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Renaissance and Reformation William Shakespeare
by
David Bevington

Introduction

Widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and perhaps in the world, Shakespeare holds enduring interest for scholars and general readers for his insight into human passions, his reflections on political greatness and failure, and his perceptions of the varieties of social, domestic, and sexual relationships and resolutions; as such, Shakespeare has been the subject of intense and varied critical study. This highly selective entry attempts to organize those studies into meaningful categories of interest: biography, ideas, cultural practices, gender, politics, religion, style and language, performance history, and more.

Reference Works

Spevack 1973 is an invaluable concordance, linked to the Riverside Shakespeare series, in which one can identify every word in all of Shakespeare. Williams 1994 is a dictionary of sexual language in Shakespeare. Abbott 2003 surveys Shakespeare’s use of grammar. Schmidt 1980 is a lexicon and quotation dictionary available online as part of the Perseus Digital Library. Onions 1986 glosses every significant term in Shakespeare, indicating how usage and definition differ from modern usages where that is the case. Chambers 1988 is a storehouse of information about Shakespeare. The websites Internet Shakespeare Editions, Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet, and The Shakespeare Collection are portals to online Shakespeare resources, texts, documents, and other aids.

Bibliographies

Bevington 1978, McManaway and Roberts 1975, and Wells 1973 are useful for studies up to the 1970s. More recent information is available online from the Shakespeare Association of America (focused on Shakespeare), and from the regularly updated World Shakespeare Bibliography Online.

Journals

Although important Shakespeare studies are found in every major journal devoted to English literature or the Renaissance period, three journals are specifically dedicated to Shakespeare. Shakespeare Quarterly is the premier journal of Shakespeare studies. Shakespeare Bulletin is primarily dedicated to performance criticism. Shakespeare Studies is an international journal for Shakespeare-related essays and criticism.

Texts and Textual Studies

Listed here are only a few important samples of recent textual studies, reflecting the methodological revolution that has undertaken to supplant, in the last thirty years or so, the so-called New Bibliography of W. W. Greg, Fredson Bowers, and others that prevailed in the earlier years of the 20th century. Kliman and Bertram 2003 offers ways for readers to compare the three early texts of Hamlet. Jowett 2007 offers a lucid introduction to textual studies for those who are new to the subject. Taylor and Warren 1983 is a collection of essays on the important differences in the two early texts of King Lear, emphasizing Shakespeare’s role as reviser of his own plays. Marcus 1996 challenges the authority of the standard editions of Shakespeare and points to the possibilities of new readings provided by a process of “unediting.”

Shakespeare’s Life

Shakespeare has inevitably attracted the attention of many biographers. The following selective list extends from scholarly treatment of the documentary evidence, such as Schoenbaum 1975 and Honan 1998, to speculations about what can be learned about Shakespeare as a person from his writings, as explored in Greenblatt 2004, Weis 2007, and Greer 2007. All are highly readable. Greenblatt 2004 places a good deal of emphasis on the question of whether Shakespeare was Catholic and looks at him as a person who was socially ambitious to become a gentleman. Weis 2007 speculates about Shakespeare’s sexual orientation. Greer 2007 mounts a defense of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne, against male critics like Greenblatt and Weis who argue that the marriage was unsuccessful. Ackroyd 2005 is comprehensive. Duncan-Jones 2001 takes a hard look at evidence of Shakespeare’s not having been as gentle and good-natured as commonly supposed. Wells 1995 focuses on Shakespeare as a man of the theater.

  • Ackroyd, Peter. Shakespeare: The Biography. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2005.

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    A comprehensive and readable study of Shakespeare by the author of biographies of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, William Blake, Thomas More, and Geoffrey Chaucer.

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  • Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from His Life. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2001.

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    An avowedly revisionist view of the dramatist, exploring evidence of his apparent litigiousness and reluctance to divert much of his considerable wealth to charitable causes, his ill health, his interest in male-to-male emotional relationships, and more.

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  • Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. New York: Norton, 2004.

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    A very readable account of how a lad from a provincial town came to be the greatest dramatist of all time, with interesting speculations about his desire to be a gentleman and his purported fascination with Catholicism.

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  • Greer, Germaine. Shakespeare’s Wife. London: Bloomsbury, 2007.

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    A sustained challenge to what Greer sees as the customary male insistence that Shakespeare was trapped in a loveless marriage with an older and shrewish wife.

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  • Honan, Park. Shakespeare: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    A detailed, judicious account of what is known about Shakespeare: his early courtship of Anne Hathaway, their marriage, his attitudes toward women, his relationship to his two daughters, his loss of his only son, and much more.

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  • Schoenbaum, S. William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.

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    An impressive collection of the documents attesting to Shakespeare’s life, including his last will and testament; with large photographic reproductions and detailed analysis. Also available is a useful abbreviated version: William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977). Also see William Shakespeare: Records and Images (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981).

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  • Weis, René. Shakespeare Revealed: A Biography. London: John Murray, 2007.

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    A biography that willingly speculates about the dramatist’s purported bisexual or homosexual relationships and fascinations.

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  • Wells, Stanley. Shakespeare: A Life in Drama. New York: Norton, 1995.

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    A study of Shakespeare’s dramatic craftsmanship, accessible to the nonspecialist.

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Development as a Theater Artist

These essays range across Shakespeare’s career, focusing not so much on the biography as on recurring thematic elements that coalesce to provide insights into the way Shakespeare developed as a dramatist. Bate 2009 is a very readable and insightful study of ways in which we can attempt to read the mind of Shakespeare in what he wrote. Bevington 2005 applies the commonplace of the seven ages of human experience to Shakespeare’s portrayal of life and society. Bloom 1998 is a popular book focusing on what is great about Shakespeare’s best-known characters. Barber and Wheeler 1986 approaches the development of Shakespeare’s art from a psychoanalytic viewpoint; the same is basically true of Wheeler 1981. Kastan 1999 is a wide-ranging collection on all sorts of aspects of Shakespeare’s art. Rabkin 1984 looks at contradictory interpretations of some great plays.

  • Barber, C. L., and Richard P. Wheeler. The Whole Journey: Shakespeare’s Power of Development. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

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    A compelling psychoanalytic study of the way in which family-based stresses intersect with the social, political, and religious tensions of the early modern period to give shape to Shakespeare’s development as an artist.

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  • Bate, Jonathan. Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare. New York: Random House, 2009.

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    A stimulating inquiry into the mind of Shakespeare as he progressed from infancy and early schoolboy experiences to the tribulations and excitement of romantic love and marriage to success in his career, a deepening of wisdom, anxiety about aging, the end of his career as a writer, and the approach of death.

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  • Bevington, David. Shakespeare: The Seven Ages of Human Experience. 2d ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

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    A study of Shakespeare’s progress as a writer through the Seven Ages as enunciated by Jaques in As You Like It, 2.7: infancy, early schooling, courtship, soldiership, mature career, old age, and the “mere oblivion” of death.

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  • Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead, 1998.

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    A reading of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, including Falstaff, Cleopatra, Hamlet, Macbeth, and others, aimed at the general reader and eschewing postmodern interpretive method in favor of a tradition now largely out of fashion—that of Samuel Johnson, William Hazlitt, A. C. Bradley, and Harold Goddard.

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  • Kastan, David Scott, ed. A Companion to Shakespeare. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999.

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    A comprehensive collection of essays on all aspects of Shakespeare: the man, his contemporary culture, his reading and writing, the performance and printing of his plays, and the myths that have grown up around him.

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  • Kernan, Alvin B. The Playwright as Magician: Shakespeare’s Image of the Poet in the English Public Theater. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979.

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    An evocative study of images of the poet in the Sonnets, The Taming of the Shrew, Love’s Labour’s Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1 Henry IV, Hamlet, King Lear, and The Tempest.

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  • Rabkin, Norman. Shakespeare and the Common Understanding. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

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    An exploration of complementarity in Shakespeare, in which “radically opposed and equally total commitments to the meaning of life coexist in a single harmonious vision.” With close attention to Troilus and Cressida, Othello, Richard II, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, Venus and Adonis, Romeo and Juliet, Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest. Originally published in 1967 (New York: Free Press).

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  • Wheeler, Richard P. Shakespeare’s Development and the Problem Comedies: Turn and Counter-Turn. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

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    An astute psychoanalytic analysis of All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure as occupying a critical position in Shakespeare’s development between the festive comedies and the late plays, as the author moves from representations of marriage and reconciliations of emotional conflicts toward more deeply problematic and less easily resolved dilemmas.

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Shakespeare’s Ideas: Philosophy, Meaning, Ideology

Several books cited in this section register their concern with meaning in Shakespeare (as does Goddard 1951) or, in Burckhardt 1968, meanings, laying emphasis on multiplicity and ambiguity of interpretation. Similar ranges of possibility are found here in explorations of Shakespeare’s ideas, or of his thought or his role as thinker (Nutall 2007). Harbage 1947 sees Shakespeare as a great moralist, appealing to the mores of his day. Goddard 1951 similarly views Shakespeare as an exponent of great ideas in Western culture; he insists that we can read clear meanings in the plays and poems. Burckhardt 1968 searches instead for multiple interpretations. Nutall 2007 too finds meaning elusive and multiform in a thinker as subtle as Shakespeare. Bate 1998 attempts to explain Shakespeare’s genius by seeing him as a writer who captured the essence of what makes Great Britain great. Zeeveld 1974 looks at Shakespeare’s ideas in terms of public controversies of his day.

Shakespeare on Political, Cultural, and Economic Issues

Few topics are as controversial as that of Shakespeare’s supposed political orientation: was he a conservative, as William Hazlitt and George Bernard Shaw, among others, have maintained, or can he be enlisted on the side of liberal ideologies of his own day and in ours? Kott 1964, written from the experience of having lived behind the Iron Curtain in Poland, sees Shakespeare as thoroughly attuned to issues of social protest that are so current today. Kamps 1991 provides a collection of essays that look at Shakespeare from a conservative and then from a liberal perspective. Patterson 1989 is also persuaded that Shakespeare was a progressive whose views can be viewed sympathetically from a modern liberal perspective. Schalkwyk 2008 highlights the loving bonds between masters and servants in the plays, thus featuring interclass relationships that rival sexual or familial ones. Loomba and Orkin 1998 explores Shakespeare from the perspective of postcolonial ideology in Third World countries. Marcus 1998 sees Shakespeare as engaging with feminist issues and question of power relations. Engle 1993 sees Shakespeare from the perspective of modern economic and philosophical thought. Weimann 1978 is written from the point of view of a Marxist living and teaching in East Berlin in the days of the Iron Curtain divide. Watson 1984 focuses its attention on ambition as a dominant issue in Shakespeare’s history plays and some tragedies.

  • Engle, Lars. Shakespearean Pragmatism: Market of His Time. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

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    Argues that issues of price, worth, and value are for Shakespeare negotiable and contingent factors, expressing our most powerful perceptions and beliefs—indeed, our very purchase on reality.

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  • Kamps, Ivo, ed. Shakespeare Left and Right. New York: Routledge, 1991.

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    A lively debate about Shakespeare’s ideology: Was it left or right?

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  • Kott, Jan. Shakespeare, Our Contemporary. Translated by Boreslaw Taborski. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964.

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    A revisionist view of Shakespeare as a critic of war and oppressive political power, informed by Kott’s own experience of having lived in Poland during the years of the Iron Curtain. Subsequent editions are available.

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  • Loomba, Ania, and Martin Orkin, eds. Post-Colonial Shakespeares. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.

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    A collection of new essays on questions raised by postcolonial analysis such as issues of race and hybridity in Israel, India, South Africa, and around the world.

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  • Marcus, Leah S. Puzzling Shakespeare: Local Reading and Its Discontents. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

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    A powerful study of Shakespeare’s topical contexts: the controversy over women occupying thrones, ritual burnings of royal images, dispute over the Jacobean line of succession, the status of the “Post Nati” in the disputed “marriage” of England and Scotland under King James, the city of London’s attempts to reaffirm its liberties, dangerous comparisons of London to Vienna, and much more.

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  • Patterson, Annabel. Shakespeare and the Popular Voice. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1989.

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    An iconoclastic challenge to the common view that Shakespeare was antidemocratic.

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  • Schalkwyk, David. Shakespeare, Love, and Service. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

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    A compelling study of mutually loving relationships between servants and masters in Shakespeare, which sometimes offer a more pure and selfless adoration than is found in erotic or marital relationships, as in King Lear and The Tempest.

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  • Watson, Robert N. Shakespeare and the Hazards of Ambition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.

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    A study of ambition and its consequences across different genres, especially in the history plays, in Macbeth and Coriolanus, and in The Winter’s Tale.

