|William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon”. He was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, a small country town. He was John Shakespeare’s son, a successful glover and alderman. His mother was Mary Arden, a daughter of the gentry. England's celebration of their patron Saint George is on 23 April, which is also the day claimed to be the birth date of Shakespeare. The infant William was baptised on 26 April 1564.
Few records of Shakespeare's private life survive. Around the age of eleven Shakespeare probably entered the grammar school of Stratford, King's New School, where he studied theatre and acting, as well as Latin literature and history. When he finished school he might have apprenticed for a time with his father, but there is also a mention of his being a school teacher. The next record of his life is in 1582, when still a minor at the age of eighteen and requiring his father's consent, Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, who was 26, married in the village of Temple Grafton. Six months after their marriage, she gave birth to a daughter, Susanna. Two years later Anne gave birth to twins, daughter Judith and son Hamnet, his only son and heir who died at the age of eleven.
It is not exactly clear what Shakespeare was doing in the first few years after the marriage, but he did go to London and worked at The Globe theatre, possibly as one of the Queen's Men whose works were anti Catholic in a time of rising Protestantism. He was writing poems and plays, and his involvement with theatre troupes and acting is condemned in a 1592 pamphlet by Robert Green, the playwright, that was distributed in London, attacking Shakespeare as an "upstart crow";
By 1593 the plague was haunting London and it was time when many theatres were shut down. Shakespeare probably spent these dark days travelling between London, Stratford, and the provinces, which gave him time to write many more plays and sonnets. Among the first of his known printed works is the narrative poem Venus and Adonis (1593). It was wildly popular, dedicated with great esteem to his patron Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, the young man that some say Shakespeare may have had more than platonic affection for. It was followed by the much darker The Rape of Lucrece in 1594, The Passionate Pilgrim in 1599 and the allegorical The Phoenix and the Turtle (1601).
At this time of prolific writing, Shakespeare began his association until his death with The Lord Chamberlain's Men., a playing company, later known as the King’s Men. With the accession of James I they became the King's Men, who bought and performed most of Shakespeare's plays. The troupe included his friend and actor Richard Burbage. They performed frequently at court, and in the theatres that Shakespeare was co-owner of including the Blackfriars, The Theatre, and The Globe in London until it burnt down during a performance of King Henry VIII. It is said that Shakespeare himself acted in a number of roles including the ghost in Hamlet and Old Adam in As You Like It. In the late 1590s he bought `New Place' on Chapel Street in Stratford, one of his many real estate investments.
Shakespeare wrote most of his plays as `quarto texts', that being on a sheet of paper folded four ways. A few of his plays were printed in his lifetime, though they appeared more voluminously after his death, sometimes plagiarised and often changed at the whim of the printer. First Folio would be the first collection of his dramatic works, a massive undertaking to compile thirty-six plays from the quarto texts, playbooks, transcriptions, and the memories of actors. The approximately nine hundred page manuscript took about two years to complete and was printed in 1623 as Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. It also featured on the frontispiece the famous engraved portrait of Shakespeare said to be by Martin Droeshout (1601-c1651).
He died on 23 April 1616, at the age of 52. Anne Hathaway outlived her husband by seven years and is buried beside him. His daughter, Susanna married Dr John Hall, and his last surviving descendant was their daughter Elizabeth Hall. There are no direct descendants of the poet and playwright alive today, but the diarist John Aubrey recalls in his Brief Lives that Shakespeare was the real father of the poet William Davenant, his godson, who was brought up in Oxford, on the road between London and Stratford, where Shakespeare would stay when travelling between his home and the capital.
Shakespeare is buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon He is believed to have written the epitaph on his tombstone. ." His tombstone is inscribed with the following epitaph;
Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare
Blessed by y man y spares hes stones
And curst be he y moves my bones
His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language, and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth.. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights. In 1623, two of his former theatrical colleagues published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare's. Shakespeare was a respected poet and playwright in his own day, but his reputation did not rise to its present heights until the nineteenth century.
He wrote about 38 plays, but the precise number is uncertain. Among the most famous and critically acclaimed of Shakespeare's plays are Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Othello, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice and Richard III. He wrote mainly comedies influenced by Roman and Italian models and history plays in the popular chronicle tradition.
