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.

Shakespeare's Textual Bodies

Shakespeare's life

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

From Stratford to London (and back again), from ‘upstart crow’ to 'wonder of our stage', Andrew Dickson recounts some of the details of William Shakespeare’s life.

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Shakespeare's London

Shakespeare’s London

Article by:
Eric Rasmussen, Ian DeJong

Early modern London was an expanding metropolis filled with diverse life, from courtiers, merchants and artisans to prostitutes, beggars and cutpurses. Here Professor Eric Rasmussen and Ian DeJong describe the city that shaped Shakespeare's imagination.

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Shakespeare's playhouses

Shakespeare's playhouses

Article by:
Eric Rasmussen, Ian DeJong

From the open-air Globe to the candlelit Blackfriars, Professor Eric Rasmussen and Ian DeJong explore early modern playhouses.

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Key features of Renaissance culture

Key features of Renaissance culture

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

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

Article by:
Aviva Dautch

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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Depictions of countryside in Shakespeare

Depictions of countryside in Shakespeare

Article by:
Eric Rasmussen, Ian DeJong

The countryside in Shakespeare's plays is sometimes a peaceful haven from a corrupt court or city, but at other times it's mysterious, magical, inhospitable or even dangerous. Eric Rasmussen and Ian DeJong explore Shakespeare's outdoor spaces, from the enchanted forest in A Midsummer Night's Dream to King Lear's blasted heath.

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Multiculturalism in Shakespeare's plays

Multiculturalism in Shakespeare's plays

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Andrew Dickson describes the position of racial and religious minorities in Renaissance England, and considers how this might have influenced Shakespeare's depiction of immigrants, outsiders and exiles.

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Shakespeare and gender: the ‘woman’s part’

Shakespeare and gender: the ‘woman’s part’

Article by:
Clare McManus

In Shakespeare's day, female parts were played by male actors, while more recently, actresses have taken on some of his most famous male roles such as Hamlet and Julius Caesar. Clare McManus explores gender in the history of Shakespeare performance.

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Women playing Shakespeare: The first female Desdemona and beyond

Women playing Shakespeare: The first female Desdemona and beyond

Article by:
Hannah Manktelow

Hannah Manktelow charts the journey from the all-male playhouses of Shakespeare's day, to great actresses in female roles, and modern women cross-dressing to play male heroes like Hamlet.

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Shakespeare textual bodies

Shakespeare’s Textual Bodies

Article by:
Jennifer Edwards

Jennifer Edwards explores Shakespeare’s presentation of the relationship between body and text in light of the workings of the early modern printing press…

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Shakespeare's childhood and education

Shakespeare's childhood and education

Article by:
Simon Callow

From plague in the family to young love, Simon Callow explores Shakespeare's early life as the son of a glove-maker in Stratford-upon-Avon.

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Shakespeare and friendship

Shakespeare and friendship

Article by:
Will Tosh

Shakespeare's plays often portray intense, complicated friendships. Will Tosh considers how these reflect, and sometimes challenge, Elizabethan ideas about what it meant to be a friend.

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Shakespeare’s Italian journeys

Shakespeare’s Italian journeys

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Shakespeare set many of his plays in Italy, though he almost certainly never went there. Andrew Dickson assesses how much Shakespeare knew about the country and its people, and describes how the playwright drew from myth and reality to create a rich imaginative space.

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Amuseuments and pastimes in Elizabethan England

Amusements and pastimes in Elizabethan England

Article by:
Liza Picard

Some Elizabethan entertainments, such as theatre and football, are still popular today. Others, such as animal-baiting, now seem shocking. Liza Picard takes a look at common 16th-century pastimes.

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The social structure in Elizabethan England

The social structure in Elizabethan England

Article by:
Liza Picard

Liza Picard describes how, between the Queen at the top and the beggars at the bottom, there was jockeying for position in the different levels of Elizabethan society.

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The three witches from Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Witchcraft in Shakespeare's England

Article by:
Carole Levin

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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Clothing in Elizabethan England

Clothing in Elizabethan England

Article by:
Liza Picard

Liza Picard describes the laws, trends and standards of hygiene that determined who wore what in Elizabethan England.