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  • Weimann, Robert. Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater: Studies in the Social Dimension of Dramatic Form and Function. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

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    A Marxist dialectical study of Shakespeare in his social and economic environment as a writer of plays for the popular theater, responding to rapidly changing movements in staging design, outdoor and indoor acting, platea and locus, folk traditions, and much else.

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Feminist and Gender Issues

Feminist and gender studies have made major contributions to Shakespeare criticism in the last three decades or so, with Dusinberre 1996 as a harbinger of the movement. The publication of Lenz, et al 1980 was also a landmark event, the first such collection of feminist essays. Smith 2000 represents the increasing attention being paid to gay studies in Shakespeare. Howard and Rackin 1997 illustrates how feminist criticism can interact insightfully with New Historicist methodology; the authors look at feminist issues in political terms of patriarchal control, women rulers like Queen Elizabeth I, and the public versus the private sphere. Novy 1984 focuses on gender relations and the question of whether women in the Renaissance had control over their lives, while Neely 2004 explores the connections between madness and gender. Paster 2004 focuses on the human body and especially that of the woman, relating bodily fluids to emotion. Callaghan, et al. 1994 combines psychoanalytical insight with an interpretation of the history of sexuality.

  • Callaghan, Dympna C., Lorraine Helms, and Jyotsna Singh. The Weyward Sisters: Shakespeare and Feminist Politics. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.

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    An exploration of Shakespeare’s work in terms of feminist history of sexuality, the ideology of romantic love, and feminist interventions in performance, drawing on cultural history, psychoanalysis, and performance history.

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  • Dusinberre, Juliet. Shakespeare and the Nature of Women. 2d ed. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1996.

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    First published in 1975, this was the first full-length feminist analysis of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, arguing that Puritan teaching on sexual and spiritual equality brought the status of women into a newly negotiated prominence, with the boy actor on stage fostering awareness of gender as performance.

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  • Erickson, Peter. Patriarchal Structures in Shakespeare’s Drama. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

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    A study of patriarchy in its benevolent and ruthless forms. Shakespeare supports social harmony presided over by benevolent patriarchal control while showing the deleterious effects of tyrannical patriarchy.

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  • Howard, Jean E., and Phyllis Rackin. Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare’s English Histories. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

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    A study of ways in which the history plays helped produce “traditional” distinctions between male and female in our culture, and between the public and private spheres.

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  • Lenz, Carolyn Ruth Swift, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely, eds. The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980.

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    A pioneering collection of essay in what was then (1980) a new and fascinating method of analysis.

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  • Neely, Carol Thomas. Distracted Subjects: Madness and Gender in Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004.

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    Examines cases of madness in Shakespeare’s plays and in the surrounding culture, a disorder often suffered by women portrayed as melancholic or hysterical.

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  • Novy, Marianne. Love’s Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.

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    An exploration of drama’s unique gift for expressing sexual conflicts in a society, in this instance dealing with questions as to whether men should rule women, whether marriage should be a relationship of partnership and friendship, whether society is correct in associating the emotional side of human nature with women, and whether women in Renaissance England were destined to feel powerless and estranged.

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  • Paster, Gail Kern. Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

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    A focus on the language of emotions in Shakespearean drama as representative of the way people thought about embodied emotions in early modern English culture. This book sees the history of the body as a history of ways of inhabiting the world.

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  • Smith, Bruce R. Shakespeare and Masculinity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    A lucid introduction to a question of considerable critical interest today, growing out of Smith’s earlier work in his Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare’s England: A Cultural Poetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

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Psychoanalytic Studies

Psychoanalytic studies often share a common interest with feminist criticism; see Feminist and Gender Issues and Adelman 1992, Garber 1981, Garner and Sprengnether 1996, Kahn 1981, and Neely 1985. Both methodologies also reach out profitably to sociological and anthropological criticism. Adelman 1992 is especially concerned with the frail ego of the male as his discovery of masculine identity is inexorably caught up in fears of a dominating female presence in his mother and other women. Garber 1981 approaches the question by way of anthropological issues, including the rites of passage by which both women and men pass through perilous transitions of falling in love, marrying, loss, and death. Kahn 1981 focuses also on the fraught matter of achieving sexual identity, focusing here on the male. Garner and Sprengnether 1996 is an insightful anthology of essays that includes many of the names on this list. Holland and Paris 1989 is also an anthology, focusing in this instance on ways of gaining insight into Shakespeare’s personality. Neely 1985 emphasizes conflict in marriage. Schwartz and Kahn 1980 is a collection of essays centering on the development of Shakespeare’s dramatic identity. Skura 1993 proposes, challengingly, that actors are usually narcissistic and that narcissism may be a key to Shakespeare’s own identity as a person of the theater.

  • Adelman, Janet. Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare’s Plays, Hamlet to The Tempest. New York: Routledge, 1992.

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    A compelling and innovative set of readings about the maternal body and the construction of masculinity in Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, Othello, All’s Well That Ends Well, King Lear, Macbeth, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Antony and Cleopatra, and the late romances.

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  • Garber, Marjorie. Coming of Age in Shakespeare. London: Methuen, 1981.

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    An anthropologically, psychologically, and sociologically based study of rites of passage in Shakespeare: patterns of growth, maturation, change, and personal crisis as humans progress from the primal family to courtship, sexual initiation, marriage, childbearing, and old age.

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  • Garner, Shirley Nelson, and Madelon Sprengnether, eds. Shakespearean Tragedy and Gender. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

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    A valuable collection of essays on tragedy by the editors and by Phyllis Rackin, Carol Thomas Neely, Janet Adelman, Coppélia Kahn, Lena Cowen Orlin, Margo Hendricks, Mary Beth Rose, Linda Charnes, Gayle Greene, and others.

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  • Holland, Norman N., Sidney Homan, and Bernard J. Paris, eds. Shakespeare’s Personality. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

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    A search for the person of Shakespeare by means of psychological techniques, thereby discovering a man who, finding women both tempting and dangerous, submerged his aggressive tendencies by bonding with men and by learning to live through others in his art.

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  • Kahn, Coppélia. Man’s Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

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    A psychological and psychoanalytic exploration of the difficulties encountered by Shakespeare’s male protagonists in achieving male identity in a patriarchal world, as the young males, assailed by the fears and fantasies inculcated in them through cultural experience, must learn to separate themselves from their mothers and establish individual selves.

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  • Neely, Carol Thomas. Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare’s Plays. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.

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    A feminist and psychological study of marriage as a crucial relationship in Shakespeare, troubled by separations, postponements, premature consummations, bed-trick substitutions, mock deaths, parodic enactments, and still more.

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  • Schwartz, Murray M., and Coppélia Kahn, eds. Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980.

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    A focus on the development of Shakespeare’s dramatic identity, with essays on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, Coriolanus, Hamlet, and other plays, by the editors and by Norman N. Holland, David Sundelson, Leonard Tennenhouse, Joel Fineman, David Levernz, Janet Adelman, Richard P. Wheeler, Madelon Gohlke, C. L. Barber, Meredith Skura, and David Willbern.

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  • Skura, Meredith Anne. Shakespeare the Actor and the Purposes of Playing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

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    An exciting, controversial assertion that Shakespeare, like actors of all ages and times, was both attracted to and repelled by the narcissistic nature of his profession. Acting was for him both fulfilling and humiliating.

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Source Studies

Studies of Shakespeare’s sources, once regarded as inclining to the pedantic, have turned profitably to explorations of myth (Bate 1993) and to the lively questions of what Shakespeare was reading and what he made of it. Bullough 1957-1975, a multivolume collection, is the most comprehensive, covering all of the plays and providing more than one source for each where appropriate. Bate 1993 and Taylor 2000 study Shakespeare’s indebtedness to Ovid. Robert Miola, over three books, surveys Shakespeare’s classical heritage: Plautus and Terence for comedy (Miola 1994), Seneca for tragedy (Miola 1992), and, more generally, Shakespeare’s reading across his entire career (Miola 2000).

Style and Language

Shakespeare was an incomparably great dramatist; he also excelled as a poet and as a writer of virile, flexible prose. These studies look at his mastery of the arts of language. Of these studies, Miriam Joseph 1947 is the most technical in its approach to the history of rhetoric. Parker 1996, conversely, is postmodern and deconstructive in its subtle perceptions about Shakespeare’s language. Mahood 1957 is the place to go for a study of wordplay, punning, and the like. Kermode 2000 provides the nonspecialist with an insightful approach to Shakespeare’s language. McDonald 2001 also offers a broadly based approach for the general reader. Spurgeon 1999 is the classic study of Shakespeare’s images and patterns. Vickers 1978 looks at Shakespeare’s prose as an art form. Wright 1988 is the best overview of Shakespeare as an unsurpassed master of metrical language.

  • Kermode, Frank. Shakespeare’s Language. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000.

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    This book eschews prevailing modes of criticism in order to address nonprofessional audiences who are interested in Shakespeare’s language, especially his dramatic verse. With extensive reflections on the late plays: Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, Measure for Measure, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and the late romances.

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  • Mahood, M. M. Shakespeare’s Wordplay. London: Methuen, 1957.

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    A study of Shakespeare’s elegant and inventive devices of playing with language: quibbles, puns, double entendres, and the like.

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  • McDonald, Russ. Shakespeare and the Arts of Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    A readable and helpful overview of word patterns, imagery, metrical development, prose style, punning and other wordplay, and rhetorical effectiveness.

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  • Miriam Joseph, Sister. Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language. New York: Columbia University Press, 1947.

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    A taxonomy of Shakespeare’s use of rhetorical topics of invention, like auxesis, hyperbole, meiosis, dirimens copulatio, catacosmesis, paradiastole, epanorthosis, exergasia or expolitio, enumeratio, synathroesmus, epiphonema, epanodos, prolepsis, peristasis, and many more, illustrated from the Shakespeare text and defined as figures of speech. Partly reprinted in Rhetoric in Shakespeare’s Time: Literary Theory of Renaissance Europe (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1962). Reprinted in 1966 (New York: Hafner) and 2005 (Philadelphia: Paul Dry).

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  • Parker, Patricia. Shakespeare from the Margins: Language, Culture, Context. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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    Brilliant deconstructive analyses, rich with discursive complexity, devoted to the critical business of discovering unexpected linkages within the Shakespeare corpus and between the plays and their contemporary culture.

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  • Spurgeon, Caroline F. E. Shakespeare’s Imagery, and What It Tells Us. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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    An influential study of Shakespeare’s recurrent image patterns: light and darkness, physical disease, the human body, weapons, gardens, domestic implements, heavenly bodies, weather and meteorological events, fire and water, rivers and oceans, birds and animals, books, mothers and babes, and much more, as the composite portrait of a poet’s mind. Originally published in 1934 (Boston: Beacon).

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  • Vickers, Brian. The Artistry of Shakespeare’s Prose. London: Methuen, 1978.

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    An insightful demonstration that Shakespeare was unexcelled among writers not just in his verse but in his prose. Originally published in 1968.

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  • Wright, George T. Shakespeare’s Metrical Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

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    A wide-ranging analysis of Shakespeare’s place in the great tradition of Renaissance English poetry from Chaucer and Sidney to Milton, with an examination of his sonnets and other lyric verse together with the verse of Shakespeare’s theater.

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Shakespeare and his Contemporaries in the Theater

The nature of Shakespeare’s genius can be seen when he is compared with his contemporaries, not simply as a way of showing his superiority in many ways as a writer but, more importantly, to see how he thrived in an extraordinary literary culture that produced such immortal tragedies as Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi. Harbage 1952 sees Shakespeare as a great crowd pleaser, superb at talking to his audience in terms they understood and loved, and hence quite different from the more modish and selective writers of the private theaters like Marston. Bednarz 2001 similarly sees Shakespeare as a dramatist of the popular theater in a time of intense theatrical rivalry. In a more modern vein, Dollimore 1984 sees Shakespeare as a radical, sharing his views on society with Middleton and other Renaissance dramatist. Greenblatt 1980 is a landmark book inaugurating the postmodern world of New Historicism, here comparing Shakespeare to other great writers of the period. Hamlin 2005 situates Shakespeare’s skeptical thinking in the context of early modern thought. Mullaney 1988 places Shakespeare’s theater in the world of London’s suburbs, where just about anything went. Cruttwell 1970 offers a large view of Shakespeare as belonging to an age in which other writers also strove for a visionary sense of a golden moment. Sullivan 2005 places Shakespeare’s treatment of memory and fame in the context of great plays by Webster, Marlowe, and others.

  • Bednarz, James P. Shakespeare and the Poets’ War. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

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    A study of poetic and theatrical rivalry beginning in 1599 and involving Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, Thomas Dekker, and John Marston, known as the Poets’ War, embedded in a network of self-reflexive plays interlinked by patterns of literary allusion and personal satire.

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  • Cruttwell, Patrick. The Shakespearean Moment and Its Place in the Poetry of the 17th Century. London: Chatto and Windus, 1970.

