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Introduction to William Shakespeare

  • First Things First
    • 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?
    • Playwright
    • Poet
    • Businessman
    • Wordsmith
  • 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.
      • Reading
      • Writing
      • Classics
    • 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
      • Twelfth Night
      • Richard II
      • Richard III
      • Henry IV (parts 1 and 2)
      • Henry VI (parts 1, 2, and 3)
      • Henry V
    • We think these were written in the early period too:
      • Titus Andronicus
      • 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.
      • Hamlet
      • King Lear
      • Othello
      • Macbeth
      • Cymbeline
      • The Winter’s Tale
      • The Tempest
    • 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
    • Limited education
    • Religion
    • Sexuality
    • Authorship controversy
  • 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.

  • Intro 0:00
  • First Things First 0:18
  • Lesson Overview 1:02
  • Who Was William Shakespeare? 1:38
    • Playwright
    • Poet
    • Businessman
    • Wordsmith
  • What Do We Know About Shakespeare? 2:06
    • Birth
    • Father
    • Education
    • Marriage
    • Children
    • The Lost Period
    • Work in London
    • Globe Theater
    • Real Estate Investments
    • Writing Style
  • Early Plays 9:30
    • Comedies
    • Histories
    • Others Written in Early Period
  • Big Plays 10:36
  • Problem Plays 11:02
  • What Else Do We Know About Shakespeare? 11:30
    • Wrote Poetry
    • Fewer plays after 1607
    • Died
  • What Don't We Know About Shakespeare? 14:02
    • Few Personal Records
    • No Portraits During Lifetime
    • Little Unpaid Writing
    • Limited Education
    • Religion
    • Sexuality
    • Authorship
  • Why Does Shakespeare Matter? 18:12
    • Invented Modern English
    • Most Quoted
    • Changed Storytelling
    • Most Human Human Being
  • Am I Ever Going to Use This in the Real World? 20:16
  • The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare 21:10