Explore the works of Shakespeare and Renaissance writers in relation to the social, political and cultural context in which they were written, and investigate the ways in which these works have been interpreted over the last four centuries.

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  • Dream, illusion and doubling in A Midsummer Night's Dream

    Dream, illusion and doubling in A Midsummer Night's Dream

    Having one actor play more than role was convenient for Shakespeare, whose acting company was limited in size, but doubling also enabled him to intensify the atmosphere of his plays, and to make connections and contrasts between scenes and storylines. Emma Smith explores the way that the doubling in A Midsummer Night's Dream heightens the play's dreamlike and fantastical elements.

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    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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    Character analysis: Ariel and Prospero in The Tempest

    Character analysis: Ariel and Prospero in The Tempest

    Focussing on Act 1, Scene 2 of The Tempest, John Gordon analyses the characters of Ariel and Prospero through the frame of magic and power.

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    An introduction to Doctor Faustus: ambiguity and duality

    An introduction to Doctor Faustus: morality and sin

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

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  • Conjuring darkness in Macbeth

    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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    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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    A close reading of The Flea

    A close reading of 'The Flea'

    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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    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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  • 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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    Key features of Renaissance culture

    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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    Analysing the villains in King Lear: Edmund, Goneril and Regan

    Character analysis: The villains in King Lear – Edmund, Goneril and Regan

    Using a close analysis of the characters’ traits, actions and language, Carol Atherton considers how Shakespeare presents Goneril, Regan and Edmund as the villains of King Lear.

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    Character analysis: Miranda in The Tempest

    Lilla Grindlay explores the character of Miranda in Act 3, Scene 1 of The Tempest, considering language, form and a feminist interpretation.

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Explore Shakespeare and Renaissance writers by theme.

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.

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Context 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 and Renaissance writers played with the magical and supernatural.

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Tragedies theme


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.

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Collection items

Explore a selection of collection items that relate to Shakespeare, Renaissance writers and the context in which they produced their plays, poetry and other work.


Explore key plays and poems by Shakespeare and Renaissance writers.

Poems by John Donne

Created by: John Donne

John Donne is most famous now for his witty and complex love poems, but he also produced satires, occasional poems ...

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 Alchemist

Created by: Ben Jonson

The Alchemist: plot and character overview It is 1 November 1610. Plague is raging in London. To try to avoid the ...