Why Study Shakespeare?
his contemporary Ben Jonson put it best::, "[He was] the
Sweet Swan of Avon who was not only of an age but for all time."
the first writer in European history to earn a living as a playwright,
and Shakespeare earned a fortune.
He has remained the
most popular playwright in the world ever since, and his plays will be
performed more often this year
than any others.
Shakespeare wrote theatre, not literature. He didn’t even bother to
plays. (There was no money in it.) He was a working playwright first,
the greatest poet in the English language second.
was extraordinarily popular in his day, not just among the
London who were members of Queen Elizabeth’s court, but also among the
illiterate groundlings who flocked to the Globe to revel in this new
High Art: An ironic analysis of the mortal
of true love
Low Art: A villain persuades his best friend
his wife has been unfaithful and convinces him to murder her: sex,
betrayal, and racism.
Art: A stark study of evil and its effects on human nature
Low Art: A ripping good tale full of
sex, madness, witchcraft, and buckets of blood.
High Art: a meditation on the futility of the attempt to create a
Low Art: A sorcerer has the opportunity to wreak the ultimate vengeance
when his enemies
are shipwrecked on his magic island
An exploration of the end of innocence and the limits of human
Low Art: A ripping good revenge story full of
ghosts, madmen, lost love, graveyards, bloody sword fights and villains
The rapt response of
theatre-goers, critics and
general readers has been consistent ever since the plays were written.
Shakespeare’s vision of human nature was not only ahead of its time,
but it has
taken the world four centuries to catch up with him, if we have.
Shakespeare was also a product of his time
glorious Elizabethan age, high point of the Renaissance. He lived in
City of London: over 150,000 residents, but over one million people,
out of a total population in
England of three and a half
million, would visit London at some point each year.
Defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 made England a world power for the
became a center of world trade, one of the capitols of the rising
economy in Europe
in London had spending money in their pockets for the first time
was no longer the only currency of wealth
Reformation and the Scientific Revolution
lived during a time when enormous intellectual changes were taking
place. Presumptions about human nature, about God, about the
universe, and about the
purpose of life which had held society together for a thousand years
reformation led by Martin Luther had split Europe into opposing
herself had become a Protestant country fifty years earlier during the
Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII. The country since then had been rent by
political intrigue between Catholic and Protestant factions.
intellectual community also began to hold skeptical notions about
the first time in over a thousand years.
was the contemporary of great
innovators in the history of science: Kepler, Galileo, and the great
scientist: Sir Francis Bacon.
- Shakespeare also
knew the great explorers of the age: Raleigh, Drake and Cabot.