Some probably inspired by Shakespeare's study of Lives by Greek historian and essayist Plutarch and Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles. Some are reworkings of previous stories, many based on English or Roman history. The dates given here are when they are said to have been first performed.
Titus Andronicus first performed in 1594 (printed in 1594),
Romeo and Juliet 1594-95 (1597),
Hamlet 1600-01 (1603),
Julius Caesar 1600-01 (1623),
Othello 1604-05 (1622),
Antony and Cleopatra 1606-07 (1623),
King Lear 1606 (1608),
Coriolanus 1607-08 (1623), derived from Plutarch
Timon of Athens 1607-08 (1623), and
Macbeth 1611-1612 (1623).
Shakespeare's series of historical dramas, based on the English Kings from John to Henry VIII were a tremendous undertaking to dramatise the lives and rule of kings and the changing political events of his time. No other playwright had attempted such an ambitious body of work. Some were printed on their own or in the First Folio (1623).
King Henry VI Part 1 1592 (printed in 1594);
King Henry VI Part 2 1592-93 (1594);
King Henry VI Part 3 1592-93 (1623);
King John 1596-97 (1623);
King Henry IV Part 1 1597-98 (1598);
King Henry IV Part 2 1597-98 (1600);
King Henry V 1598-99 (1600);
Richard II 1600-01 (1597);
Richard III 1601 (1597); and
King Henry VIII 1612-13 (1623)
He wrote mainly comedies influenced by Roman and Italian models and history. Again listed in chronological order of performance.
Taming of the Shrew first performed 1593-94 (1623),
Comedy of Errors 1594 (1623),
Two Gentlemen of Verona 1594-95 (1623),
Love's Labour's Lost 1594-95 (1598),
Midsummer Night's Dream 1595-96 (1600),
Merchant of Venice 1596-1597 (1600),
Much Ado About Nothing 1598-1599 (1600),
As You Like It 1599-00 (1623),
Merry Wives of Windsor 1600-01 (1602),
Troilus and Cressida 1602 (1609),
Twelfth Night 1602 (1623),
All's Well That Ends Well 1602-03 (1623),
Measure for Measure 1604 (1623),
Pericles, Prince of Tyre 1608-09 (1609),
Cymbeline 1611-12 (1623),
Winter's Tale 1611-12 (1623).
In 1593 and 1594, when the theatres were closed because of plague, Shakespeare published two narrative poems on erotic themes, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. He dedicated them to Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton. In Venus and Adonis, an innocent Adonis rejects the sexual advances of Venus, while in The Rape of Lucrece, the virtuous wife Lucrece is raped by the lustful Tarquin. The poems show the guilt and moral confusion that result from uncontrolled lust. Both proved popular and were often reprinted during Shakespeare's lifetime.
Other poems were: A Lover's Complaint, in which a young woman laments her seduction by a persuasive suitor; The Phoenix and the Turtle, Love's Martyr and The Passionate Pilgrim, published under Shakespeare's name but without his permission.
It is generally agreed that most of the Shakespearean Sonnets were written in the 1590s, some printed at this time as well. Others were written or revised right before being printed. Published in 1609, the Sonnets were the last of Shakespeare’s non-dramatic works to be printed. They are written in Petrarch's style where Shakespeare meditates on the nature of love, sexual passion, procreation, mortality and death. The first 126 sonnets are addressed to a young man, sonnets 127-152 to a dark lady. It remains unclear if these figures represent real individuals or if the authorial “I” i.e. Shakespeare himself. Some people believe that with the sonnets "Shakespeare unlocked his heart”.
Shakespeare now has a reputation as the greatest writer in the English language, as well as one of the greatest in Western literature, and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. In addition, Shakespeare is the most quoted writer in English-speaking and world history. His works have been translated into every major living language, and his plays are continually performed all around the world. Over the years, many people have speculated about Shakespeare’s life, raising questions about his sexuality, whether he was secretly Catholic, and debating whether someone else wrote some or all of his plays and poetry.
