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.

John Donne and metaphysical poetry

John Donne and metaphysical poetry

Article by:
Michael Donkor

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

Themes:
Renaissance writers, Language, word play and text, Poetry
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Conjuring darkness in Macbeth

Conjuring darkness in Macbeth

Article by:
John Mullan

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.

Themes:
Language, word play and text, Tragedies
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A close reading of The Flea

A close reading of 'The Flea'

Article by:
Aviva Dautch

The suitor in 'The Flea' enviously describes the creature that ‘sucks’ on his mistress’s skin and intermingles its fluids with hers. Here Aviva Dautch explores images of eroticism, death, guilt and innocence in John Donne's poem.

Themes:
Poetry, Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage, Language, word play and text, Renaissance writers
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‘I am every dead thing’: John Donne and death

‘I am every dead thing’: John Donne and death

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Andrew Dickson explores John Donne's fascination with death as a literary, philosophical and emotional subject, and examines its presence in his poetry and treatises.

Themes:
Renaissance writers, Poetry, Language, word play and text, Power, politics and religion
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Verbing: Shakespeare’s linguistic innovation

Verbing: Shakespeare’s linguistic innovation

Article by:
David Crystal

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

Theme:
Language, word play and text
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Macbeth and Shakespeare’s linguistic innovation

Macbeth and Shakespeare’s linguistic innovation

Article by:
David Crystal

In Macbeth, Shakespeare coins an extraordinary number of words and phrases, including 'assassination', 'unsex' and 'stealthy'. David Crystal shows how these linguistic innovations help express the action and atmosphere of the play and the troubled psychology of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

Themes:
Language, word play and text, Tragedies
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Tempestuous Words: The Tempest and Shakespeare’s linguistic innovation

Tempestuous words: The Tempest and Shakespeare’s linguistic innovation

Article by:
David Crystal

'Over-stink', 'instinctively', 'bow-wow', 'reeling-ripe': some of the words in The Tempest appear nowhere else in literature, whereas others have become embedded in the English language. David Crystal takes a look at Shakespeare's verbal ingenuity.

Themes:
Language, word play and text, Comedies
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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.

Themes:
Shakespeare’s life and world, Language, word play and text
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Juliet's eloquence

Juliet's eloquence

Article by:
Penny Gay

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.

Themes:
Language, word play and text, Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage, Tragedies, Poetry
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Benedick and Beatrice: the 'merry war' of courtship

Benedick and Beatrice: the 'merry war' of courtship

Article by:
Penny Gay

Penny Gay sees Benedick and Beatrice as the witty stars of a Shakespearean rom-com. She explores both their modernity and their conformity to traditional gender roles and marriage.

Themes:
Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage, Language, word play and text, Comedies
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Richard III and the will to power

Richard III and the will to power

Article by:
Malcolm Hebron

Malcolm Hebron explains how Shakespeare drew on earlier depictions of Richard III and other ruthless rulers in order to create his own power-hungry king, and how Richard III has influenced later depictions of megalomania.

Themes:
Histories, Power, politics and religion, Language, word play and text
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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.