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    A study of Shakespeare’s place in the poetic revolution of the 1590s, initiated in good part by him and John Donne, based on shifts of thought and feeling in the society to which these poets belonged, and having important repercussions for style and subject matter in the following years of the 17th century. Originally published in 1953.

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  • Dollimore, Jonathan. Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology, and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

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    A Marxist and cultural-materialist approach to some great Renaissance tragedies, including Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus, Jonson’s Sejanus, Chapman’s Bussy D’Ambois, Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy, and Webster’s The White Devil, on issues of statecraft, providentialism vs. history, natural law, Jacobean displacement of the subject, humanism, skepticism, and more. Updated third edition published in 2010 (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan).

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  • Greenblatt, Stephen. Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

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    Argues that Renaissance England saw profound changes in the intellectual, social, psychological, and aesthetic structures that governed the creation of identities. These changes were profoundly dialectical, placing great stress on the individual will by means of a new social mobility making possible a new assertion of power in the family and in the state.

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  • Harbage, Alfred. Shakespeare and the Rival Traditions. New York: Macmillan, 1952.

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    An analysis of duality in Elizabethan drama, insisting on the distinction between Shakespeare, Dekker, Heywood, and other popular dramatists who wrote for the adult players in the public theaters, on the one hand, and Marston, Jonson and others who tended to write for the juvenile companies performing their satirical plays in indoor theaters for sophisticated audiences, on the other.

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  • Hamlin, William M. Tragedy and Scepticism in Shakespeare’s England. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

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    An interdisciplinary study of the reception and literary appropriation of classical skepticism in Renaissance England, primarily in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, Marston’s The Malcontent, Cary’s Mariam, Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil, and Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore.

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  • Mullaney, Steven. The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

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    A compelling study of the emergence of Elizabethan popular theater in a contradictory world of licensed maintenance by the Court and strenuous opposition from the London municipal authorities, with the result that many theaters located themselves in the “Liberties” of the suburbs surrounding London, where those playhouses often stood cheek by jowl with leprosariums, whorehouses, and other places of “license.”

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  • Sullivan, Garrett A., Jr. Memory and Forgetting in English Renaissance Drama: Shakespeare, Marlowe, Webster. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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    A study of oblivion and the desire for lasting fame in Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well and Antony and Cleopatra, as well as in Doctor Faustus and The Duchess of Malfi.

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Shakespeare in Performance

This section has four components: London Theaters, Acting Companies, and Audiences; Shakespeare’s plays in Performance on the Elizabethan Stage; Shakespeare in Theater History; and Shakespeare in Film, Television, and Video.

London Theaters, Acting Companies, and Audiences

Much innovative work has been done in recent years on the physical environment in which Shakespeare had to work: the size and capabilities of the playhouse, the composition of his audience, the organization of the acting company to which he chiefly belonged, and the pressures exerted on his company by the culture to which they belonged. Gurr 1970 and Gurr 1996 are highly informative on Shakespeare’s stage and acting company. King 1992 and King 1971 focus on the actors and how they staged Shakespeare’s plays. Cook 1981 concerns itself with sharpening our sense of the social composition of Shakespeare’s audience. Knutson 2001 and Knutson 1991 are similarly expert on Shakespeare’s acting company and its repertory. Barroll 1991 astutely shows how the performing of plays in London in Shakespeare’s day had to deal with the huge and recurring problem of plague.

  • Barroll, Leeds. Politics, Plague, and Shakespeare’s Theater: The Stuart Years. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

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    A compelling account of the difficulties that Shakespeare and his acting company faced in attempting to perform plays in the plague-filled years of 1603–1613 especially, obliging Shakespeare to cease writing at times and then produce work prolifically when performance was possible.

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  • Cook, Ann Jennalie. The Privileged Playgoers of Shakespeare’s London, 1576–1642. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.

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    A convincing use of demographic, sociological, and economic data to show that Shakespeare wrote for the well-to-do, including no doubt some prentices of the prosperous London guilds, and not chiefly for London’s plebeian poor. His audience was socioeconomically diverse, to be sure, but not as inclusively as was formerly supposed.

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  • Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearean Stage, 1574–1642. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

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    An influential and well-informed account of companies, players, playhouses, staging, and audience in Shakespeare’s London. Fourth edition published in 2009.

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  • Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearian Playing Companies. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

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    A detailed history of the London acting companies from the 1560s to 1642, organized by companies.

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  • King, T. J. Shakespearean Staging, 1599–1642. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971.

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    A systematic survey of theatrical requirements for 276 plays originally performed in London between 1599, when the Globe Theater opened, and 1642, when the theaters were shut down in England by the Puritan authorities.

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  • King, T. J. Casting Shakespeare’s Plays: London Actors and Their Roles, 1590–1642. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

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    A reconstruction of the size and composition of the acting companies needed to perform Shakespeare’s plays.

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  • Knutson, Roslyn Lander. The Repertory of Shakespeare’s Company, 1594–1613. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991.

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    A careful study of the repertory system, and of the repertory of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, who then became the King’s Men in 1603.

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  • Knutson, Roslyn Lander. Playing Companies and Commerce in Shakespeare’s Time. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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    An examination of commercial relations among theater companies in the London of Shakespeare’s day, arguing that they cooperated to their mutual benefit (rather than engaging in cutthroat competition, as has been usually assumed).

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Performance on the Elizabethan Stage

The productive scholarship listed above on Shakespeare’s playhouse, company, and audience has made possible a more accurate and enlightened sense of how his plays would have been staged in his own day. Beckerman 1962 takes a close look at the ways in which Shakespeare’s plays would have been put on stage. Bevington 1984 focuses on theatrical imagery. Dessen 1995 is expert on the language of theater in Shakespeare’s day. Granville-Barker 19461947 and Granville-Barker 1974 approach the problem from the point of view of a highly successful director in the early 20th century. McGuire and Samuelson 1979 is a collection of essays on performance by a distinguished list of scholars and theater experts.

  • Beckerman, Bernard. Shakespeare at the Globe, 1599–1609. New York: Macmillan, 1962.

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    A masterful reconstruction of dramaturgy, stage, acting, and staging in original performances at the Globe Theater.

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  • Bevington, David. Action Is Eloquence: Shakespeare’s Language of Gesture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.

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    A study of visual imagery in the theater: staging, costuming, hand props, and gesture, all constituting a language of its own.

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  • Dessen, Alan C. Recovering Shakespeare’s Theatrical Vocabulary. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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    An investigation of what playgoers actually saw in Shakespeare’s day, and how we can try to determine that sort of information accurately. The vocabulary here is one of thrones, beds, books, costumes, and the like.

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  • Goldman, Michael. Shakespeare and the Energies of Drama. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972.

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    Argues that Shakespeare’s plays are designs for theatrical experiences, ones that rely on visual possibilities in the theater, on crowd scenes and battle sequences, and much more.

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  • Granville-Barker, Harley. Prefaces to Shakespeare. 2 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1946–1947.

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    An exploration of stagecraft, play by play, of many of Shakespeare’s greatest works, by an important dramatist, actor, and producer in his own right, intended to make Shakespeare “alive” in the theater. Includes studies of Hamlet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, and others. First published 1927–1930.

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  • Granville-Barker, Harley. More Prefaces to Shakespeare. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.

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    More explorations of stagecraft, published posthumously, by the author of Prefaces to Shakespeare (Granville-Barker 1946-1947). Includes A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Winter’s Tale, Twelfth Night, and others.

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  • McGuire, Philip C., and David A. Samuelson, eds. Shakespeare: The Theatrical Dimension. New York: AMS, 1979.

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    Essays on performance of Shakespeare in his own time and more recently, by the editors and by Barbara Hodgdon, Marvin Rosenberg, Miriam Gilbert, Stephen Booth, J. L. Styan, Bernard Beckerman, John Russell Brown, and others.

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Theater History

These studies explore the extraordinary extent to which Shakespeare’s plays in production have been transformed by directors and audiences in ways that reflect the cultures for which they were created. Odell 1920 is an early classic on stage history, anecdotal and amusing. Hogan 19521957 offers a wealth of documents on the 18th century, some of it technical. Bevington 2007 brings the subject more up to date. Barton 1984 comes at stage history from the author’s experience as a director. Brockbank 1985, written by a scholar, consists of interviews with persons from the practical world of theater. So do Rutter 1989 and Rutter 2001, here from a feminist perspective interested in actresses on the modern stage. Palfrey and Stern 2007 approaches theater history from the perspective of actors’ parts.

  • Barton, John. Playing Shakespeare. London: Methuen, 1984.

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    An account based on Barton’s experience as director for the Royal Shakespeare Company of Stratford-upon-Avon, comparing Elizabethan and modern acting, heightened vs. naturalistic delivery of verse, set speeches, soliloquies, and so on, intended especially for actors seeking advice on how to handle Shakespeare’s text and verse, but no less valuable for readers and playgoers.

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  • Bevington, David. This Wide and Universal Theater: Shakespeare in Performance Then and Now. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

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    A study of productions of Shakespeare in his own day and in the centuries since then, illustrating how an awareness of stagecraft can enrich and illuminate our reading of the texts.

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  • Brockbank, Philip, ed. Players of Shakespeare: Essays in Shakespearean Performance by Twelve Players with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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    Interviews of actors on prized roles in the theater: Patrick Stewart as Shylock, Sinéad Cusack as Portia, Donald Sinden as Malvolio, Tony Church as Polonius, Michael Pennington as Hamlet, Richard Pasco as Timon, David Suchet as Caliban, and others.

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  • Hogan, Charles B. Shakespeare in the Theatre, 1701–1800. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1952–1957.

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    A richly documented record of performances in London in the 18th century.

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  • Odell, George C. D. Shakespeare from Betterton to Irving. 2 vols. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920.

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    A lively, anecdotal chronicle of Shakespeare’s plays in the theater from the late 17th century down to the early years of the 20th century. Republished by Dover in 1966.

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  • Palfrey, Simon, and Tiffany Stern. Shakespeare in Parts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    An insightful analysis of Shakespeare’s plays from the vantage of actors’ parts, those portions of a play written out for the actor with just that actor’s lines and brief cues, often made into a roll that the actor could carry with him in rehearsal. How did such a theatrical practice shape the ways in which plays were written and presented?

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  • Rutter, Carol. Clamorous Voices: Shakespeare’s Women Today. New York: Routledge, 1989.

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    An account of ten years of women’s performances, based on conversations with Paola Dionisotti, Juliet Stevenson, Sinéad Cusack, Fiona Shaw, and Harriet Walter.

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  • Rutter, Carol Chillington. Enter the Body: Women and Representation on Shakespeare’s Stage. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.

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    A study of the work women’s bodies do when they appear on Shakespeare’s intensely body-conscious stage, as when we behold Ophelia dead in her grave, Cordelia dead in Lear’s arms, Cleopatra with her dark complexion, and Helen of Troy becoming an icon of infamous beauty.

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Film, Television, and Video

Listed here are various studies of the ways in which Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted for the screen since 1899, with insights as to which plays lend themselves well to these media and which have been produced less often in this fashion. The story begins with Ball 1968 on silent film up to 1920. Jorgens 1977 is an early classic on film interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays. Jackson 2007 is a valuable collection of essays covering every aspect of the subject. Brode 2000 is also a useful overview of film versions of the plays that have lent themselves well to film treatment. Rothwell 1999 and Rothwell and Melzer 1990 provide comprehensive archival material on as many film versions as they have been able to locate. Television history is covered by Bulman and Coursen 1988 and Willis 1991.

  • Ball, Robert Hamilton. Shakespeare on Silent Film: A Strange Eventful History. London: Allen and Unwin, 1968.

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    A comprehensive survey from the beginnings in 1899 up to 1920 and the advent of sound.

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  • Brode, Douglas. Shakespeare in the Movies: From the Silent Era to Shakespeare in Love. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    A study, chapter by chapter, of particular plays that have lent themselves well to film treatment: The Taming of the Shrew, Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the history plays from Richard II to Henry V, Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, King Lear, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest.

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  • Bulman, J. C., and H. R. Coursen, eds. Shakespeare on Television: An Anthology of Essays and Reviews. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1988.

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    A comprehensive survey up to 1985.

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  • Jackson, Russell, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    A collection of essays arranged according to genre (comedy, history, tragedy) and focused on important directors such as Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Grigori Kozintsev, Franco Zeffirelli, Kenneth Branagh, and others.

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  • Jorgens, Jack J. Shakespeare on Film. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977.

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    A classic early study on the subject, studying film versions as interpretations of the plays they depict.

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  • Rothwell, Kenneth S. A History of Shakespeare on Screen: A Century of Film and Television. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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    A comprehensive survey, from silent films to the eras of Olivier, Welles, Castellani, and Zeffirelli to the end of the century. With useful charts.

