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.

An introduction to Doctor Faustus: ambiguity and duality

An introduction to Doctor Faustus: morality and sin

Article by:
Eric Rasmussen, Ian DeJong

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

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Sovereignty and subversion in King Lear

Sovereignty and subversion in King Lear

Article by:
Kiernan Ryan

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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An introduction to Edward II

An introduction to Edward II

Article by:
Martin Wiggins

The complex portrayal of Edward II’s love for his male favourite Gaveston has fascinated audiences for centuries. Here Martin Wiggins discusses the play’s depiction of same-sex love, homophobia, power and tragedy.

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The Duchess of Malfi and Renaissance women

The Duchess of Malfi and Renaissance women

Article by:
Dympna Callaghan

The Duchess of Malfi is an unusual central figure for a 17th-century tragedy not only because she is a woman, but also because, as a woman, she combines virtue with powerful sexual desire. Dympna Callaghan places Webster's character in the context of contemporary drama, politics and discourses about widows and female sexuality.

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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.

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Hamlet and revenge

Hamlet and revenge

Article by:
Kiernan Ryan

Hamlet shows Shakespeare intent on sabotaging the conventions of revenge tragedy. Kiernan Ryan explains why.

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Hamlet: looking backwards

Hamlet: looking backwards

Article by:
Emma Smith

Emma Smith reads Hamlet as a play obsessed with retrospection, repetition and the theatre of the past.

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An introduction to The Duchess of Malfi

An introduction to The Duchess of Malfi

Article by:
Michael Billington

Michael Billington explores the source material for The Duchess of Malfi and the play's reception over the last 200 years, and argues that Webster uses the tragedy to offer a vision of human existence as chaotic and unstable.

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‘New mutiny’: the violence of Romeo and Juliet

The violence of Romeo and Juliet

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Romeo and Juliet is not only a love story. Andrew Dickson describes how the play reflects the violence and chaos of Shakespearean London – and how, more recently, directors have used it to explore conflicts of their own time.

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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.

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Royal Shakespeare: a playwright and his king

Royal Shakespeare: a playwright and his king

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Shortly after James I took the throne, he announced that he would be the new sponsor of Shakespeare's theatre company, which renamed itself the King's Men. Andrew Dickson explains how the royal sponsorship affected the company, and the ways in which the playwright's later works engage with his transition from an Elizabethan to a Jacobean subject.

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Post-colonial reading of The Tempest

Post-colonial reading of The Tempest

Article by:
Jyotsna Singh

Post-colonial readings of The Tempest were inspired by the decolonisation movements of the 1960s and 1970s in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. Jyotsna Singh describes how these readings challenge more traditional interpretations of the play, questioning Prospero's ownership of the island and rethinking the role of Caliban.

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Othello: the role that entices and enrages actors of all skin colours

Othello: the role that entices and enrages actors of all skin colours

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Andrew Dickson explores how different actors have struggled with the character of Othello and the play's depiction of race.

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Playing Othello

Playing Othello

Article by:
Hugh Quarshie

Hugh Quarshie describes his reservations about Othello, and how he used these to shape the production in which he played the title role.

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Prospero : magician and artist

Prospero: magician and artist

Article by:
Emma Smith

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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Questions of Value in The Merchant of Venice

Questions of Value in The Merchant of Venice

Article by:
Farah Karim-Cooper

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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Rhetoric, power and persuasion in Julius Caesar

Rhetoric, power and persuasion in Julius Caesar

Article by:
Kim Ballard

Rhetoric was a much-valued skill in Renaissance England, as it was in ancient Rome. Kim Ballard discusses the connections between rhetoric and power in Julius Caesar, one of Shakespeare's Roman plays.

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Banner

Character analysis: Benvolio, Mercutio and Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet

Article by:
Emma Torrance

Emma Torrance analyses the characters of Benvolio, Mercutio and Tybalt within Act 3, Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet – a key scene in which a fight breaks out between the Capulets and Montagues.

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Republicanism and assassination in Julius Caesar

Republicanism and assassination in Julius Caesar

Article by:
Malcolm Hebron

Malcolm Hebron situates Julius Caesar in the context of Shakespeare's life and times, examining the contemporary political relevance of the play's themes of Republicanism and assassination. He explores the play's use of rhetoric and theatricality, and assesses its reception over the past 400 years.

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The Tempest and the literature of wonder

The Tempest and the literature of wonder

Article by:
Martin Butler

Martin Butler shows how Renaissance travel, trade and colonisation shaped the portrayal of Caliban and the Italians in The Tempest.

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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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Richard III and the staging of disability

Richard III and the staging of disability

Article by:
Katherine Schaap Williams

In the Elizabethan period, disability was often viewed as a sign of moral impairment. Katherine Schaap Williams considers how Shakespeare's portrayal of Richard III relates to both modern and medieval ideas of disability, as well as how the play's performance history complicates our understanding of Richard's body. She thereby reveals a richer and more complex reading of Richard as more than just a monstrous or moral example.

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Richard III and Machiavelli

Richard III and Machiavelli

Article by:
Michael Donkor

Machiavelli's The Prince was a much-discussed text in Renaissance England. Michael Donkor considers how, in Richard III, Shakespeare engages with Machiavelli's ideas about what constitutes appropriate behaviour in a ruler.

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measure for measure

Measure for Measure and punishment

Article by:
John Mullan

John Mullan considers how Measure for Measure explores ideas about justice, mercy and punishment.

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‘Wretched strangers’: Shakespeare’s plea for tolerance towards immigrants in Sir Thomas More

‘Wretched strangers’: Shakespeare’s plea for tolerance towards immigrants in Sir Thomas More

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

‘The Book of Sir Thomas More’ is the only surviving literary manuscript in Shakespeare’s hand. Here Andrew Dickson describes how the scene Shakespeare wrote for the play contains a moving plea for the plight of immigrants.

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shrew

Power and gender in The Taming of the Shrew

Article by:
Rachel De Wachter

Does The Taming of the Shrew advocate sexual inequality or does it show and critique men’s attempts to subordinate women? Rachel De Wachter discusses how we should think about relations between the sexes in the play, and examines how writers, directors and actors have explored this question over the past four centuries.

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Subversive theatre in Renaissance England

Subversive theatre in Renaissance England

Article by:
Eric Rasmussen, Ian DeJong

Eric Rasmussen and Ian De Jong investigate the subversive potential of Renaissance theatre.

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Character analysis: Malcom in Macbeth

Character analysis: Malcolm in Macbeth

Article by:
Andrea Varney

Focussing on kingship and power, Andrea Varney examines the character of Malcolm in Act 5, Scene 9 of Macbeth – the play’s final scene.

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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.