Writing Shakespeare essays

About Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, generally regarded as the greatest dramatist, English playwright, poet and actor. He is also called the national poet of England and the “Bard of Avon“. His current works consist of some 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems and a few other verses, some of which are of unknown writings, including collaborations. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are more commonly performed than every other playwright. His research continues to be examined and reinterpreted.

Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon – Avon and was educated there. He married Anne Hathaway at the age of 18, and he had three children with her: Susanna and twins Hamnet and Judith. He started a prosperous career in London sometime between 1585 and 1592 as an actor, writer, and part-owner of a play business called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later became known as the King’s Men. He seems to have retired to Stratford at the age of 49, where he died 3 years later. Few records of the private life of Shakespeare survive; this has started rumours on subjects such as his physical features, his sexuality, his religious views, and whether others composed the works credited to him.

Around 1589 and 1613, Shakespeare produced the majority of his known works. His earlier plays were mostly comedies and histories and are considered to be some of the best works in these genres. He wrote mostly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, all regarded as the finest English-language creations. He wrote tragic comedies and partnered with other playwrights in the last period of his life.

In his lifetime, several of Shakespeare’s plays were written in editions of varying consistency and accuracy. However, in 1623 two fellow actors and friends of Shakespeare’s dramatic works that included all but two of his plays. The volume was prefaced with a poem by Ben Jonson, in which Jonson presciently hailed Shakespeare in a now famous quote as “ not of an age, but for all time”.

Shakespeare’s life and his work have been a great contribution to the English language, literature and culture. His work has been a source of inspiration across the globe, and part of the curriculum of language, arts and literature. The mark left by Shakespeare cannot be denied. His works are collectables of the century. So magnificent that people sometimes question that people sometimes question that a person with such an influence ever existed.


How to Plan and Write a Shakespeare Essay

William Shakespeare is arguably the greatest, most ubiquitously studied author in the history of Western literature, supplying the main literature for English classrooms the world over. Shakespeare wrote over 400 years ago and his plays of comedy, tragedy and history have tended to be the particular focus. They have been resurrected over the centuries as the most popular course literature requiring numerous essays to provide interpretations of his work. Writing a Shakespeare essay presents a number of challenges due to the difficulties of comprehending the language and interpreting the context of Shakespeare literature itself, so I am going to explain how to achieve writing a Shakespeare essay specifically by focussing on these aspects.

Planning and Resources

The first steps involve planning the essay. A Shakespeare essay would generally involve a particular focus on a Shakespeare play, so you will need to identify resources for being able to read the play. As with writing any literature essay, A Shakespeare essay about a play requires great understanding of the literature. You should read the play several times and on the first read you should ensure you learn the meanings of any words you do not understand so that you can read it with greater comprehension in the next time. It is helpful to watch a film of the play if you can, with the BBC in particular providing quality productions, bringing the dialogs to life. If possible actually attend a live theatre performance, in particular if your Shakespeare essay requires more theatrical insight, as this unveils more of the emotion key to Shakespeare’s style.

There are several background considerations in general with Shakespeare’s literature, as much about Shakespeare himself, as with the time and settings in which the plays were written. As important as it to read the play(s) about which the essay is concerned, before entering Shakespeare’s world of Old English, you should try read one of many available synopses of the play(s), seeking one that at least covers the play act by act, but better to have more detailed scene by scene. This will give you a good understanding of the story before facing any challenges of Shakespeare’s language. It is important to understand Shakespeare’s writing approach and certain general characteristics of his plays. Far rarer for literature before the Elizabethan age than for that in which he lived, Shakespeare wrote plays with several plots, at times dozens of characters and upwards of three different parties (families, courts, etc.) central to the storyline. Prepare yourself for this vast content when reading the play, making notes of which plot, party and/or combination of characters particular events pertain to (can be several). Shakespeare didn’t live in an age where the act of retelling stories from others was questioned as unoriginal, and his sub plots, plot and scenes can be traced to several sources that are well documented for each play, so you should refer to them in order to understand better what was important to Shakespeare; in particular what he stressed, what he left out and therefore be better prepared to make the all important interpretative judgement in your Shakespeare essay of what the his intention was for those particular texts.

Incorporating into writing

If your Shakespeare essay question requires a special amount of contextual interpretation, you should read the history around any events that were taking place leading up to the time of Shakespeare’s writing that he may have incorporated, aside from gaining understanding of the social classes and general movements of the time. Also important are features of the location and audiences that Shakespeare intended the play for at the time. Shakespeare plays were generally performed in an Elizabethan theatre, with a large stage in which several people could enact a large scene with several important characters present and thus enabling a number of different interpretations of the event’s impact for each character. Alternatively, less people on stage could enact a scene at large distances to act out distinct events taking place simultaneously or to portray actions such as eavesdropping. These settings should be recognised when interpreting the passages in your Shakespeare essay. In addition, despite having a large audience capacity, the members were were seated close to the stage, with a sharp rising vertical gradient, in contrast to modern audiences; meaning it should be kept in mind that several of Shakespeare’s dialogs could be theatrically whispered and still heard by all attending, such as his typical soliloquies. Similarly, pay attention for the emotions of the characters, if you have only the play in written form and do not get to see a performance, always keep in mind that the characters would have many expressions and feelings portrayed more strongly that what you have read.

A Shakespeare essay should include passages from the play(s) as examples of a broad interpretation or specifically for a point. When using a passage, read the previous and subsequent passages that involve the character(s) involved in main passage in question, in order to refresh your context before finalising the significance of your inclusion. The meaning of passages included should a least have some bearing on the question of the essay and not just be arbitrarily inserted with an interpretation. When including a passage, you should cite the acts, scene and lines so that it can easily be located by the reader.

Closing Up

Ultimately, your Shakespeare essay should draw a conclusion that is highly contextual by including many considerations of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan age, settings and influences rather than a sole focus of reading the play(s) in question. Shakespeare was a playwright a long time ago and many things have changed the context of what you read before you from when he wrote it, so due diligence should be paid to incorporate the meanings from how it once was. Finally your Shakespeare essay should express your ultimate impressions of the play(s) in question and bring together feelings you were left with, as it was a key intention of the great author to have an emotive impact on you.