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.

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  • Prospero : magician and artist

    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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    A Jewish reading of The Merchant of Venice

    From Antonio spitting on Shylock's 'Jewish gabardine' to the moneylender's famous speech, 'If you prick us, do we not bleed?': Dr Aviva Dautch responds to The Merchant of Venice as a Jewish reader.

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    A Queer reading of Twelfth Night

    A Queer reading of Twelfth Night

    Miranda Fay Thomas explores how Twelfth Night interrogates conventional ideas about gender and sexuality, portraying gender as performative and suggesting erotic possibilities between same-sex pairs.

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    Misunderstanding in Othello

    Misunderstanding in Othello

    Othello is a tragedy that proceeds from misunderstandings and miscommunication. Many of these errors are bound up with Iago's deception, but Michael Donkor looks at other, additional causes in the play.

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  • Juliet's eloquence

    Juliet's eloquence

    Over the course of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet goes from being a sheltered child to a young woman passionately in love. Penny Gay considers how this transformation, and its tragic consequences, are accompanied by Juliet's development as a poet.

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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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    Clothing and transformation in The Taming of the Shrew

    Clothing and transformation in The Taming of the Shrew

    Emma Smith explores how clothing complicates ideas about gender and social status in The Taming of the Shrew.

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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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    Sovereignty and subversion in King Lear

    Professor Kiernan Ryan argues that the subversive spirit of King Lear remains as powerful as ever, four centuries after it was first performed.

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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’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 ...

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