William Shakespeare is, by far, the most significant English- language writer in history.  In fact, Shakespeare was voted as one of the most important people of the second millenium.  So why do students hate Shakespeare?  There are a few answers to this question.  First, they think the stories are old-fashioned and don't contain anything exciting enough for modern tastes.  The second complaint is that the language is too hard to read.  Are there answers to these complaints?  Certainly!  Shakespeare's stories are timeless.  In many ways, his plays were, to the Elizabethan audience, the TV drama of the day.  Let's see--are adulterous relationships, gossipy colleagues, scheming family and friends, murder, lies, misunderstandings, and power-brokering not modern?  These are just a few of the themes in Shakespeare's plays!  As for the language--it is important to remember that Shakespeare's plays were written to be performed, not read.  It is much easier to keep up with what is happening when watching a play.  However, reading Shakespeare can be just as easy.  Just read.  Don't labor over the language--just let it flow and, believe it or not, don't think too much!  It is just a matter of time before the beautiful language makes itself at home in your eyes and in your mind and you won't even realize you're reading Shakespeare!

Just to prove the point, click here  for the opening scene of Richard III  (one of Shakespeare's best villains) and a discussion of the passage.

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC is worth the trip.

Check out the many links available at the Voice of the Shuttle.

Shakespeare was born at Stratford-upon-Avon in April 23, 1564.  Click here to see his birthplace.  He died April 23, 1616.

For many years, there has been a debate regarding the authorship of Shakespeare's works.  Some believe that indeed, a man named Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's works. Others credit Francis Bacon.  Others give credit a number of authors.  The PBS documentary show Frontline tried to solve the mystery.  So who wrote Shakespeare?  Does it matter?  Whoever he was, he was a great writer.  He left us with some of the most beautiful poetry ever written.  His stories are timeless, and his characters, unforgettable.  Whether his name was William Shakespeare or Joe Nobody, he was a genius and his works should be looked at as a wonderful legacy, not potential fodder for some kind of "mystery."

There are many textural problems with Shakespeare's works.  What is a textural problem?  That means there are problems with the texts (or versions) of a work.  We do not have any of Shakespeare's autographs (aka a handwritten copy of a text, written by the author) because they were lost in the fire that destroyed the Globe Theatre.  There are several versions of Shakespeare's work--some are called memorial transcriptions, which were probably written by actors (from memory, thus, "memorial").  The others were compiled using scripts.  The most famous compilation of Shakespeare's plays is The First Folio printed in 1623.  Other versions of a text were called the Quartos.  Which is "authoritative?"  Well, that depends upon the play!  For a discussion about textural problems in A Winter's Tale, click here.

Last but not least, a list of my favorite characters and presentations of the Bard's work.

Malvolio, Twelfth Night.  Click here for an excerpt of a paper about the "gulling" of Malvolio
Shylock, Merchant of Venice.  Click here for an excerpt of a paper discussing Shylock's character and Shakespeare's potential anti-Semitism.
Puck, Midsummer Night's Dream
Beatrice and Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing
Macbeth, Macbeth
Hamlet and Horatio, Hamlet

Kenneth Branaugh as Iago, Othello
Kenneth Branaugh as Hamlet, Hamlet
Emma Thompson as Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing
Kate Winslet as Ophelia, Hamlet

If you haven't had the opportunity to see Kenneth Branaugh's production of Hamlet, it is an absolute must-see.  He is, by far, the best Hamlet I've ever seen.  It is clear that he understands the text very well--he portrays Hamlet as the text says he should--he's not crazy, he's mad with grief and mad for revenge on his father's murderer.  Branaugh also does a wonderful job in the verbal contest with Polonius.  Kate Winslet does a marvelous job as Ophelia, especially when she comes unhinged upon news of her father's death.  The movie is almost 4 hours long but it is worth every minute!
 

last updated August 9, 2004.