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  • Rothwell, Kenneth S., and Annabelle Henkin Melzer. Shakespeare on Screen: An International Filmography and Videography. New York: Neal-Schuman, 1990.

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    A comprehensive assemblage of documentary data for individual screen versions on country of origin, year of first showing, location, filming history, data on media, names of producers, directors, actors, distributors, and more.

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  • Willis, Susan. The BBC Shakespeare Plays: Making the Televised Canon. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

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    An illustrated history of the making of the BBC Shakespeare Series, from 1978 to 1985, under the direction of Jonathan Miller, Elijah Moshinsky, Jane Howell, Cedric Messina, and others.

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Reputation and Afterlife

Shakespeare lives on and is constantly being reinterpreted in biographical studies, in performance of his plays, and in the writings of many authors who have been inspired by him. Novy 1990 focuses on women writers and what Shakespeare has meant for them. Wells 2003 offers a comprehensive view of Shakespeare in the theater and in his personal life. Bevington 2010 examines the issues that have fascinated biographers: marriage, religion, political views, skepticism, and more.

The Romantic Comedies

The romantic comedies are generally from Shakespeare’s first decade of writing (during which he was also busily at work on English history), including The Comedy of Errors and Love’s Labours Lost down through Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. As he was writing the last of these romantic comedies some time around 1600, Shakespeare took up the challenge of his “problem plays” and tragedies. Dutton and Howard 2003 offers a large compendium of essays covering the whole subject. Leggatt 2002 and Leggatt 1974 are also broadly about romantic comedy, as is Berry 1984 and Berry 1972. Carroll 1985 focuses on theatrical transformation, disguise, and saturnalia. Frye 1995 is by an important theorist of comedy. Hunter 1965 offers a compelling thesis about the importance of forgiveness in Shakespearean comedy. Barber 1959 is important especially for its study of Falstaff as a comic figure.

  • Barber, C. L. Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959.

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    An influential study of Shakespeare’s comic drama (including the Falstaffian parts of the Henry IV plays) as having grown out of English folk festivals, with a resulting thematic emphasis on saturnalian inversion and the releasing spirit of liberty and folly, such as had been celebrated on May Day and Twelfth Night.

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  • Berry, Edward. Shakespeare’s Comic Rites. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

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    A study relating Shakespeare’s romantic comedies to Elizabethan social customs and to rites of initiation, courtship, and marriage, based in good part on the anthropological analyses of rites of passage by Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner.

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  • Berry, Ralph. Shakespeare’s Comedies: Explorations in Form. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972.

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    A close study of ten romantic comedies, seeking to identify and relate the governing idea of each play to the action that expresses it.

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  • Carroll, William C. The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean Comedy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985.

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    A perceptive study of theatrical transformations, especially in The Taming of the Shrew, The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

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  • Dutton, Richard, and Jean E. Howard, eds. A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works. Vol. 3, The Comedies. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470996546Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive collection of essays on all aspects of Shakespearean comedy, with critical essays on the individual plays.

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  • Frye, Northrop. A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

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    Like Frye’s magisterial Anatomy of Criticism, or his essay “Shakespeare and the Green World,” this book is concerned with principles of mythic criticism, here applied to the understanding of comedy and romance as reveling in the joys of storytelling, of wonder, of the triumph of time and return from the sea. First published in 1965.

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  • Hunter, Robert Grams. Shakespeare and the Comedy of Forgiveness. New York: Columbia University Press, 1965.

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    An astute examination of six Shakespearean comedies Much Ado about Nothing, All’s Well That Ends Well, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, Measure for Measure, and The Tempest as plays that end in the forgiving of an erring protagonist, thereby giving secular and dramatic form to the Christian doctrine of the forgiveness of sins.

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  • Leggatt, Alexander. Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love. London: Methuen, 1974.

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    A humane and gracious reading of the romantic comedies, celebrating their diversity and internal variety.

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  • Leggatt, Alexander, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Comedy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    With essays on different genres of comedy, on language, on sexual disguise and gender, and more, by the editor and by Robert Miola, Louise George Clubb, Janet Dillon, François Laroque, John Creaser, Edward Berry, Lynne Magnusson, Barbara Hodgdon, and others.

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The Comedy of Errors

This early play was based on the work of the classical Roman dramatist Plautus. Miola 1997 covers the critical interpretations. The specialized studies Freedman 1980, Raman 2005, and Van Elk 2009 consider, respectively, the character Egeon, the framing role of memory, and the tensions between genres represented in the play.

  • Freedman, Barbara. “Egeon’s Debt: Self-Division and Self-Redemption in The Comedy of Errors.” English Literary Renaissance 19 (1980): 360–383.

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    A study of the play’s framing figure, featured largely in the opening scene, whose redemption in Act 5 signals the closure of the play’s comic form.

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  • Miola, Robert S., ed. The Comedy of Errors: Critical Essays. New York: Garland, 1997.

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    A collection covering the range of critical interpretation, by Coleridge, G. B. Shaw, G. R. Elliott, Harold Brooks, Alexander Leggatt, Arthur Kinney, Douglas Lanier, and others, with considerable attention to productions on stage and film.

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  • Raman, Shankar. “Marking Time: Memory and Market in The Comedy of Errors.” Shakespeare Quarterly 56 (2005): 176–205.

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    The successes and failures of memory are especially evident in two scenes that frame the play’s main action, at the very beginning and at the end.

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  • Van Elk, Martine. “‘This Sympathizèd One Day’s Error’: Genre, Representation, and Subjectivity in The Comedy of Errors.” Shakespeare Quarterly 60 (2009): 4772.

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    Argues that the play is about genre as a system of representation, making use of farce and romance as seemingly incompatible genres.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost

This early comedy, given a close reading in Carroll 1976, is noteworthy for its ending not in marriage but in postponement of marital bliss. Two specialized studies, Bevington 1990 and Breitenberg 1992, consider, respectively, the failure of sexual resolution in the play and the nature of masculine desire.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Schlueter 1996 is a collection of essays on this early comedy that has drawn critical attention of late to its fascination with male friendship and rivalry. Schleiner 1999 calls attention to the social context of the play, especially the presence of female monarchy.

  • Schleiner, Louise. “Voice, Ideology, and Gendered Subjects: The Case of As You Like It and Two Gentlemen.” Shakespeare Quarterly 50 (1999): 285–309.

    DOI: 10.2307/2902360Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A plea to study these plays in terms of stage action and its social correlatives, including the female practice of monarchy.

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  • Schlueter, June, ed. Two Gentlemen of Verona: Critical Essays. New York: Garland, 1996.

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    A collection of essays by Samuel Johnson, William Hazlitt, and A. C. Swinburne, as well as by more recent critics, including Robert Weimann, Inga-Stina Ewbank, Harold F. Brooks, and Camille Wells Slights, and an informative section on performance history.

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The Taming of the Shrew

A celebrated and controversial early comedy about the battle of the sexes. Is Petruchio a male chauvinist pig? Does Kate capitulate to him or win her battle on her own terms? Aspinall 2002 offers an overview. Dolan 1996 focuses on The Taming of the Shrew as probably Shakespeare’s most controversial play from a feminist perspective. Crocker 2003 explores the play’s representation of female submissiveness.

  • Aspinall, Dana E., ed. The Taming of the Shrew: Critical Essays. New York: Routledge, 2002.

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    A collection of modern essays by Robert B. Heilman, Jeanne Addison Roberts, Lynda E. Boose, Juliet Dusinberre, Lena Cowen Orlin, Laurie E. Maguire, Natasha Korda, and others, exploring the play’s controversial depiction of the relations of the sexes; with performance history.

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  • Crocker, Holly A. “Affective Resistance: Performing Passivity and Playing A-Part in The Taming of the Shrew.” Shakespeare Quarterly 54 (2003): 142–159.

    DOI: 10.1353/shq.2003.0067Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the play speaks to the near impossibility of representing submissive femininity. Kate’s passive affect satisfies 20th-century standards for “normal” femininity.

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  • Dolan, Frances E., ed. The Taming of the Shrew: Texts and Contexts. Boston: Bedford, 1996.

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    An annotated text of the play, together with critical essays stressing the role of women in early modern England.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

One of Shakespeare’s most endearing and most often performed romantic comedies. Young 1966 and Paster and Howard 1999 give appreciative overviews; Montrose 1996 is informed by a political interpretation of the play’s cultural background. Halio 1994 focuses on the play in the theater. Garber 1974 is an insightful thematic reading of this and other plays in terms of dreaming. The specialized studies Garner 1981 and Hendricks 1996 present feminist/psychoanalytic and postcolonial interpretations, respectively.

  • Garber, Marjorie B. Dream in Shakespeare: From Metaphor to Metamorphosis. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974.

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    A study of dream and dream interpretation in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as in Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, The Taming of the Shrew, and Julius Caesar.

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  • Garner, Shirley Nelson. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Jack Shall Have Jill;/ Nought Shall Go Ill.” Women’s Studies 9 (1981), 47–63.

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    A study of the play from the dual but linked perspectives of feminist criticism and psychoanalytic interpretation.

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  • Halio, Jay L. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare in Performance. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1994.

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    A theater-history approach to a play that has been performed in so many enchanting and diverse ways. Republished in 2003.

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  • Hendricks, Margo. “‘Obscured by Dreams’: Race, Empire, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Shakespeare Quarterly 47 (1996): 37–60.

    DOI: 10.2307/2871058Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the Indian boy, mentioned in the play but not presented on stage, whose presence conjures up ideas of eroticism and exoticism as imagined in the West’s vision of India and the East.

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  • Montrose, Louis. The Purpose of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan Theatre. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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    A New Historicist reexamination of the Elizabethan politics of representation in the context of the contemporary culture, where governmental authority often stood at odds with the unofficial and marginal status of the playhouses. With an extended reading of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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  • Paster, Gail Kern, and Skiles Howard, eds. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Texts and Contexts. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999.

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    An annotated text of the play, together with background and contextual information on popular festivals and court celebrations, female attachments, family ties, metamorphosis and monstrosity, the natural and the supernatural, and more.

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  • Young, David P. Something of Great Constancy: The Art of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966.

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    A graceful exploration of the stylistic and structural devices used to synthesize the play’s plots and materials, with particular attention to the dichotomies of dreaming and waking, shadow and substance, and art and nature.

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The Merchant of Venice

A romantic comedy that is complicated by the nearly tragic plot of Shylock and the pound of flesh, setting Jewish and Christian values in irreconcilable opposition, resulting in critical debates of considerable anxiety and even antagonism. Adelman 2008 offers a compelling and personal reading of what is so troubling about this play for modern readers. So too with Gross 2006, which argues that Shylock means a lot to Shakespeare. Danson 1978 provides an overview. Shapiro 1996 is a valuable background study of Jews in Shakespeare’s London. The specialized studies Kitch 2008 and Korda 2009 explore, respectively, the conflicting views of Jewish identity represented in the play and the gender-linked language of usury.

Much Ado about Nothing

One of Shakespeare’s mature romantic comedies from the late 1590s, in which the comic account of a battle of the sexes is juxtaposed with a darker and more threatening narrative of slandering an innocent young lady. Shakespeare 1997 focuses on theatrical practice. Howard 1987 is more about the politics of genre and gender, while Berger 1982 explores the principal characters’ perception of marriage.

  • Berger, Harry, Jr. “Against the Sink-a-Pace: Sexual and Family Politics in Much Ado about Nothing.” Shakespeare Quarterly 33 (1982): 302–313.

    DOI: 10.2307/2869734Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An exploration of Beatrice’s and Benedick’s shared view that marriage is a “sink-a-pace” (Sir Toby’s phrase) of repentance.

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  • Howard, Jean E. “Renaissance Antitheatricality and the Politics of Gender and Rank in Much Ado about Nothing.” In Shakespeare Reproduced: The Text in History and Ideology. Edited by Jean E. Howard and Marian F. O’Connor. New York: Methuen, 1987.

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    An interpretation of the play in the context of early modern antitheatrical tracts, with their anxieties about a changing social order.

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  • Shakespeare, William. Much Ado about Nothing. Edited by John F. Cox. Shakespeare in Production. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

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    A study of the play in performance that offers rewarding insights into some changes in the construction of gender that have intervened between the early modern period and today; with further analysis of the play’s social milieu, the problematic nature of genre, and more.

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The Merry Wives of Windsor

Shakespeare’s only romantic comedy set in the bourgeois context of an English village, famously reset as opera in the 19th century by Nicolai and Verdi. Green 1962 is an overview. Leggatt 1973 argues that the play is a citizen comedy, and Collington 2000 holds that the play ironically reflects contemporary domestic tragedies as reported in popular literature.