Antony and Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra is probably the best known of Shakespeare's Roman plays and is a considered representation of the seductions of power and the power of love. With this play, Shakespeare introduced two great historical characters--Marcus Antony and the legendary Egyptian princess, Cleopatra--to the Elizabethan stage.
The main theme of the play is that passion often clouds a person's judgement. The tragedy chronicles the degeneration of Antony as a result of his passion for Cleopatra. As Philo aptly states in Act I, SCENE I, Antony has turned "into a strumpet's fool." Obsessed by Cleopatra and her arts of seduction, he ignores the threat she offers to his military operations and his public duties.
A pervasive underlying theme is the necessity of choosing between two opposing philosophies. Rome is the representative of values like prudence, discipline and conquest. These attitudes are expressed through the characterization of Caesar. Diametrically opposed to these are the Egyptian principles of pleasure and love symbolized in the figure of Cleopatra. Antony has to choose between these forces which pull him in opposing directions and ultimately lead to his destruction when he devotes himself wholly to the Egyptian.
Although Antony and Cleopatra is a tragedy, its mood is not always somber and sad. In fact, the first half of the play is filled with romance, beauty, and images of excess. The initial scenes, especially those depicting Cleopatra in the first three acts, are delightfully exquisite. Humorous scenes also occur in the play. A notable example is the scene when Antony and Caesar are being entertained on board Pompeius' ship. The second half of the play, however, is somber and tragic. Antony is defeated at Actium and looses his pride and self-confidence. He is so depressed over the state of affairs that he kills himself when he hears that Cleopatra is dead. His death leads Cleopatra to take her own life, intensifying the tragic mood.
Antony and Cleopatra also demonstrates Shakespeare's enormous ability to see all sides of human experience. Love and duty are themes that he has visited numerous times before, most specifically in the comedies. In them, love more often than not, wins out--love is chosen above all and, in the union of marriage, love and duty and neatly sublimated.
In Antony and Cleopatra, however, love is a destructive force--duty is forgotten, great men fall and Empire's crumble. The brilliance of Shakespeare's writing, then, is that he can still figure love as a powerful force even amongst all this destruction. He is still able to balance the two poles of his argument; love is still seen as admirable in the midst of the tragedy it has created.
Brilliantly figured, with some of Shakespeare's most elevated and powerful poetry, Antony and Cleopatra is a marvel created by a master at work. Mature and thoughtful, Antony and Cleopatra is a play that shows the depth and breadth of the Bard's thought.
First performed between the years 1600-01, first printed in 1603.
Endlessly performed, reviewed, rewritten, read and written-upon, William Shakespeare's Hamlet is, by many critics and scholars as well as regular theatre-goers, thought to be the greatest play ever written. Poetic and masterful--as well as possessing a vital, much parodied plot--the tragedy of the Prince of Denmark has struck a chord ever since it was written. Thought by many to be a tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind, it is in fact much more than this reductive reading. It is a powerful portrayal of politics and a profound reflection on the nature of mortality.
The major theme of the novel is revenge. Several of the characters are entrusted with the duty of restoring family honor by exacting vengeance. Young Fortinbras reclaims his father's lost honor by gaining territory. Hamlet must avenge his father's murder by killing Claudius. And Laertes must avenge his father and his sister by exacting revenge upon Hamlet.
A second major theme is appearance vs. reality. The play makes several references to how things appear versus the truth. Hamlet speaks in riddles, feigned madness gives birth to real insanity, and even actors appear to confuse the truth. King Hamlet's death, an event that precedes the beginning of the play, appears to be snakebite but in reality is calculated murder. The new King of Denmark seems to be the proper and rightful heir to the throne, but he is really a power-hungry murderer. The theme of appearance vs. reality is a favorite of Shakespeare's, but in Hamlet, the theme is more well developed than in most of his plays.
An atmosphere of evil darkness pervades the play right from the beginning, for "something is rotten in the state of Denmark." Hamlet feels that he is living in a world of deceit and corruption where no one can be trusted. For that matter, reality is not even certain. The imagery of disease, corruption, and decay contributes to the mood of darkness and evil. The aura of tragedy is present from the beginning to the end of the play; the only slight respite in the dark mood comes in the Gravediggers' scene, but even the comedy of this scene is morbid.
