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.

Featured articles

  • Shakespeare's Textual Bodies

    Shakespeare's life

    From Stratford to London (and back again), from ‘upstart crow’ to 'wonder of our stage', Andrew Dickson recounts some of the details of William Shakespeare’s life.

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    ‘New mutiny’: the violence of Romeo and Juliet

    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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    Playing Othello

    Playing Othello

    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

    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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  • Sovereignty and subversion in King Lear

    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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    Hamlet: the play within the play

    From The Murder of Gonzago to Hamlet's pretence of madness, Hamlet is a work obsessed with acting and deception. Gillian Woods explores how the play unsettles distinctions between performance and reality and how it thus exposes the mechanisms of theatre.

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    The first night of the Tempest

    The first night of The Tempest

    The Tempest was first performed in the enclosed, candlelit space of the new Blackfriars theatre. Here Professor Gordon McMullan describes how audience members would have found themselves participating in an innovative and captivating theatrical experience.

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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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  • 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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    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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    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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    An introduction to Coriolanus

    An introduction to Coriolanus

    Michael Dobson describes the political context in which Shakespeare wrote Coriolanus, and how the play has resonated with later generations of playwrights, directors and actors.

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Themes

Explore Shakespeare’s plays by 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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Comedies theme

Comedies

From cross dressing in Twelfth Night to magical storms in The Tempest; from deception in Much Ado to doubling in Midsummer Night’s Dream, discover the beauty and complexity of Shakespeare’s comedies.

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Context theme

Context

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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Histories theme

Histories

From the staging of disability to the influence of Machiavelli, explore Shakespeare’s history plays.

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Works

Explore 13 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 ...

Shakespeare in Ten Acts

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Ten leading experts take a fresh look at Shakespeare

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