As You Like It

One of Shakespeare’s finest romantic comedies, chiefly set in a forest that is really a place of literary imagination. Shakespeare 1977 is truly comprehensive on every aspect of the play. Tomarken 1997 offers a collection of essays. The specialized studies Marshall 1998 and Schleiner 1999 explore, respectively, the puzzle of the two Jaques and the importance of the contextual presence of female monarchy.

Twelfth Night

One of Shakespeare’s best-known and most often performed comedies, in which the romantic story of a young lady disguised as a male is juxtaposed with the more satirical plot of administering comeuppance to the self-important killjoy Malvolio. Leech 1965 is an overview; Potter 1985 focuses on the play in the theater.

The Problem Plays

The genre of “problem plays” or “problem comedies” is a classification devised in the late 19th century by F. S. Boas to characterize three plays in particular Measure for Measure, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Troilus and Cressida that date from the very first years of the 19th century, when Shakespeare’s interest seems to have been turning from romantic comedy and English history toward social impasse and tragedy. In their various ways, these three plays expand, problematize, and even contradict the earlier norms of romantic comedy. The list of “problem plays” is sometimes enlarged to include Hamlet and others; see Schanzer 1963. Dutton and Howard 2003 is a large and comprehensive collection of essays, and a good place to start. Frye 1983 is written by an extraordinary theorist with an anthropological bent. Kirsch 1981 is excellent on the emotional experience of live. Foakes 1971 sees these plays within a pattern of Shakespeare’s development in his late works. Wheeler 1981 is brilliant on this same subject—the key role played by the problem plays as Shakespeare turned from comedy and history to tragedy.

  • Dutton, Richard, and Jean E. Howard, eds. A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works. Vol. 4, The Poems, Problem Comedies, Late Plays. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470996546Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive collection of essays on all aspects of the genres listed in the title, and with critical essays on the individual plays.

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  • Foakes, R. A. Shakespeare: The Dark Comedies to the Last Plays; From Satire to Celebration. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1971.

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    A study of the problem plays of the early 17th century and the ways in which they opened a path for Shakespeare toward the writing of his great tragedies and eventually the late romances.

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  • Frye, Northrop. The Myth of Deliverance: Reflections on Shakespeare’s Problem Comedies. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983.

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    A study of ways in which the so-called problem comedies, especially All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure, with their long and complex recognition scenes, their reliance on improbabilities and mysteries like the bed trick, and their elaborate reconciliations and reunions, anticipate the romances of Shakespeare’s final period. Such features, argues Frye, are essential to the comic and mythic structure of the dramatic action.

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  • Kirsch, Arthur. Shakespeare and the Experience of Love. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

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    Shakespeare’s treatments of love, argues Kirsch, reveal elemental truths about the emotional and spiritual lives of human beings with a brilliance that helps explain his enduring popularity. Incisive analyses of Much Ado about Nothing, Measure for Measure, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Cymbeline, with a chapter also on Othello.

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  • Schanzer, Ernest. The Problem Plays: A Study of Julius Caesar. Measure for Measure, Antony and Cleopatra. New York: Schocken, 1963.

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    An attempt to redefine the category of “problem plays” in such a way as to include the titles listed here, rather than limiting the term to F. S. Boas’s focus on Measure for Measure, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Troilus and Cressida. Schanzer’s problem plays are those in which the audience loses its moral bearings as the plot unfolds.

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  • Wheeler, Richard P. Shakespeare’s Development and the Problem Comedies: Turn and Counter-Turn. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981.

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    An astute psychoanalytic analysis of All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure as occupying a critical position in Shakespeare’s development between the festive comedies and the late plays, as the author moves from representations of marriage and reconciliations of emotional conflicts toward more deeply problematic and less easily resolved dilemmas.

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All’s Well That Ends Well

Classified as a problem play because of its use of the ethically problematic bed trick, its portrayal of a male protagonist who is so opposed to marriage, its elegiac mood, and its sympathy with older persons. These features are explored in the following items. Cole 1981 is about sources. Desens 1994 provides a feminist perspective. Sullivan 1999 considers the theme of memory in the play. Styan 1984 is written from the perspective of the professional theater.

Measure for Measure

Shunned by many in the 19th century as too morbidly sensational and because of its prison scenes, off-color humor, and hugely problematic ending, this play enjoys today a real popularity for its candor and readiness to acknowledge the carnal in human nature. Shakespeare 1980 is compendious and encyclopedic on the play and its sources. Gless 1979 provides a thematic reading of justice and religious faith. Shell 1988 is about incest. Bennett 1966 reads the play in terms of royal politics.

  • Bennett, Josephine Waters. Measure for Measure as Royal Entertainment. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966.

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    A study of the play as devised for the Christmastide diversion of King James I, whose character is echoed in the whimsical Duke of the playa role, perhaps, that Shakespeare played.

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  • Desens, Marliss C. The Bed-trick in English Renaissance Drama: Explorations in Gender, Sexuality, and Power. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994.

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    A study situating Shakespeare’s use of the bed trick in the history of the motif and its employment by Shakespeare’s contemporaries.

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  • Gless, Darryl J. Measure for Measure, the Law, and the Convent. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979.

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    A study of the play’s variously flawed characters, confronted by the elusive nature of morality and the inevitable imperfectness of the human quest for justice, as they move toward forgiveness and reconciliation in an essentially comic pattern of renewal.

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  • Shakespeare, William. Measure for Measure. Edited by Mark Eccles. New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1980.

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    A helpful encyclopedic, judicious edition of the play with extensive commentary, sources, textual analysis, and more.

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  • Shell, Marc. The End of Kinship: “Measure for Measure,” Incest, and the Ideal of Universal Siblinghood. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988.

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    By “incest,” this study’s title refers to Isabella’s saying to her brother Claudio, when he seems ready to urge her to have sex with Angelo in order to save Claudio’s own life, “Is’t not a kind of incest, to take life / From thine own sister’s shame?”

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Troilus and Cressida

A play that is notoriously hard to classify by genre; it appears to be a tragedy in that it depicts the deaths of Hector and Patroclus, a history play in that it is a chronicle of the Trojan War, and a bitter dark comedy of sorts in its centering on the love relationship of Troilus and Cressida. Bowen 1993 provides a feminist reading of the play. Charnes 1993 is interested in reputation. Elton 2000 provides a historical context in the London of Shakespeare’s day. Kimbrough 1964 also pays attention to contemporary life. Shakespeare 2005 focuses on the play in production. Gil 2001 offers an explanation for the misogyny of the male characters.

The History Plays

Early in his writing career, Shakespeare chose the English history play as a favorite genre, along with romantic comedy. He produced one history play a year, more or less, from the three Henry VI plays in the early 1590s to Henry V in 1599. Then he left off writing English history plays for some fourteen years, at which point he returned to the subject with his Henry VIII in 1613. The essays and books in the following list treat the history plays collectively. Dutton and Howard 2003 is a large and inclusive collection of essays. Hattaway 2002 similarly covers a wide range of topics. Howard and Rackin 1997 brings a feminist perspective to the subject. Kelly 1970 is a pathbreaking study challenging the complacent pro-Establishment theories of Tillyard 1991. Patterson 1994 reads Holinshed’s Chronicles not simply for specific source materials but for what that book can tell us about the England of Shakespeare’s day. Kastan 1982 offers a persuasive argument about the open-endedness of time in Shakespeare’s history plays. Saccio 1977 is a good place to go to straighten out the English history behind the plays. Pierce 1971 looks at the metaphor of the state as a family.

  • Dutton, Richard, and Jean E. Howard, eds. A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works. Vol. 2, The Histories. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470996546Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive collection of essays on all aspects of Shakespeare’s history plays, with critical essays on the individual plays.

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  • Hattaway, Michael, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s History Plays. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    A useful collection of essays on historiography, genre, theater history, women’s roles, and the like, and on the individual plays, by the editor and by A. J. Hoenselaars, David Bergeron, Dominique Goy-Blanquet, Phyllis Rackin, James Bulman, Robert Miola, and others.

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  • Howard, Jean E., and Phyllis Rackin. Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare’s English Histories. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

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    A study of ways in which the history plays helped produce “traditional” distinctions between male and female in Elizabethan culture, and between the public and private spheres.

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  • Kastan, David Scott. Shakespeare and the Shapes of Time. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1982.

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    Argues that Shakespeare’s history plays structurally testify to the open-endedness of time; the genre demands a sense of ongoing process, challenging in its very secular nature the assumptions of providentialism that were so pervasive in Tudor historiography. Richard II’s tragic fall is offset by the rise of Henry Bolingbroke to become Henry IV.

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  • Kelly, Henry Ansgar. Divine Providence in the England of Shakespeare’s Histories. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970.

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    An important reassessment of the once-conventional view (as set forth in Tillyard 1944) that England’s history plays were mirrors of an official providentialist view regarding England’s civil wars of the 15th century as a demonstration of divine wrath at Henry IV’s usurpation of the throne from his cousin Richard II—a divine wrath not appeased until Henry VII finally defeated Richard III in 1485.

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  • Patterson, Annabel. Reading Holinshed’s Chronicles. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

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    A reading of the Chronicles not simply as source material for Shakespeare but as fascinating in their own right as cultural history.

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  • Pierce, Robert B. Shakespeare’s History Plays: The Family and the State. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1971.

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    An exploration of the venerable concept of the family as a microcosm of the state, as carefully elaborated in Shakespeare’s sequence of plays from King John and Richard II down to Henry V. (Henry VIII is here omitted as more analogous to the late romances.)

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  • Saccio, Peter. Shakespeare’s English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

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    A useful guide to the historical events behind Shakespeare’s chronicle plays, steering the reader through the tangle of names and places especially in the 15th-century Wars of the Roses, with chapters also on King John in the 13th century and on Henry VIII in the early 16th century.

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  • Tillyard, E. M. W. Shakespeare’s History Plays. London and New York: Penguin, 1991.

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    An often-cited (and attacked) analysis of the history plays as enunciations of a providential view of history, seeing both Henry V and Richard III as fulfillments in different ways of a divine plan ensuring England’s eventual triumph in history. Originally published in 1944 (London: Chatto and Windus).

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The Henry VI plays

This early series of history plays dramatizes events of the so-called War of the Roses that ravaged England throughout most of the 15th century. Pendleton 2001 is a useful collection of essays. Riggs 1971, Berry 1975, Goy-Blanquet 2003, and Watson 1990 are all full-length thematic studies, the particular emphases of which are indicated in their titles. Vickers 2007 argues plausibly that Henry VI, Part 1 was coauthored.

  • Berry, Edward I. Patterns of Decay: Shakespeare’s Early Histories. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975.

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    An extensive argument for dramatic integrity in Shakespeare’s early historical sequence, with a thematic center binding the series together: the decay of chivalry, ceremony, justice, law, and family relationships, offset against the heroism of a few individuals who are the saving remnant.

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  • Goy-Blanquet, Dominique. Shakespeare’s Early History Plays: From Chronicle to Stage. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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    A serious full-length study of each of the four plays in the early tetralogy. Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3 are each individually analyzed before the book proceeds to Richard III.

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  • Pendleton, Thomas A., ed. Henry VI: Critical Essays. New York: Routledge, 2001.

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    A collection of essays by the editor and by Philip Kolin, Steven Urkowitz, Naomi Liebler, J. J. M. Tobin, H. R. Coursen, and others.

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  • Riggs, David. Shakespeare’s Heroical Histories: Henry VI and its Literary Tradition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971.

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    A study of the Henry VI plays not as Shakespeare’s apprenticeship to the genre but as a new and exciting exploration of ethical topics dealing with war and violence, political governance, and heroism.

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  • Vickers, Brian. “Incomplete Shakespeare: Or, Denying Coauthorship in 1 Henry VI.” Shakespeare Quarterly 58 (2007): 312–352.

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    Shows that recent editions of the play exhibit an unwillingness to engage with the evidence that a number of Shakespeare’s early plays, including this one, were works of multiple authorship.

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  • Watson, Donald G. Shakespeare’s Early History Plays: Politics at Play on the Elizabethan Stage. London: Macmillan, 1990.

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    An exploration of Shakespeare’s early history plays as studies of political conflict.

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Richard III

This is the fourth and best-known play in Shakespeare’s early four-play sequence on 15th-century English history, culminating in the rise to power and ultimate defeat in 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth Field, of the fascinatingly evil Richard III. Kendall 2002 is useful on the history behind the play. Hunter 1976 is a thematic study affirming the providential-Christian reading of the play much deployed by Tudor historians. Colley 1992 focuses on stage history.

  • Colley, Scott. Richard’s Himself Again: A Stage History of Richard III. New York: Greenwood, 1992.

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    Richard III in performance, from Cibber and Garrick to Olivier, Ian Holm, and Antony Sher. (The cutoff date of this book comes too soon to have included Ian McKellen in Richard Loncraine’s excellent film of 1995.)