Ranging across various different philosophical topics, from whether suicide is a brave or a cowardly choice, through the nature of the afterlife, to the meaning of action in a world where people can be hurt and die, Hamlet seems to present Shakespeare at his most thoughtful and his most searching. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that he named the play after a son of his, Hamnet, who died soon before the play was written.
The popularity of the play also probably has something to do with the central character who, more than any other character in dramatic history, has captured an audiences attention and admiration. First introduced to us in the black clothes of mourning, Hamlet in many ways can be seen as the archetypal teenage rebel, an angry young man four centuries before that term became common currency. However, unlike many angry young men, we soon come to realize that Hamlet has much to be angry about and that far from being a mooning teenager, Hamlet is caught up in a palace intrigue and a political coup d’état. His story is one of how an intelligent, thoughtful man can negotiate the awful tyranny of a corrupt ruler — and whether it is ever right to act against totalitarian power.
Hamlet is, without doubt, a wonderful piece of art, and a thrilling piece of drama. As fresh today as when it was when first written (it played to rapt audiences, even then), Hamlet has shown itself endlessly open to interpretation and endlessly able to be adapted.
The play trembles with conflicts: one being identity, which shows all the characters in different disputes of their own. We also see the problems of lack of self-confidence, misjudgement, and betrayal. The play is filled with death and suicide, madness, incest, and the supernatural.
The Tragedy of King Lear (a Later Tragedy). First written in the year 1606, first performed in 1608.
The main theme of the play is filial ingratitude, shown primarily by the attitudes of Goneril and Regan. The play revolves around the helplessness of King Lear after he gives his kingdom to these two elder daughters. They are ungrateful to their father and treat him cruelly, stripping him of all his power and dignity. Their ingratitude is contrasted with the compassion and love shown by Cordelia, his youngest daughter; ironically, King Lear had disinherited her for telling the truth.
Within this theme of filial ingratitude, the theme of good vs. evil is clearly depicted. The two older daughters are the personification of evil. They destroy their father, cause the death of Cordelia and even perish themselves because of their greedy and evil ways. In contrast, Cordelia is the personification of goodness. Even though she is rejected by her father, she continues to love him and tries to help him. Because of her goodness, Lear sees the error of his judgement, but it comes too late to save himself or his daughters.
One of the minor Themes; the tragic disrespect of authority and age, is closely related to the major theme of filial ingratitude. Goneril and Regan clearly show and voice their disrespect to their father, the King of the country. Edmund also disrespects his father and treats him poorly. The rude behavior of these characters is seen throughout the play
Another minor theme is the pain of misjudgment. Both Lear and Gloucester misjudge their offspring, giving favors to the wrong children. Cordelia and Edgar, the children whom they reject as worthless, are really representatives of all that is good and loyal in the world. Before they realize their errors, both fathers undergo great personal suffering. In spite of the treatment they receive, both Cordelia and Edgar stand by their fathers and forgive them for the injustices they have suffered.
The mood of the play is tragic and bleak. Although the drama opens in celebration, King Lear manages to quickly destroy the festivities because of his foolishness and rage. The dark atmosphere that he creates through his behavior in the beginning scene worsens as the plot develops. By the middle of the play Lear has lost touch with reality; appropriately, a raging storm outside reflects the storm in Lear's own mind. Through the bleakness of the mood in the early acts of the play, Shakespeare prepares the audience (and the reader) for the horrendous scenes of tragedy that occur at the end of the play.
King Lear is often considered the greatest masterpiece by William Shakespeare. The idea for the play came from a 12th-century folk tale, which is derived from even older stories. King Lear is the tragic story of madness, abuse and murder. The tale of the old king who throws away his kingdom along with his greatest treasure, his daughter, is certainly one of the bard’s most challenging and affecting works. Taking in the themes of madness, old age, paternal love, the hollowness of existence and the delicate balance in matters of state, it is a powerful piece both in its dramatic content and the starkness of its poetry.
First written between 1611-12; first performed in 1623.
