Major Authors and Works
William Shakespeare – born 1564 at Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire. His education based on Latin grammar, rhetoric, and composition; to speak English was forbidden in the upper forms. His father, a Catholic, was charged with being a ‘recusant’: one who refused to attend church and take communion. Shakespeare’s work is affected by Christianity more than the Renaissance humanists. His plays show a full awareness of the possibilities of human life. Married Anne Hathaway at 18. Was a partner in the leading company of actors, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Played at the Globe, at Court, and at Blackfriars theatre. Died April 23, 1616. Favored a play-within-a-play. Closely averted tragedy is a common theme.
“Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies” – printed 1623. Folio collection edition of 36 of Shakespeare’s plays. First time Shakespeare was printed; done by his fellow actors. Shakespeare’s monument.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – Duke Theseus is to wed Hippolyta; two young Athenian couples (after much confusion in a wood near Athens) also marry. The King and Queen of the Fairies, Oberon and Titania, quarrel passionately over an Indian boy; Oberon makes Titania fall in love with Bottom, a weaver who is rehearsing a play for the Duke’s wedding. Puck adds supernatural confusion to the effects of love and midsummer moonlight. Directed by Oberon, he puts an ass’s head on Bottom, and squeezes the love inducing juice of a magic herb onto Titania’s eyelid. She wakes and loves the first creature she sees: the asinine Bottom, who she carries off to her bower. The love-juice causes operatic mayhem among the four young lovers in the wood. Oberon makes Puck put everything right in time for the wedding. Sexual possessiveness.
“Twelfth Night” – marks the mid-point of Shakespeare’s career. Viola disguises herself as a boy (Cesario), to evade detection rather than to pursue a young man. Cesario is employed by the young Duke Orsino to carry his love to the young Olivia. Both Olivia and Viola mourn a brother. Viola falls in love with Orsino and Olivia falls for Cesario. Malvolio, Olivia’s steward, is tricked by a forged letter written by another servant, Maria, into thinking that his mistress invites him to woo her. Olivia is tricked into marrying Viola’s lost twin Sebastian, and Viola and Orsino marry as well.
“Shake-speares Sonnets” – published 1609. Explores love unsatisfied. Shows the predatory nature of sexual desire.
“Hamlet” – The world of Seneca is morally corrupt, their incident and language sensationalistic: malignant plotting, cunning death, and madness. Christian humanist idealism. In Hamlet’s soliloquies, wer are given unprecedented access to his thoughts and feelings. Prince Hamlet is the ideal Renaissance prince lamented by Ophelia. Hamlet ponders, tests out the king’s guilt, outwits those set to watch him, and reproaches his mother, but does not act. His madness is feigned, but he is poisoned by the evil around him, mistreating Ophelia, sparing the life of Claudius when he finds him praying, in case Claudius should be saved from eternal punishment. Only when Hamlet is sent to England to be killed can he defend himself.
“King Lear” – play of good and evil, a parable with little psychology of character. It begins like a fairy tale, the old king asks his three daughters to say which loves him most. His youngest, Cordelia, loves him but is not prepared to outbid her sisters to gain a richer portion of the kingdom. The subplot also has a fairy-tale ending, in which the good brother Edgar defeats the evil brother Edmund in single combat. Lear is cast out into the storm by his daughter Goneril and Regan, driving him mad. Edmund ousts his brother and father. Lear dies, but is rescued and brought back to life by Cordelia, who he begs forgiveness from. They are both sent to prison, and Cordelia is hanged. Men, like fruit, do not choose to enter the world; and men must not choose to fall and rot, but be ready for the death God sends.
“Macbeth” – Composed 1605. First recording of the word “assassination”. King Duncan is murdered and found by Macduff. Macbeth, the assassin, eventually sinks to the level of the killer he sends to Fife, who kills MacDuff’s son. Theme of innocence and cruelty. About murder as a crime against nature and as a sacrilege.
“The Tempest” – Twelve years have passed since Duke Prospero was overthrown and put into a rotten boat with his 3-year-old daughter. Her presence saved him. Prospero has educated his daughter, but failed to educate an earthy goblin he found on the island, Caliban, who tried to rape Miranda. Prospero uses his magic to raise the tempest and bring onto the island those who overthrew him
Major Authors and Works Cont.
