Poetry

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

‘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.

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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.

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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.

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‘Make me new’: the multiple reinventions of John Donne

‘Make me new’: the multiple reinventions of John Donne

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

John Donne's work includes passionate and explicit love poems and intense religious meditations. Andrew Dickson explores the poet's many identities, from Catholic child to Protestant adult, from womaniser to devoted husband, and from trainee lawyer, secretary and Member of Parliament to Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral.

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A close reading of Donne’s ‘Song: Go and catch a falling star’

Article by:
Toby Litt

Toby Litt shows how Donne creates a mischievous relationship with his readers, as the poem builds energy and plays around with time and space.

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Poetry by Heart Shakespeare's Sonnets competition

An introduction to Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Article by:
Hannah Crawforth

Hannah Crawforth explores how Shakespeare used and radically changed the conventions of love poetry, and how modern poets have reinvented his Sonnets for themselves.

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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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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.

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Prose and verse in Shakespeare's plays

Prose and verse in Shakespeare's plays

Article by:
Kim Ballard

Shakespeare's plays contain both prose and verse. Kim Ballard discusses the playwright's selective use of blank verse, and considers several cases where the choice of prose or verse helps us understand class, character psychology and mood.

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Poetry by Heart: Shakespeare's Sonnets competition

Are you taking part in Poetry by Heart's Shakespeare's Sonnets competition? Here is your chance to view the sonnets as they were first published in 1609.

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A reflection on sonnets: ‘When life was sweet because you call'd them sweet’

A reflection on sonnets: ‘When life was sweet because you call'd them sweet’

Article by:
Richard Price

Through a close reading of two sonnets, Richard Price looks at the history of the 14 line poem and considers a tradition of conventions and a tradition of alternatives.

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English Renaissance ‘love’ poetry

Love poetry in Renaissance England

Article by:
Emily Mayne

Love poetry in the Renaissance often expressed sexual or romantic passion, but it could also serve a variety of political, social and religious ends. Emily Mayne explores the origins and development of Renaissance love poetry and the many forms it took.

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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.