Evil begets evil, but evil will not prevail. Macbeth's own lust for power, fueled by his wife's greed, brings about murder and mayhem; but in the end, the evil leads to Macbeth's undoing and downfall so that Malcolm, the rightful leader, can return peace and order to the Kingdom.
Be on guard against appearances; they sometimes seem as real as reality itself. Throughout the play, Macbeth has trouble distinguishing between truth and appearances, and this confusion contributes to his fear and ultimate downfall.
Dark, brooding, and evil as developed by the four supernatural witch scenes, Macbeth's sick mind, and the chaotic state of affairs in Scotland.
Macbeth is one of the most studied of William Shakespeare's tragic plays and yet, despite its constant place in the school classroom, it still holds a power to harrow its audience. Based on the story of a historial warrior Scot--both his assasination of the king and ascension to the throne--it manages to balance both its supernatural elements with an extended and precise psychological study. In it, Shakespeare examines the dangers of ambition, the means by which a country and an individual can disintegrate, and the great power of the human conscience. Representing the dangers of interrupting the natural progression of kingship, the play is also one of the most searing portrayals of evil ever written.
Supernatural elements play a large part in the drama, but Shakespeare makes it quite clear that Macbeth is to blame for his descent into blood and tyranny. Although the famous witches scene sets the events of the play in motion, Macbeth (along with his wife) ultimately accepts the temptations of evil and the terrible fate that accompanies that choice. Mirroring the religious controversy of the time, Shakespeare puts Macbeth at the heart of the debate between pre-destination and free will, with the Scottish play placed firmly on the side of the latter.
Although some critics have called Macbeth a tragedy of ambition, the drama can be more aptly labelled one of the foremost treatments of fear in Western literature. Macbeth becomes King, but he is never content with his crown. Fear overshadows everything he does: fear for the continuation of his bloodline, fear that he will be disposed, fear that he will never again face the peaceful balm of sleep because of his evil acts.
With that terrible burden of fear, Macbeth slowly disintegrates as a man. The all-pervasive fear also affects Lady Macbeth who, in that famous scene, goes mad. Sleep-walking, she desperately tries to clean the imaginary blood from her hands.
Macbeth captures the timeless nature of the human experience....There is greed for power, murderous evil scheming, and the nobility of the fight for good and evil. The tortuous guilty self-flagellation that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth succumb to is such a base human emotion. Without realizing it they are both lost in the depth of the chasm they willingly stepped into. Those are elements of "a classic" and of course no one questions that Shakespeare's Macbeth, written in 1606, still plays well today.
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice
The major theme of Othello is the destructive power of jealousy. Because Othello is a totally jealous man, he easily falls prey to Iago’s plotting and scheming. His mind is poisoned by the jealousy, and it leads, both directly and indirectly, to the deaths of Desdemona, Roderigo, Emilia, and Othello. Jealousy is truly the fatal flaw of the protagonist, and the entire play revolves around it.
One of the minor Themes in Othello is that of deception, developed mostly through Iago, who is an arch-deceiver throughout the play. Because he is angry that Othello has passed over him for a promotion, he vows revenge. Playing upon Othello’s jealousy, he deceives him into believing that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. He also deceives Roderigo, making him believe that Desdemona will tire of Othello and eventually be won by Roderigo. It is Iago’s repeated deceptions that move the plot of the play forward to the ultimate climax and tragedy.
Another minor theme of Othello is love and the play can be considered a romantic tragedy. The play is romantic because it celebrates "the marriage of two minds" as embodied in Othello and Desdemona. They marry in spite of the protests of Desdemona’s father, and she faithfully follows her husband wherever he is sent. Their romantic marriage, however, is ruined by the villainous machinations of Iago. Othello is eventually led to murder his beloved, turning the romantic play into a tragedy.
A third minor theme of Othello revolves around appearance vs. reality. Iago has an honest face, which helps hide his deceitful soul. Othello appears to be strong and courageous, a leading general, but he is easily tricked into fearing that his wife is unfaithful. It appears that Desdemona has left her treasured handkerchief with Cassio; in reality, Emilia has taken it and Iago has planted in on Cassio. Because of Iago’s trickery, it appears to Othello that Desdemona is involved with Cassio; in truth, she is innocent, loving her husband dearly. Throughout the play, Iago is instrumental in making sure that reality is disguised by appearances, which he manipulates.
