In this lesson, our instructor Rebekah Hendershot provides an Intro to William Shakespeare. Youll learn who the playwright was by looking at what historians already know and dont know about him. Rebekah will also go over his early plays, the big ones, and the problem plays. Youll also find out why Shakespeare matters and whether or not youre actually going to use this in the real world. The lesson concludes with a few secrets to make understanding Shakespeare a lot easier.
This course will teach you how to read and understand the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the English language (and the man who invented quite a lot of it).
These videos are not a substitute for reading Shakespeare, listening to Shakespeare, or watching Shakespeare performed.
Seriously. Don’t be that guy.
Who Was William Shakespeare?
What Do We Know About William Shakespeare?
Baptized April 26, 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. (Born April 23?)
Father (John Shakespeare) was a leather merchant, alderman, and bailiff.
Probably educated at the local King’s New School; no university education.
Married Anne Hathaway (not the actress!) November 28, 1582 in Worcester. He was 18; she was 26.
Daughter Susanna born May 26, 1583. That’s right—Anne was pregnant at the wedding.
Twins Hamnet and Judith born February 2, 1585. Hamnet died at age 11 of unknown causes.
7 years of silence—the “lost period”.
In hiding for poaching game?
Assistant headmaster in Lancashire?
Arrived in London in the mid- to late 1580s. May have found work as a horse attendant at London theatres.
May have been writing plays as early as 1592 (because a critic made fun of him for it).
Worked with the prestigious Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men, after James I came to the throne in 1603).
By 1597, he had written 15 of the 37 plays attributed to him.
Built the Globe Theatre in 1599.
Invested in real estate in 1605 (it made him lots of money).
Writing style: mostly unrhymed iambic pentameter (ten-syllable lines with an iambic rhythm).
Acted in plays as well as wrote them—and acted in many plays he didn’t write (including some by Ben Jonson).
His early plays were mostly histories and comedies.
Romeo and Juliet
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Merchant of Venice
Much Ado About Nothing
As You Like It
Henry IV (parts 1 and 2)
Henry VI (parts 1, 2, and 3)
We think these were written in the early period too:
The Comedy of Errors
The Taming of the Shrew
Two Gentlemen of Verona
The period after 1600 was the time of Shakespeare’s “big” plays—the tragedies and tragicomedies that delve deeply into human nature.
The Winter’s Tale
This period also produced the “problem plays”—the ones that are difficult to categorize.
Measure for Measure
All’s Well That Ends Well
Troilus and Cressida
What Else Do We Know About Shakespeare?
Wrote poetry as well as plays, particularly during 1593 – 1594, when plague closed the theatres.
Fewer plays after 1607; no plays after 1613. Did he retire? (If he did, it would have been very unusual for the time.)
Visited London a few times after the plays stopped.
Died in April 1616 (legend has it on his birthday).
Left most of his estate to his daughter Susanna.
Little mention of Anne except for leaving her his “second-best bed”.
What does that mean? Either an insult or a gesture of love …
What Don’t We Know About Shakespeare?
Few personal records
No portraits during his lifetime
Very little unpaid writing
Why Does Shakespeare Matter?
Invented modern English (including 3000+ words)
The most quoted body of work after the King James Bible
Changed the way stories were told.
Perhaps the most human human being ever.
Am I Ever Going to Use This in the Real World?
Shakespeare is quoted constantly.
Knowledge of Shakespeare is a mark of a good education.
Studying Shakespeare is good for your vocabulary and overall brain development.
Shakespeare helps us understand ourselves.
The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare
Watch it performed (or on film if you can’t get to a theatrical production). All of Shakespeare makes more sense when it’s spoken by actors who have lived his words and know, bone-deep, what he’s talking about. Never underestimate the power of performance. Remember that this is how Shakespeare meant his work to be seen …
Introduction to William Shakespeare
Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.
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