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  • Hunter, Robert G. Shakespeare and the Mystery of God’s Judgments. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1976.

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    This book-length essay on Richard III sees the play as a tragic history within a comic history: the tragic destruction of Richard as tyrant is placed within a larger providential context ensuring the eventual salvation of England under Henry VII.

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  • Kendall, Paul Murray. Richard the Third. New York: Norton, 2002.

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    A readable and absorbing account, by a professional historian, of the king whose destiny it was to become Shakespeare’s famous villain. Originally published in 1956.

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King John

An anomalous play among Shakespeare’s English history plays in that it is set in the 13th century, well before the period of English history chronicled by Shakespeare in his eight plays covering the years from the late 14th to late 15th centuries. King John fascinates Shakespeare owing to the ambiguity of his claim to the throne and his unsuccessful attempt to stand up to the Roman Catholic Church. Candido 1996 discusses the historical King John. Cousin 1994 demonstrates the place of King John in 19th-century theater. The specialized study Weimann 1999 explores the play’s association of “vice” and “worthiness.”

  • Candido, Joseph, ed. King John. London and Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Athlone, 1996.

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    A historical anthology of comments on the historical King John and on various Renaissance plays on the subject, from 1790 to 1920, by William Hazlitt, August von Schlegel, Hartley Coleridge, and others, and with many reviews of productions.

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  • Cousin, Geraldine, ed. King John. Shakespeare in Performance. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1994.

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    A study showing that King John, though not often read or performed today, loomed large in English theater in the 19th century.

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  • Weimann, Robert. “Mingling Vice and ‘Worthiness’ in King John.” Shakespeare Studies 27 (1999): 109–133.

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    Argues that in this play Shakespeare achieves a bewildering new turn in the mingling of vice and “unworthiness,” one that is potentially even more experimental and unsettling than in his first tetralogy of plays from Henry VI to Richard III.

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Richard II

A history play, written entirely in verse, that chronicles the unhappy reign of the poetically sensitive but imprudent Richard II and the simultaneous rise to power of his ambitious cousin, the future Henry IV. Kantorowicz 1997 is an often-cited study of the political theology lying behind this play. Siemon 2002 gives a close reading of the play’s language and its cultural ramifications. Newlin 1984 is a collection of essays covering a range of interpretive views. Shewring 1996 focuses on the play in production. The specialized study Hammer 2008 explores the play’s possible connection to the Essex rising.

  • Hammer, Paul E. J. “Shakespeare’s Richard II, the Play of 7 February 1601, and the Essex Rising.” Shakespeare Quarterly 59 (2008): 135.

    DOI: 10.1353/shq.2008.0005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A reassessment of vexed question of the identity of the play performed by the Chamberlain’s Men in that year, indicating why the play may have had a special appeal to Essex’s followers.

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  • Kantorowicz, Ernst H. The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.

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    An often-cited study of the doctrine, much cherished by English monarchs and visible in Shakespeare’s plays, that kingship existed in two forms: the individual physical life of the king, which was subject to time and death, and the idea of the king, which was eternal. Originally published in 1957.

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  • Newlin, Jeanne T., ed. Richard II: Critical Essays. New York: Garland, 1984.

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    A historical collection of essays, by John Dover Wilson, E. M. W. Tillyard, Robert Ornstein, E. H. Kantorowicz, Irving Ribner, Brents Stirling, Richard Altick, and others, along with some theatrical critics such as John Russell Brown and Stanley Wells.

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  • Shewring, Margaret. King Richard II. Shakespeare in Performance. New York: Manchester University Press, 1996.

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    An exploration of Richard II on stage as a play about political conflict and change.

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  • Siemon, James R. Word Against Word: Shakespearean Utterance. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002.

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    With an extended discussion of intonation, politics, and religion in Richard II.

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Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2

Arguably the most popular of Shakespeare’s English history plays, in good part because of the centrality of Falstaff as comic companion and tempter to the young man who is to become Henry V. Wilson 1943 is a classic, lively and attuned to the play’s theatrical values. McMillin 1991 and Wharton 1983 focus on the play in performance. McAlindon 2001 offers a thematic overview.

  • McAlindon, Tom. Shakespeare’s Tudor History: A Study of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2001.

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    A study of ways in which Shakespeare dramatically interprets the history of the reign of Henry IV.

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  • McMillin, Scott. Henry IV, Part One. Shakespeare in Performance. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1991.

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    A study of performance as interpretation, centering especially on the relationship of Prince Henry and Falstaff as presented by famous actors like Ralph Richardson, Richard Burton, Orson Welles, and many others.

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  • Wharton, T. F. Henry the Fourth, Parts 1 and 2: Text and Performance. London: Macmillan, 1983.

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    With numerous lively illustrations from performance history of particular moments: the reconciliation scenes between father and son, the varying interpretations of Falstaff as a convivial sack guzzler or as a complex and nearly tragic figure, and the like.

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  • Wilson, J. Dover. The Fortunes of Falstaff. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1943.

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    A study of Falstaff’s complex relationship to Prince Hal in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, in which Falstaff is seen to be no hero, as romantic readers have often interpreted him, nor a comic stage version of the cowardly soldier, but an astonishing mix of unconquerable effrontery and humor destined to be rejected by a generous and faulty young prince. Republished in 1964.

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Henry V

The culminating work of Shakespeare’s series of English history plays, variously interpreted in recent decades as admiring of Henry V as a model heroic king or, conversely, as a warmonger. McEachern 1996 places the play in the context of a lively debate on formation of national identify. Brennan 1992 is designed for the general reader. Loehlin 1996 focuses on performance. The specialized study Altman 1991 contrasts the idealization of theme and characters with the play’s conspicuous violence.

Henry VIII

Written and produced in 1613, some fourteen years after Shakespeare had previously written the last of his plays about Henry IV and Henry V, this play is part English history and part romance culminating in the birth of the young princess who is to be Elizabeth I. Brown and Harris 1967 situates the play in the context of Shakespeare’s last plays. Foakes 1971 adopts a similar approach, though also exploring the play’s antecedents earlier in Shakespeare’s career. Cogswell 2009 focuses on the motivations for one 1628 performance of the play.

Shakespearean Tragedy

Many studies of Shakespearean tragedy analyze the “great” tragedies in a larger context that includes Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, and others. These lists overlap; Antony and Cleopatra, for example, is clearly a Roman tragedy (see The Greek and Roman Tragedies) but it is often seen also as comparable in greatness to Hamlet and other principal tragedies. In this present list, Dutton and Howard 2003 is a comprehensive anthology of essays covering all aspects of Shakespearean tragedy. McEachern 2002 is also a wide-ranging collection of essays. Leggatt 2005 looks at seven plays across the spectrum of the genre. Danson 1974 is about the language of Shakespearean tragedy. Rackin 1978 provides an overview for nonspecialists. Berry 1999 provides a feminist perspective. Dickey 1957 looks at two plays particularly as tragedies of love. Spencer 1942 looks at the philosophical background.

  • Berry, Philippa. Shakespeare’s Feminine Endings: Figuring Women in the Tragedies. London and New York: Routledge, 1999.

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    A reading of death in Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear from a feminist perspective derived from feminist and queer theory, demonstrating how the plays “disfigure” death as a bodily end.

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  • Danson, Lawrence. Tragic Alphabet: Shakespeare’s Drama of Language. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974.

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    A study of Shakespeare’s tragic characters in their search for a language with which they can express themselves truly. Includes a chapter on Troilus and Cressida.

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  • Dickey, Franklin M. Not Wisely but Too Well: Shakespeare’s Love Tragedies. San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1957.

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    Argues that Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra comprise a tragic genre of their own, in which the world is well lost for love.

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  • Dutton, Richard, and Jean E. Howard, eds. A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works. Vol. 1, The Tragedies. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470996546Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive collection of essays on all aspects of Shakespeare’s tragedies, with critical essays on the individual plays.

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  • Leggatt, Alexander. Shakespeare’s Tragedies: Violation and Identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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    A study of seven plays Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth arguing that violence provokes questions about the identity of the victims, the perpetrators, and the act itself.

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  • McEachern, Claire, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Tragedy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    A useful collection of essays on religion, gender, family, love, revenge, ambition, performance history, and more, by the editor and by Michael Warren, Huston Diehl, Gail Kern Paster, Coppélia Kahn, R. A. Foakes, Barbara Hodgdon, Robert Watson, and others.

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  • Rackin, Phyllis. Shakespeare’s Tragedies. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1978.

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    A readable book written for nonspecialists on all the tragedies, with a chapter on staging.

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  • Spencer, Theodore. Shakespeare and the Nature of Man. New York: Macmillan, 1942.

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    A study of Shakespeare’s representation of human experience in historical and artistic terms: his relation to the optimistic philosophical view of the Neoplatonists and conversely to the medieval Christian view of humankind as both dignified and wretched. With detailed comparisons of Hamlet and Troilus and Cressida, Othello and King Lear, and Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra.

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The “Great” Tragedies

The phrase “great tragedies” is sometimes used to distinguish Shakespeare’s tragedies Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth in particular—that treat of high passion, crime, and punishment in the moral context of a Christian culture with matters of profound philosophical import at stake. Bradley 2007 is the classic study here, still highly readable if identifiably Victorian in its perspective. Campbell 1963 approaches the play from a scholarly historical point of view. Frye 1967 is by a brilliant theorist. Kirsch 1990 is both brilliant and traditional in its examination of these plays. Mack 1993 also offers traditional readings of these plays at their best. Knight 1989, by a disciple of the New Criticism of the 1930s, in an evocative essay about language and imagery. Goldman 1985 is by a scholar of the theater.

  • Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. 4th ed. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

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    A classic study of Shakespeare’s four “principal” tragedies with a single aim, namely increasing our appreciation for them as dramas of action, involving personages of great truth and intensity, “so that they may assume in our imaginations a shape a little less unlike the shape they wore in the imagination of their creator.” Originally published in 1904 (London: Macmillan).

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  • Campbell, Lily B. Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes: Slaves of Passion. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1963.

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    A classic historical study of tragedy as it confronts the omnipresence of evil in the world, warning human beings of the fickleness of fortune and the dangers of falling from weal into woe. Originally published in 1930.

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  • Frye, Northrop. Fools of Time: Studies in Shakespearean Tragedy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967.

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    The Alexander Lectures, given at the University of Toronto, by one of the giants of 20th-century literary criticism.

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  • Goldman, Michael. Acting and Action in Shakespearean Tragedy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985.

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    Argues that our experience of tragedy in the theater is an experience of acting.

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  • Kirsch, Arthur. The Passions of Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990.

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    A riposte to New Historical and cultural-materialist readings, arguing that Shakespeare’s great tragedies represent enduring truths about the deepest emotional and spiritual crises of human existence. In their responses to the dilemmas they face, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth show themselves to be heroic in their capacity to suffer and feel.

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  • Knight, G. Wilson. The Wheel of Fire: Interpretations of Shakespearian Tragedy. 4th ed. London and New York: Routledge, 1989.

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    A work of interpretation, not analysis or criticism; an attempt to understand each great tragedy of Shakespeare in the light of its own nature, by exploring its image patterns and language, without the burden of historical context. Originally published in 1930.

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  • Mack, Maynard. Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

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    Essays by one of the great Shakespearean critics of his age, including seminal essays on Hamlet and King Lear published in the Yale Review in 1953 and 1964, respectively.

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Romeo and Juliet

This enduringly popular play is notably unlike Shakespeare’s great tragedies of Hamlet, King Lear, and others. Its early scenes are delightfully comic in the vein of plays near its time of composition, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and its protagonists, Romeo and Juliet, are not kings or princes but instead are young people of no special prominence. Shakespeare 1995 is a useful edition with a theatrical slant. Levenson 1987 also focuses on theater. Shakespeare 2003 is especially concerned with issues of gender. Dickey 1957 compares this play with Antony and Cleopatra and Troilus and Cressida as a love tragedy. Evans 1966 is a close reading of a New Critical school. Garber 1974 is similarly concerned with metaphor. The specialized study Appelbaum 1997 relates the Capulet-Montague feud to the tensions caused by masculine self-assertion.

  • Appelbaum, Robert. “‘Standing to the Wall’: The Pressures of Masculinity in Romeo and Juliet.” Shakespeare Quarterly 48 (1997): 251–272.

    DOI: 10.2307/2871016Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An analysis of the violent feud between Capulets and Montagues as responding to inward pressures of masculine self-assertion.

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  • Dickey, Franklin M. Not Wisely but Too Well: Shakespeare’s Love Tragedies. San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1957.

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    A study of Shakespeare’s love tragedies as expressions of Renaissance aesthetic and philosophical thought, especially in Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Cressida, and Antony and Cleopatra.