Thomas Kyd – influenced Shakespeare how to construct a play. “The Spanish Tragedy” pioneered the revenge play. A ghost cries out for vengeance, and the mad Hieronymo uses a play-within-a-play to avenge his son Horatio.
Christopher Marlowe – influenced Shakespeare’s writing. Dramatic use of language and verse.
“Tamburlaine the Great” uses blank pentameter. Each line has a final stress. The shepherd Tamburlaine rose to rule the Mongol empire, humiliating rulers with a savagery softened only at the request of his beloved, the ‘divine Zenocrate’. His hubris in challenging the gods is not punished; he merely dies. Scorns human limits.
“Dr. Faustus” – transcended worn-out teachings, emblem of human aspiration. Faustus does not believe in hell, and sells his soul for twenty-four years of fun. The knowledge he seeks is paltry, and he wastes his powers on schoolboy tricks. Aspiration turns into delusion: the Docto’s immortal soul falls mortal prey to a demonic succubae he has himself conjured up. Sin leads to hell; which makes sensational theatre.
“The Jew of Malta” Barabas blows up a convent of nuns with devilish glee; but finally falls into a cauldron of boiling oil he had prepared for his guests. Expose of hypocrisy. Sin of ignorance is universal.
“Edward II” study in the operation of power: the weak king loses his throne to rebel nobles who resent his homosexual infatuation with Gaveston, and conspire with his wife to depose him. He is murdered.
Ben Jonson – knew Shakespeare well; they acted in each other’s plays. Given education at Westminster School. Went to prison for killing in self-defense. Got a pension under James I. Died 1637.
“The Alchemist” – Sir Epicure Mammon plans the sexual conquests he will enjoy after taking the elixir of youth. His alchemist’s stone, supposed to turn base metal into gold, attracts the parasites of London.
“Volpone” – Volpone is Sir Episure’s cousin. He and his servant Mosca trick a series of fortune-hunters, including Volpone, each makes him a gift in the hope of becoming his heir. Corvino is persuaded that the bedridden Volpone is so deaf that he must be at death’s door. Volpone’s rape of Corvino’s wife is foiled, but his fantastic tricks come to an end only when, in order to enjoy the discomfiture of the birds of carrion, he makes Mosca his heir and pretends to die. Mosca tries to double-cross Volpone, and so, Volpone has to prove he is alive.
Defending Shakespeare: How would you defend Shakespeare is someone was to say that it should no longer be taught in school?
Many of his works are used to model current works of literature and movies.
Many of the literary devices that a student should be known and be familiar with occur in his plays.
They promote critical thinking. It isn’t something that can be read and taken at face value for what it says word-for-word; there are underlying meanings to his writings.
The themes of the plays are relatable to today’s society and still carry on.
Hamlet- Lion King
Romeo and Juliet- Lion King 2
A great resource for the foundation of English literature.
What are some of the arguments that are being made against teaching Shakespeare in High Schools?
The plays are difficult to understand.
Some would argue that Shakespeare is outdated and that there are more current works of literature that could be used.
The plays are formed around monarchies and kingdoms.
They are not related to today’s reading/culture.
It could be argued that some of the themes of the plays are morally questionable.
Romeo and Juliet- child marriage
Hamlet - revenge, murdering of your own family, contemplation of suicide and the committing of suicide
Shakespeare's dramas encompassed a variety of genres including: romance, tragedy, comedy, history, and combinations thereof. He is often credited with perfecting historical dramas, and he drew inspiration for many of these from Roman history. He was far more innovative than most writers of his time. He developed new forms of romance and incorporated sexual elements into his comedies; the latter being a daring move for a man of Shakespeare's time, particularly when performing for the Queen. He was incredibly prolific in his writing and composed many poems and sonnets. Most of his sonnets were romantic in nature, and the majority of them were written to young boys.
He joined the theater as the theater entered its golden age. It was the perfect time for him to be writing, for people were beginning to appreciate plays and literature in general. His writing was influential in forming modern English dialect. He successfully commercialized theater and managed to generate a profit from it. He wasn't afraid to poke fun at authority in his plays, making him something of a political satirist.
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