The predominant mood of the whole play is somber and tragic. Iago works his evil almost from the opening scene, and each new deception that he plans brings greater misery. The tragic gloom that he causes is only occasionally relieved by comedy, provided by Roderigo and the Clown.
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet (an Early Tragedy)
True love can conquer all, as shown through Romeo and Juliet who defy unbelievable problems to be married, to consummate their marriage, and to live united for eternity.
Foolish quarrels should be ended, for they are never productive and often lead to tragedy, as in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.
The course of young love never runs smoothly, as evidenced by Romeo and Juliet.
There is a contrast of moods throughout the play. The mood created by the love between Romeo and Juliet is bright, happy, and romantic. The prevailing mood of Verona is ugly, harsh, and cruel, as evidenced in the needless conflict between the Capulets and Montagues and the action of those touched by the conflict. The death of Romeo and Juliet creates a mood of tragedy and despair.
Romeo and Juliet is a play about star-crossed lovers. The play is one of the most famous works by William Shakespeare. Lovers (Romeo and Juliet) are caught between two worlds, as their families feud to the death. Fights, witty lines, secret marriages, and untimely deaths--the play is unforgettable!
All's Well That Ends Well – a Dark Comedy.
The play is a fairy tale of a poor girl's love for a handsome courtier of noble birth. The main theme of the play is the contrast between a person's honor and a person's birthright. In this play, Shakespeare shows that virtuous actions are clearly more important than virtuous birth.
Several minor Themes pervade the play, lending it real complexity. There is a juxtaposition between youth and age, appearance and reality, idealism and cynicism, and moral culpability of the young compared to the moral steadfastness of the older generation.
All's Well That Ends Well can also be analyzed as a morality play with a contest between good and evil forces. The pure Helena is the symbol of goodness, while Bertram represents the fallen prince. The forces of evil are clearly represented by Parolles, who constantly tempts Bertram. Ultimately, the good triumphs when Parolles is exposed and defeated and the good Helena wins Bertram.
The mood of this play varies from mourning to hopefulness, from possibility to devastation, and defeat to victory over great odds. For the most part, the mood follows Helena's actions. When she is grieving, the mood is somber. When she feels guilty, the mood is uneasy. When she is victorious, the mood is jubilant.
As You Like It
As You Like It (a Later Festive Comedy)
As You Like It is a famous pastoral play by William Shakespeare. The comedy as all the great elements of a satire--with songs and banter to add levels of the comic and entertainment value. The play also touches no hot topics related to the human experience, love, death, exile, illusion versus reality, and much more.
The play is a merry one. Except for occasional clouds that threaten the sky temporarily, As You Like It is full of sunshine, love, laughter, and song. The predominant mood of the play is one of cheerfulness, light-hearted gaiety, and laughter. It is a pure and fun romantic comedy.
The major theme of the play is the importance of true love. Romantic love at its best, characterized by true and deep emotions, is represented by Orlando, the protagonist, and his beloved, Rosalind. When Oliver comes to the forest of Arden, he falls in love with Celia at first glance; it is a shallow love in comparison to that of Orlando. Touchstone's love for Audrey is largely sexual, and Silvia's love for Phebe is an artificial passion full of verbal excesses. By developing varied types of love, Shakespeare clearly points out the beauty of true love.
Another major theme is the wonder of the natural world, which symbolizes freedom; it is pictured in stark contrast to the world of the court, which is formal, restrictive, and stifling. In opposition to the court, the Forest of Arden is shown to be a delightful and festive place, free of restrictive limitations and inhibitions. In such an environment, Shakespeare shows how love can grow. Two kinds of characters are developed in the natural world of the forest. The first are the natives, like Touchstone, Phebe, and Audrey. The second are the visitors, like Duke Senior, Orlando, Oliver, and Rosalind. Long after the visitors have returned to court, their native home, the permanent residents of the forest will continue to thrive in their natural environment. As a result, the two groups of characters have very different viewpoints about the forest.