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  • Evans, Robert O. The Osier Cage: Rhetorical Devices in Romeo and Juliet. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1966.

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    A book-length study of the poetry in one of Shakespeare’s most poetic plays.

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  • Garber, Marjorie B. Dream in Shakespeare: From Metaphor to Metamorphosis. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974.

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    A study of dream and dream interpretation in Romeo and Juliet, as well as in Richard III, The Taming of the Shrew, Julius Caesar, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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  • Levenson, Jill L. Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare in Performance. Manchester, UK: University of Manchester Press, 1987.

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    Not a theater history as such, but a study of a small number of selected productions (by David Garrick, John Gielgud, Peter Brook, and Franco Zeffirelli) brought to bear on key moments of interpretation.

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  • Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: Texts, Contexts, and Interpretation. Edited by Jay L Halio. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1995.

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    A useful edition of the play with critical materials that cover various aspects of critical interpretation.

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  • Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet: Text and Contexts. Edited by Dympna Callaghan. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.

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    An edition of the play, supplemented by a good selection of background material on English preconceptions about Italy, male friendship, prohibitions against brawling, love and marriage, family life, motherhood, the life of friars, love and death, and funerals and monuments.

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Hamlet

Arguably Shakespeare’s best-known play, Hamlet lends itself to an extraordinary range of interpretation, as seen in the following studies. Erlich 1977 and Jones 1949 examine the play in psychological terms, while Frye 1984 and Greenblatt 2001 examine it in relation to its cultural background. Dawson 1995, Fergusson 1949, and Wilson 2005 discuss the work as a play for the theater. The specialized study Rose 1971 shows Hamlet self-consciously styling himself as revenger.

  • Bowers, Fredson. Hamlet as Minister and Scourge and Other Studies in Shakespeare and Milton. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989.

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    Contains several essays on Hamlet, including “Hamlet as Minister and Scourge,” convincingly demonstrating that the structure of the play evolves coherently from the slaying of Polonius and all that event entails.

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  • Dawson, Anthony B. Hamlet. Shakespeare in Performance. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1995.

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    A compelling account of Hamlet on stage and in film and video, from early stage performances through John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Grigori Kozintsev, Franco Zeffirelli, Michael Redgrave, Derek Jacobi, Adrian Noble, Mel Gibson, and more.

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  • Erlich, Avi. Hamlet’s Absent Father. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977.

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    A psychoanalytic challenge to Freud and Ernest Jones, arguing that the play deals not with repressed patricidal impulses but with Hamlet’s search for a strong father with whom he can identify.

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  • Fergusson, Francis. The Idea of a Theater: A Study of Ten Plays; The Art of Drama in Changing Perspective. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1949.

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    With a seminal chapter on Hamlet as embodying in its staging a microcosm of the late medieval and Renaissance idea of the universe, with the heavens above and hell beneath the main stage where human action occurs.

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  • Frye, Roland Mushat. The Renaissance Hamlet: Issues and Responses in 1600. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.

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    A fresh examination of the play in the light of the audiences for which it was written, for whom tragic drama was above all else a representation or imitation of life.

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  • Greenblatt, Stephen. Hamlet in Purgatory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

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    A fascinating study of the afterlife state of purgatory and the echoes of its dead name, especially in the Ghost’s fearsome tale to Hamlet of how the father has had to render himself up to “sulf’rous and tormenting flames,” having been dispatched so suddenly that no time was allowed for receiving the Sacrament and confessing his sins. The Protestant attack on purgatory made possible Shakespeare’s crucial appropriation of the concept in his play.

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  • Jones, Ernest. Hamlet and Oedipus. London: Gollancz, 1949.

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    A famous essay, based on the theory of Sigmund Freud, that Hamlet’s delay is caused by his inability to cope with a repressed and unconscious wish to kill the uncle who has done what Hamlet himself secretly desires: to sleep with his mother. Revises an essay previously published in 1910 and 1923; also available in a 1976 reprint.

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  • Rose, Mark. “Hamlet and the Shape of Revenge.” English Literary Renaissance 1 (1971): 132–143.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6757.1971.tb00772.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Hamlet, fascinated by theater, is intensely aware of the role of revenger, which he wishes to play attractively.

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  • Wilson, J. Dover. What Happens in Hamlet. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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    An investigation of a number of staging puzzles in Hamlet, as, for instance, whether Hamlet hears or catches a glimpse of the hidden Claudius and Polonius when he suddenly turns on Ophelia in 3.1 and asks “Where’s your father?”; whether Claudius understands the gist of the dumb show in 3.2; and why it is that Gertrude cannot see the ghost of her dead husband in 3.4. Originally published in 1935.

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Othello

An intense study of the psychology of jealousy, especially from the point of males whose sense of self-worth is irrationally challenged by fears of what a woman’s supposed inconstancy can do to destroy their happiness. Rosenberg 1992 and Wine 1984 both take up matters of theatrical interpretation. Pechter 1999 is concerned with interpretive history, as is Rosenberg 1992. Jones 1965 looks at the play in the context of representations of blacks on the English Renaissance stage. Kolin 2002 is a collection of twenty-one essays on a diversity of topics relating to Othello, including love, gender, friendship, and race. Loomba 2002 considers how Shakespeare and his contemporaries viewed race, a key theme in Othello, while the specialized study Slights 1997 relates the play’s racial themes to the contemporary involvement of England in the slave trade.

King Lear

One of Shakespeare’s most searingly bleak tragedies, with its relentless questioning as to what humans are to do if the gods do not exist, or, even if they do, whether they choose to enter into human history. Mack 1965 is a classic look at the play in relation to the modern world. Cavell 1987 is the work of a prominent philosopher. Elton 1988 looks at the play as challenging traditional views of divine oversight of human life. Jorgensen 1967 asks similarly difficult questions. Heilman 1976 is a New Critical interpretation, emphasizing image patterns. Rosenberg 1972 is about the play in the theater. The specialized studies Holahan 1997 and Shannon 2009 consider, respectively, Lear’s portrayal of Cordelia’s character and Shakespeare’s use of animal comparisons in constructing a dour estimate of human nature.

  • Cavell, Stanley. Disowning Knowledge in Six Plays of Shakespeare. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

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    With a seminal essay on King Lear, called “The Avoidance of Love,” that focuses on the pivotal role of Edgar. Expanded to include a seventh play, Macbeth, in 2003.

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  • Elton, William R. King Lear and the Gods. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1988.

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    A study that challenges the widely held optimistic interpretation of this play as a drama of meaningful suffering and redemption within a just universe presided over by providential powers. Originally published in 1966 (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library).

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  • Heilman, Robert Bechtold. This Great Stage: Image and Structure in King Lear. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1976.

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    An analysis of patterns of imagery—sight and blindness, clothes and nakedness, animality, madness, folly, and wisdom—through which the play conveys its central poetic vision. Originally published in 1948 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press).

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  • Holahan, Michael. “‘Look, Her Lips’: Softness of Voice, Construction of Character in King Lear.” Shakespeare Quarterly 48 (1997): 406–431.

    DOI: 10.2307/2871252Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An interpretation of the value of Cordelia as a character in the context of Lear’s last speeches over her dead body.

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  • Jorgensen, Paul A. Lear’s Self-Discovery. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

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    An honest confrontation of what is so challenging and even potentially conducive to despair in Shakespeare’s dark play.

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  • Mack, Maynard. King Lear in Our Time. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965.

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    A masterful essay on the many structural and psychological dimensions of King Lear that confront us in our modern world.

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  • Rosenberg, Marvin. The Masks of King Lear. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972.

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    A study of major interpretations in performance from around the world as a way of exploring the many dimensions of this play.

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  • Shannon, Laurie. “Poor, Bare, Forked: Animal Sovereignty, Human Negative Exceptionalism, and the Natural History of King Lear.” Shakespeare Quarterly 60 (2009): 168–196.

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    A study of the way in which Shakespeare unravels the pretensions of humanity by his incessantly negative comparisons of human bodily forms and natural capacities to the world of animals.

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Macbeth

Shakespeare’s study of evil in the human psyche and how it can seemingly propel a man toward committing a terrible crime that he knows he will pay for in this world and the next. The play is also terrifying in its depiction of a marital relationship that helps propel the husband toward murder. Jorgensen 1971 is eloquent on the dark aspects of this play. Calderwood 1986 explores metaphors of theater. Paul 1950 gives a political reading of the play as written by a member of the King’s Men. Craig 2001 takes a philosophical approach. Bartholomeusz 1969 looks at the play in the history of theater.

The Greek and Roman Tragedies

The genre of Greek and Roman tragedy overlaps with other approaches to Shakespearean tragedy. Antony and Cleopatra, for example, appears at several points in the lists above. Nonetheless, Shakespeare does appear to have had a continuing fascination with the tragic dimensions of the ancient classical world, as seen in his early Titus Andronicus and in the late Coriolanus and Timon of Athens. The plays constitute for Shakespeare a world apart in their pagan cultural setting and in their telling the story of the beginnings of Western civilization. Charney 1961 emphasizes metaphors of theater and gesture. Charney 1964, a collection of essays, covers a wide range of topics. James 1997 is excellent on the centrality of the legend of Troy to Shakespeare’s Roman tragedies.

  • Charney, Maurice. Shakespeare’s Roman Plays: The Function of Imagery in the Drama. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961.

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    An exploration of theatrical imagery in Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus—that is to say, the nonverbal resources of staging, costume, and gesture.

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  • Charney, Maurice, ed. Discussions of Shakespeare’s Roman Plays. Boston: D. C. Heath, 1964.

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    A useful selection of essays focused on Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus, by the editor and T. J. B. Spencer, Ernest Schanzer, S. T. Coleridge, Harley Granville-Barker, D. A. Traversi, L. C. Knights, Paul Jorgensen, Willard Farnham, and others.

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  • James, Heather. Shakespeare’s Troy: Drama, Politics, and the Translation of Empire. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

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    Incisive analyses, in terms of Trojan legend, of Titus Andronicus, Troilus and Cressida, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Tempest.

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Titus Andronicus

Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy is uncharacteristic as a Roman play in that its supposed Roman history is not historical. The play is more a revenge tragedy, with its Moorish villain, Aaron, its wicked queen, Tamora, and its revenging title figure. Dessen 1989 chronicles the performance history and Metz 1996 is a historical study. The specialized study Willis 2002 argues for the centrality to the play of the inscription of violence on the female body.

  • Dessen, Alan C. Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare in Performance. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1989.

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    Though not often read or performed, Titus has enjoyed something of a comeback lately in performance, owing especially to Julie Taymor’s brilliant film of 1999. Dessen’s informative study predates that event in its chronicle of performance history.

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  • Metz, G. Harold. Shakespeare’s Earliest Tragedy: Studies in Titus Andronicus. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996.

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    A historical study of authorship questions, revision, sources, date, and stage history of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays during his lifetime.

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  • Willis, Deborah. “’The Gnawing Vulture’: Revenge, Trauma Theory, and Titus Andronicus.” Shakespeare Quarterly 53 (2002): 21–52.

    DOI: 10.1353/shq.2002.0017Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Lavinia is actively involved in revenge on her family’s behalf, and that the play as a whole is structured around the spectacular display of the female body written on by violence.

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Julius Caesar

This play of 1599 about a major event of ancient Roman history is nearly contemporary with Henry V and Hamlet, enabling critics to see Julius Caesar as integral in the process of Shakespeare’s transition from English history plays to the great tragedies. Zander 2005 offers a useful anthology on a wide range of topics. Ripley 1980 is a stage history. Blits 1993 looks at the play in terms of Roman history. The specialized study Paster 1989 considers ambiguities of gender in the presentation of presumably gendered characters.

  • Blits, Jan H. The End of the Ancient Republic: Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993.

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    An interpretation of this play as Shakespeare’s study of the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of Caesarism, with all the attendant ironies, loss of liberties, and triumph of personalism.

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  • Paster, Gail Kern. “‘In the Spirit of Men There Is No Blood’: Blood as Trope of Gender in Julius Caesar.” Shakespeare Quarterly 40 (1989): 284–298.

    DOI: 10.2307/2870724Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Part of a larger project of writing the body into cultural history, with attention here to indications of gender difference for figures that seemingly present themselves as unambiguously gendered characters.

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  • Ripley, John. Julius Caesar on Stage in England and America, 1599–1973. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

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    A scholarly and reliable performance history down to the early 1570s, detailing the conflicting interpretations to which the play has been subjected. Julius Caesar emerges from this debate alternatively as the hero of strong-man single rule or as a tyrant deserving to be assassinated by the champions of liberty.

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  • Zander, Horst, ed. Julius Caesar: New Critical Essays. New York: Routledge, 2005.

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    An anthology of essays on thematic interpretation, critical controversies, stage history, and the like, by the editor and by Vivian Thomas, Barbara Parker, Joseph Candido, J. L. Simmons, Naomi Conn Liebler, David Willbern, Coppélia Kahn, and others.

