed', 'portcullised', 'cowarded', 'to lip': David Crystal explains how Shakespeare created new verbs from old nouns, and considers the dramatic impact of this technique.

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Themes

Explore Shakespeare and Renaissance writers by theme.

Renaissance writers

Uncover the fascinating, colourful lives of Renaissance writers including John Donne, Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe, and explore key features and themes in their groundbreaking plays and poetry.

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Context 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 and Renaissance writers played with the magical and supernatural.

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Tragedies theme

Tragedies

From Hamlet’s melancholy to Juliet’s eloquence; and from Othello’s misunderstanding to Doctor Faustus's damnation, discover the richness of Shakespearean and Renaissance tragedies.

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Collection items

Explore a selection of collection items that relate to Shakespeare, Renaissance writers and the context in which they produced their plays, poetry and other work.

Works

Explore key plays and poems by Shakespeare and Renaissance writers.

Poems by John Donne

Created by: John Donne

John Donne is most famous now for his witty and complex love poems, but he also produced satires, occasional poems ...

*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 Alchemist*

Created by: Ben Jonson

The Alchemist: plot and character overview It is 1 November 1610. Plague is raging in London. To try to avoid the ...

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