The minor theme of the play is the tragedy of hatred and hostility among people, which is sharply contrasted to the beauty of love between people. Shakespeare clearly depicts the hostility between Duke Frederick and Duke Senior and the hatred between Oliver and Orlando. These negative emotions are like clouds gathering in a clear sky, shading the romantic comedy with a touch of reality. Fortunately, the sunshine of love overpowers the clouds of hatred.
Comedy of Errors
The Comedy of Errors (an Early Comedy)
- the shortest Shakespeare play by number of lines (1777)
The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare's earliest comedies and, with multiple mix-ups, mistaken identities, and plot confusions, it certainly lives up to its name. We see in this early concoction a set of generic tropes that were to show themselves time and time again in Shakespeare's more mature comedies.
The dominant theme in The Comedy of Errors is appearance vs. reality. When the two Antipholus and the two Dromios wind up in the same town, what appears to be true is usually false. The mistaken identities produce a comedy of errors.
Since identity is equated with individuality or being, the loss of identity is the loss of self. Shakespeare picks up on the thread of individuality and exploits it so as to display the consequences of the inversion of identity. Shakespeare also explores the humanist postulate of man being the arbiter of his own individuality. While Shakespeare is a humanist in many ways, he does not see man as totally in control of his destiny. In The Comedy of Errors, fate (also known as accident or chance) plays a key role. In fact, all the events in the play, (and even the events that have occurred before the action of the play commences) are a result of chance occurrences. They point to histories and identities, individual and social, being decided by forces larger than individuals and beyond complete understanding.
In spite of the importance of fate to the play, Shakespeare's vision of the cosmos in The Comedy of Errors is not bleak at all. The developments in the play lead to a resolution which points to a deeply held underlying conviction of a favorable sense of order to the universe, reflected in the final restoration of social order. Parallel to this, of course, is the idea that individuals cannot be presumptuous enough to suppose to fully know what this order is or how it is determined.
Love as it should be and love as it must not be have always been Shakespeare's preoccupations. Here, through a technique of contrast, Shakespeare highlights the essence of true love; as he shows up the jealousies, suspicions and possessiveness of Adriana's love for her husband, which is paralleled in her kitchen maid's love for her husband. This is contrasted with the half-crazed confession of love that Antipholus of Syracuse makes to Luciana. All of these love affairs are drawn against the enduring love of Egeon and Emilia.
The mood of the play varies. The opening scene seems gloomy and heavy and could very easily be the beginning of a tragedy. However, the mood changes in the very next scene, continuing in the same vein until the last act. Chaos is portrayed in the middle scenes of the play, and that chaos leads to a mood that is almost electrically charged with tension. The last act sees dissolution of the tension, and the play ends on a note of merriment and light- heartedness.
Always clever, fast-paced and fun, The Comedy of Errors is probably one of Shakespeare’s most easily recognizable comedies (at least to a contemporary audience). Providing many a chuckle when performed, and packing a powerful punch, it is a wonderful dramatic spectacle.
Merry Wives of Windsor
The major theme of the play is that sin has its retribution. All the characters plot to humiliate Falstaff for his foolhardy ways and to teach him a lesson. This plot is divided into a series of actions, which finally culminates in the exposure, confession, and chastening of Falstaff.
The minor theme centers on the importance of marrying the right person. Anne Page has many suitors, and there are many opinions in the play about whom she should marry. Anne, however, is her own person and, uninfluenced by the other characters, she chooses Fenton as a suitable husband for herself.
The Mood of the play is definitely light, with certain scenes bordering on the ludicrous. Falstaff's self-importance and his sheer over-confidence in winning over Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford are delightful, even if the reader despises him for his promiscuity. Similarly, at the end of every meeting with Mrs. Ford, when Falstaff finds himself made to look like a fool, the audience laughs at his misfortune instead of sympathizing with him.
The final scene, when the fairies torture Falstaff, seems like a scene of comedy rather than one of grief or sympathy. The whisking away of the wrong person by Caius and Slender is also hilarious, as they finally find themselves each with a boy, instead of with Anne Page. The Merry Wives of Windsor is a classic comedy, where the protagonist overcomes the antagonist, leading to a happy ending. The play can also be viewed as a farce, due to the improbable and ludicrous events of the plot.
Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream (an Early Festive Comedy)
The major theme of this romantic comedy is love and marriage. The play opens with Theseus professing his love for Hippolyta, a love that was born in the battlefield and overcame enmity and hatred. Hermia and Lysander stand for a love that faces hardships, but remains constant and true. Helena's love for Demetrius does not change, even when he deserts her. Demetrius is the inconstant lover who shifts his attention from Helena to Hermia and back to Helena.
The minor theme is that the course of true love never runs smoothly. This is seen when Hermia is forbidden to marry Lysander and when Demetrius deserts Helena.
The prevailing mood of this comedy is light and romantic. Throughout the play, there is love, humor, music, song, and dance. The presence of the fairies and a general atmosphere of fantasy add to the charm and light-hearted nature of the play.
Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado About Nothing (a Later Festive Comedy)
Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare, is a delightful comedy, which plays out a number of Shakespeare's best loved themes: confusion between lovers, the battle of the sexes, and the restoration of love and marriage.
The total unpredictability of love is at the heart of Much Ado About Nothing. Every attempt to corral love or thwart romance ends in failure and becomes a simple case of "much ado about nothing."
The mood of the play is a unique mixture of seriousness, gaiety, and sparkling wit. It opens on victory in battle, then love and romance. The promise of an upcoming wedding causes some excitement and happiness. The play is replete with clever, fun- loving repartee between Beatrice and Benedick, who are irresistibly appealing in the way they fight so hard not to be in love. At certain junctures, the mood is heavy with the gravity of certain situations. Hero's reputation and even her life are in jeopardy. Certain injustices happen that threatens the sparkling comedy of the love stories. In the end, though, sobriety gives way to visual color, revelry, dances, and weddings.
With Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare also creates the first example of the romantic generic convention of the two romantic leads that love to hate each other. That they are "tricked" into loving each other is only possible because that love already resides in their hearts. They use their mutual animosity to cover their true feelings.
In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare affirms the power of romantic love (and, in particular, the possible fruitfulness of marriage) over the dominion of death. Love--and only love--can overcome all the problems and difficulties that life provides.
Sometimes, the play is delightful in its comic word play. Other times, Much Ado About Nothing is a powerful love story. The work is one of Shakespeare's most serious comedies, and also one of his most human. The back-and-forth between Benedick and Beatrice, and the triumphant finale in which the divine grace of love is celebrated has had a feel-good effect on its audience down the centuries. Beautifully written, and beautiful in its conception, Much Ado About Nothing, is one of Shakespeare's most delightful plays.
Tempest - a Romance
The Tempest, by William Shakespeare, was his final play. The Tempest is considered one of Shakespeare's greatest works. Neither tragedy, nor comedy, the play is sometimes classified as a romance because of its concentration on family, reconciliation, and the divine power of mercy to end conflict.
The major theme of The Tempest is charity and reconciliation. First, Gonzalo helps Prospero by providing him with food, drink, and books on magic. When Alonso laments the supposed death of his son, it is Gonzalo who consoles Alonso by saying that the island may yet be kind to him and his men. In addition to the charity of Gonzalo, Prospero is compassionate and forgiving. After making his enemies repent for their sins, Prospero shows no vengeance, but graciously and mercifully forgives them. Ferdinand and Miranda, the young lovers in the play, act as the instruments of reconciliation.
The minor themes of the play include nature versus civilization, submission to one another and authority, and the illusion versus reality.
The main mood of the play is enchanting and light. The magical island gives way to sudden music and a general expectation that anything can happen. The love between Ferdinand and Miranda reinforces the light and lovely mood. At times, however, the mood becomes more serious, as when the murderous plot between Sebastian and Antonio is born. At other times, the mood becomes comical, as when Stephano comes upon Trinculo hidden in Caliban's cloak.
The Tempest is a play of extraordinary power--with some of the most beautiful poetry that Shakespeare has written. Even Caliban, who is supposed to be the villain, speaks in praise of the beautiful island that gives him a certain dignity. His final work, and one in which he shows that his power for drama was undiminished by age, The Tempest is a truly beautiful tale, woven by the English language's greatest proponent.