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Timon of Athens

Soellner 1979 writes on what was perhaps Shakespeare’s bleakest tragedy and its bitter reflections on human forgetfulness and ingratitude. The play may be unfinished, may have been coauthored with another dramatist (Thomas Middleton), and may never have been performed in Shakespeare’s lifetime.

Antony and Cleopatra

Shakespeare’s superb celebration of a vital love relationship that was also deeply troubled by personal failures and political conflict. Adelman 1973 provides a splendid introduction to all aspects of the play. Markels 1968 also looks at the play as a whole. Charnes 1993 looks at the history of reputation of the major characters. Deats 2005 and Rose 1977 are useful anthologies, with Deats coming closer to the present day. Dickey 1957 compares the play with Romeo and Juliet and Troilus and Cressida as a love tragedy.

  • Adelman, Janet. The Common Liar: An Essay on Antony and Cleopatra. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1973.

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    A superb study of what constitutes meaning in a Shakespearean play and how it is achieved, asking especially where meaning is to be found in the complex relationship between character and the symbolic design of the play.

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  • Charnes, Linda. Notorious Identity: Materializing the Subject in Shakespeare. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.

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    A careful study of legendary figures—Richard III, Troilus and Cressida, and Antony and Cleopatra—whose infamous reputations must be understood in the context of early modern England’s emergent capitalism and a concomitant commodification of identity.

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  • Deats, Sara Munson, ed. Antony and Cleopatra: New Critical Essays. New York: Routledge, 2005.

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    Essays on language, imagery, political themes, staging, and the like, by the editor and by Linda Woodbridge, Leeds Barroll, Lisa Hopkins, Lisa Starks, and others.

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  • Dickey, Franklin M. Not Wisely but Too Well: Shakespeare’s Love Tragedies. San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 1957.

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    A study of Shakespeare’s love tragedy as an expression of Renaissance aesthetic and philosophical thought, especially in Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Cressida, and Antony and Cleopatra.

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  • Markels, Julian. The Pillar of the World: Antony and Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Development. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1968.

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    A study of public and private worlds, displacement of the ideal, and resolution and apotheosis.

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  • Rose, Mark, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Antony and Cleopatra: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977.

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    A helpful collection of essays by Maurice Charney, Reuben Brower, John Danby, John Holloway, Robert Ornstein, Bernard Beckerman, Janet Adelman, Maynard Mack, and others.

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Coriolanus

Perhaps the last of Shakespeare’s Greek and Roman tragedies, centering on its title figure as a man who is both a charismatic fighter and an enemy of popular rule in Rome, resulting in stalemate and personal tragedy. Wheeler 1995 offers a useful anthology of essays. Vickers 1976 provides a critical overview. Ripley 1998 provides a history of production. The specialized study Kuzner 2007 argues against a pro-Republican reading of the play.

The Late Romances

The category of late romances does not appear in the First Folio of 1623. The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest are grouped among the comedies; Cymbeline occupies last place among the tragedies and indeed is last in the volume as a whole. Pericles was excluded from the First Folio by its editors, presumably because Heminges and Condell regarded it as not sufficiently by Shakespeare. The category of late romances or tragicomedies has come to be critically accepted nonetheless because the plays are late and seem to represent a return on Shakespeare’s part, as he approached the end of his career, to a comic and ultimately accepting vision of life. Mowat 1976 provides an excellent overview of the topic. Kay and Jacobs 1978 is a substantial anthology of essays. Young 1972 offers a sensitive thematic reading of two plays in this grouping, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest.

  • Kay, Carol McGinnis, and Henry E. Jacobs. Shakespeare’s Romances Reconsidered. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978.

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    A useful collection of essays on the late plays by Norman Sanders, Northrop Frye, Clifford Leach, Howard Felperin, Cyrus Hoy, Joan Hartwig, Joan Warchol Rossi, Charles Frey, David Bergeron, Charles Forker, and David Young.

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  • Mowat, Barbara A. The Dramaturgy of Shakespeare’s Romances. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1976.

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    An evocative exploration of the dramaturgy employed by Shakespeare in his late plays to conjure up a strange and wonderful world of storms, clowns, man-eating bears, statues coming to life, puzzling transformations, and more.

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  • Young, David. The Heart’s Forest: A Study of Shakespeare’s Pastoral Plays. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972.

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    A study of The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, along with As You Like It and King Lear, in terms of their structural, stylistic, and thematic relations to the popular Renaissance genre known as the pastoral.

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Pericles

This play was excluded from the First Folio of 1623 by its editors, presumably because they thought it not to be entirely Shakespeare’s own. Subsequent editors and critics have agreed that it was collaboratively written but tend to give credit to Shakespeare as the guiding spirit and author of the play’s restorative ending. Bishop 1996 is illuminating on the theme of wonder. Skeele 1998 provides a critical and theatrical history. Skeele 2000 is a useful anthology focusing on theater.

Cymbeline

Cymbeline is the longest of the late romances, and is (like The Winter’s Tale) close to tragedy at times, especially with Posthumus’s jealous determination to kill his wife Imogen, and with the death of Cloten; it was included in the tragedies in the First Folio by Heminges and Condell. Like King Lear, it is set in pre-Christian Britain. Freer 1981, King 2005, and Simonds 1992 are thematically insightful.

The Winter’s Tale

This play is the most overtly tragicomic of Shakespeare’s late romances, divided as it is into a tragic first half set in Sicily with the jealous rage of King Leontes against his wife Hermione, and a second comic half set largely in a pastoral landscape of Bohemia. Frey 1980 and Bishop 1996 are delightful on strangeness, likewise Sokol 1994 on art as illusion and Williams 1967 on romance. The specialized studies Snyder 1999 and Knapp 2004 consider, respectively, the ambiguous gender of the male child Mamillius, presented as still in nursery skirts, and the signification of the vivified statue Hermione.

  • Bishop, T. G. Shakespeare and the Theatre of Wonder. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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    As in its study of Pericles, this book provides a graceful look at The Winter’s Tale as expressing Shakespeare’s fascination with the quality of wonder, especially in the final scene in which the statue of Hermione seems to come to life.

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  • Frey, Charles. Shakespeare’s Vast Romance: A Study of The Winter’s Tale. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1980.

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    An exploration of the play’s tragicomic strangeness and its emergence today as one that delights audiences with its metatheatricality.

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  • Knapp, James A. “Visual and Ethical Truth in The Winter’s Tale.” Shakespeare Quarterly 55 (2004): 253–278.

    DOI: 10.1353/shq.2005.0014Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the scene of the seeming coming to life of the statue of Hermione is paradigmatic of a Shakespearean aesthetic in which characters and audiences are confronted with an “impossibility” that gestures toward a deeper truth.

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  • Snyder, Susan. “Mamillius and Gender Polarization in The Winter’s Tale.” Shakespeare Quarterly 50 (1999): 1–8.

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    Focuses on Mamillius as played by a boy actor, whom Shakespeare evidently regarded as a young lad still “unbreeched” and dressed in the skirts worn in the early modern period by young male children before they dressed themselves in the breeches that constituted their entrance into adult malehood.

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  • Sokol, B. J. Art and Illusion in The Winter’s Tale. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1994.

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    A study of this play’s deep interest in art as illusion, as expressed in the coming to life of a seeming statue.

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  • Williams, John Anthony. The Natural Work of Art: The Experience of Romance in Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967.

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    Romance is seen as the essence of the dramatic experience in this book-length study of The Winter’s Tale.

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The Tempest

Generally held to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote entirely by himself, The Tempest has struck many critics and readers as a biographical reflection by Shakespeare on his art and on familial relations between an aging father and his daughter and her husband. Vaughan and Vaughan 1998 and Hulme and Sherman 2000 are useful collections, the latter tending to postmodern approaches, while Orgel 2002 gathers essays by this major critic. Demaray 1998 is good on strangeness, while James 1967 considers Prospero’s dream, and Vaughan and Vaughan 1991 pursues the cultural history of Caliban. The specialized study Neill 2008 investigates the impact on the play of its embedded “soundtrack.”

The Two Noble Kinsmen

One of two plays (the other being Henry VIII) that Shakespeare evidently wrote in 1613–1614 after his retirement, in collaboration with John Fletcher, who had succeeded Shakespeare as the chief dramatist for the King’s Men. Frey 1989, McMullan and Hope 1992, and Shannon 2002 stress friendship and the genre of tragicomedy.

  • Frey, Charles H., ed. Shakespeare, Fletcher, and The Two Noble Kinsmen. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989.

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    A close reading of this play as a collaboration after Shakespeare’s retirement.

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  • McMullan, Gordon, and Jonathan Hope, eds. The Politics of Tragicomedy: Shakespeare and After. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

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    Includes an essay by Lois Potter on the question of “topicality or politics” in The Two Noble Kinsmen.

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  • Shannon, Laurie. Sovereign Amity: Figures of Friendship in Shakespearean Contexts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

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    An innovative study of same-sex friendship as enabling a utopian political discourse in early modern culture unavailable through other means. With a substantial essay on The Two Noble Kinsmen, along with studies of Shakespeare’s Henriad plays, The Winter’s Tale, Cary’s The Tragedy of Mariam, and Marlowe’s Edward II.

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The Poems

These poems are presented in more or less chronological order, from Venus and Adonis in 1593 to the Sonnets in the late 1590s and early 1600s.

Venus and Adonis

This poem, Shakespeare’s first published work in 1593, was dedicated to the Earl of Southampton. Written in the fashionable style of mildly erotic narrative, it tells of the goddess of love and her infatuation with a reluctant young man. Kolin 1997 is a useful anthology of essays. Keach 1977 and Mortimer 2000 offer thematic readings.

The Rape of Lucrece

Shakespeare’s second publication in 1594 was, like Venus and Adonis, dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, with a warmth that seemingly bespeaks a genuine hope on Shakespeare’s part of becoming a serious poet with noble patronage and support, as is discussed in Dubrow 1987. Hulse 1981 places The Rape of Lucrece in a historical context. The specialized study Weaver 2008 displays the indebtedness of Lucrece’s speeches to standard contemporary schoolbooks.

“A Lover’s Complaint” and Other Short Poems

Among the various short poems ascribed to Shakespeare, “The Phoenix and Turtle” is perhaps the most mysteriously wonderful and is given a close reading in Knight 2002. “A Lover’s Complaint” was appended in 1609 to Thomas Thorpe’s edition of the Sonnets, implying that the poem is Shakespeare’s, but the case of authorship continues to be debated, as it is in Vickers 2007.

The Sonnets

Shakespeare did not publish his own sonnets; they appeared in print in 1609, seemingly without his authorization, some years after the vogue of the sonnet as a genre had passed. Whether the order of the sonnets reflects Shakespeare’s own intent, whether that order reflects the various dates when they were written, and whether the sonnets are partly autobiographical remain topics of controversy. Booth 1969 and Shakespeare 1977 provide a rich basis for study of these remarkable poems. Vendler 1997 looks at the sonnets one by one in terms of stylistics. Fineman 1986 offers a postmodern reading. Herrnstein 1964 is a collection of essays up to that date. Pequigney 1985 reads the sonnets as overtly homoerotic, in an interpretation that not all readers have agreed with.

  • Booth, Stephen. An Essay on Shakespeare’s Sonnets. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1969.

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    A study that is focused on a multitude of coexistent and conflicting patterns—of imagery, syntax, rhythm, phonetic effects, and logic—in the Sonnets, with no attempt to puzzle over biographical perplexities.

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  • Fineman, Joel. Shakespeare’s Perjured Eye: The Invention of Poetic Subjectivity in the Sonnets. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

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    Argues that Shakespeare, in these sonnets, introduced into the lyric tradition a genuinely novel poetic first person and hence poetic subjectivity.

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  • Herrnstein, Barbara, ed. Discussions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Boston: D. C. Heath, 1964.

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    A useful anthology of essays by Coleridge, Keats, Patrick Cruttwell, G. Wilson Knight, J. W. Lever, John Crowe Ransom, Yvor Winters, William Empson, Winifred M. T. Nowottny, C. L. Barber, and others.

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  • Pequigney, Joseph. Such Is My Love: A Study of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.

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    An impassioned argument that the great majority of Shakespeare’s sonnets chronicle, in realistic and psychologically revealing terms, a consummated homosexual relationship between Shakespeare himself and his “Master Mistress.”

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  • Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Edited by Stephen Booth.New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977.

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    A facing-page edition with the original 1609 quarto on one side and a modern text on the other, followed by extensive and illuminating commentary.

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  • Vendler, Helen. The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

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    Detailed commentaries on all 154 sonnets, revealing stylistic and imaginative features.

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LAST MODIFIED: 05/10/2010

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195399301-0052

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