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Cities in Elizabethan England

Cities in Elizabethan England

Article by:
Liza Picard

Liza Picard explores the bustling and rapidly-expanding Elizabethan city, shaped by trade, politics and religious upheaval.

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Food in Elizabethan England

Food in Elizabethan England

Article by:
Liza Picard

The wealthiest Elizabethans ate lavish meals of many courses, while many poorer people didn’t even have their own ovens, and some of the poorest survived on leftover scraps from the rich. Liza Picard describes how class, religion and politics all influenced how Elizabethans shopped for food, cooked and ate.

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Exploration and trade in Elizabethan England

Exploration and trade in Elizabethan England

Article by:
Liza Picard

Elizabethan explorers undertook lengthy expeditions to discover new worlds. Liza Picard considers some of the consequences of these expeditions: overseas colonies, imported goods and the slave trade.

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Crime and punishment in Elizabethan England

Crime and punishment in Elizabethan England

Article by:
Liza Picard

Liza Picard takes a look at crime in Elizabethan England and describes the brutal punishments offenders received, from whipping and public humiliation to hanging and burning at the stake.

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Shakespeare and Italy

Shakespeare and Italy

Article by:
John Mullan

John Mullan explores how Italian geography, literature, culture and politics influenced the plots and atmosphere of many of Shakespeare’s plays.

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The Reformation in Shakespeare

The Reformation in Shakespeare

Article by:
Brian Cummings

Brian Cummings explores the radical religious reforms enacted in Shakespeare's lifetime, and the traces of religion that exist in his plays from Measure to Measure to Hamlet.

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marriage and courtship

Marriage and courtship

Article by:
Eric Rasmussen

Eric Rasmussen explains the complex process of getting married in Shakespeare’s England, and the way this worked for young Will himself. He explores the tension, in Shakespeare’s plays, between the old order, in which fathers chose their daughters’ husbands, and the new order based on mutual love, but still plagued by the threat of infidelity.

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Witchcraft, magic and religion

Article by:
Liza Picard

Liza Picard takes a look at witchcraft, magic and religion in Elizabethan England.

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Further themes

Comedies

From cross dressing in Twelfth Night to magical storms in The Tempest; from deception in Much Ado to biting satire in The Alchemist, discover the beauty and complexity of Shakespearean and Renaissance comedies.

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.

Histories

From the staging of disability to the influence of Machiavelli, explore the history plays of Shakespeare and other Renaissance writers.

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.

Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage

From courtship rituals to cross-dressing to love poetry, examine the ways in which Shakespeare and Renaissance writers explored identity, sexuality and gender roles.

Elizabethan England

Exploration and trade, crime and punishment, clothing and social structure: explore key aspects of Elizabethan life, culture and society.

Poetry

Discover close readings, critical interpretations and personal responses to Shakespeare’s sonnets, the poetry of John Donne and more.

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.

Ethnicity and identity

From Othello and Shylock to depictions of the ‘New World’ and anti-immigration riots, explore Shakespeare’s fascination with ethnic identity.

Power, politics and religion

A murdered king, a homeless ruler, a man who sells his soul to the Devil: discover how Shakespeare and other Renaissance writers represented power and powerlessness.

Global Shakespeare

Discover how Shakespeare’s work was influenced by other cultures, and how it’s been interpreted in nations across the world for 400 years.

Interpretations of ‘madness’

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

Deception, drama and misunderstanding

Investigate the ways in which Shakespeare and Renaissance writers explore miscommunication, dishonesty, trickery and the nature of theatre.

Language, word play and text

Prose and verse, word play, neologisms and rhetoric: discover how Shakespeare and Renaissance writers developed innovative and experimental uses of language.

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.

View our Shakespeare-inspired range

Shakespeare in Ten Acts

Shakespeare in Ten Acts (paperback)

Ten leading experts take a fresh look at Shakespeare

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Shakespeare Desk Diary 2017

Pictures and quotations to celebrate the life and works of 'the bard'

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Shakespeare Star Wars

William Shakespeare's Star Wars

George Lucas's Star Wars retold in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon

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