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Shakespeare Study Guides

Here you will find a detailed analysis of selected plays, including information on the major characters and themes, study questions, annotations, and the theatrical history of each drama. Please check back frequently for more additions to this page. You will also find extensive explanatory notes and commentary for most of the plays at the bottom of each scene.

 Hamlet Study Guide
 Macbeth Study Guide
 Romeo and Juliet Study Guide

 Julius Caesar Study Guide
 King Lear Study Guide
 Othello Study Guide

 The Merchant of Venice Study Guide
 As You Like It Study Guide
 A Midsummer Night's Dream Study Guide
 The Tempest Study Guide

 The Two Gentlemen of Verona Study Guide
 Much Ado About Nothing Study Guide
 Antony and Cleopatra Study Guide
 Henry IV, Part 1 Study Guide


Featured Essays and Book Excerpts on Shakespeare's Plays

The Merchant of Venice

 Setting, Atmosphere and the Unsympathetic Venetians in The Merchant of Venice
 Themes in The Merchant of Venice
 A Merry Devil: Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice
 Three Interpretations of Shylock
 Introduction to Shylock
 Shakespeare Sisterhood: Exploring the Character of Portia

The Tempest

 Forgiveness and Reconciliation in The Tempest
 Magic, Books, and the Supernatural in The Tempest
 The Contrast Between Ariel and Caliban in Shakespeare's Tempest
 The Relationship Between Miranda and Ferdinand

Twelfth Night

 Shakespeare's Second Period: Exploring Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet and the Histories
 Introduction to Shakespeare's Malvolio
 Introduction to Shakespeare's Feste
 Spiritual Grace: An Examination of Viola from Twelfth Night
 The Comic Relief of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek

As You Like It

 Shakespeare's Fools: Touchstone in As You Like It
 Portraits of Human Virtue: A Look at the Characters in Shakespeare's As You Like It
 Exploring As You Like It
 Stage Rosalinds: The Trouble of Rosalind's Disguise in Shakespeare's As You Like It

General Resources

 How to Study a Play by Shakespeare
 Exploring the Nature of Shakespearean Comedy
 Shakespeare's Blank Verse

 Pronouncing Shakespearean Names
 Shakespeare's Metaphors and Similes
 Shakespeare's Audience in his Day

 Going to a Play in Shakespeare's London
 Entertainment in Elizabethan England
 Shocking Elizabethan Drama

 Daily Life in Shakespeare's London
 What did Shakespeare drink?
 What did Shakespeare look like?

 Shakespeare's Attention to Details
 Shakespeare's Portrayals of Sleep
 Shakespeare's Boss

 Shakespeare Hits the Big Time
 Worst Diseases in Shakespeare's London
 Incredible Quotations on Shakespeare's Genius

In the Spotlight

Quote in Context

Your majesty loads our house: for those of old,
And the late dignities heap'd up to them,
We rest your hermits.
                           Macbeth (1.6), Lady Macbeth

Yes, a king travelling with an entourage of hermits sounds like a scene from Monty Python, but Duncan's hermits were actually almsmen, hired to pray for the welfare of Duncan and his men. According to the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1898, the number of these almsmen was "equal to that of the king's years, so that an extra one was added every returning birthday."

In the context of the play, when Lady Macbeth says 'We rest your hermits' she means that, because of their tremendous feelings of gratitude, she and her husband will pray so hard for Duncan that his almsmen will be able to stop praying ('rest'). Read on ...


Homework Help: Hamlet

microsoft images Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
             Hamlet (1.4), Marcellus to Horatio

Marcellus, shaken by the many recent disturbing events and no doubt angered (as is Hamlet) by Claudius's mismanagement of the body politic, astutely notes that Denmark is festering with moral and political corruption.

Francisco's lament that he is "sick at heart" acts in concert with Marcellus's famous line to provide an account of a diseased country. Their comments set the gloomy mood of a neglected populace and substantiate Hamlet's suspicions about Claudius's corruption. Read on ...


On Shakespeare's Mind

"Shakespeare's power of imagination was as fertile as that of any man known to history, but he had another power which is rarely absent from great poets, the power of absorbing or assimilating the fruits of reading. Spenser, Milton, Burns, Keats, and Tennyson had the like power, but probably none had it in quite the same degree as Shakespeare. In his case, as in the case of the other poets, this power of assimilation strengthened, rendered more robust, the productive power of his imagination. This assimilating power is as well worth minute study and careful definition as any other of Shakespeare's characteristics." [Sir Sidney Lee] Read on ...