Comedies

From cross dressing in Twelfth Night to magical storms in The Tempest; from deception in Much Ado to doubling in Midsummer Night’s Dream, discover the beauty and complexity of Shakespeare’s comedies.

Fairies re fashioned in A Midsummer Nights Dream

Fairies re-fashioned in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Article by:
Farah Karim-Cooper

Farah Karim-Cooper shows how Shakespeare combined classical and courtly traditions with medieval folk lore to create the benevolent fairies and changeling child of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

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Dream, illusion and doubling in A Midsummer Night's Dream

Dream, illusion and doubling in A Midsummer Night's Dream

Article by:
Emma Smith

Having one actor play more than role was convenient for Shakespeare, whose acting company was limited in size, but doubling also enabled him to intensify the atmosphere of his plays, and to make connections and contrasts between scenes and storylines. Emma Smith explores the way that the doubling in A Midsummer Night's Dream heightens the play's dreamlike and fantastical elements.

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Shakespeare’s festive comedy: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night

Shakespeare’s festive comedy: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night

Article by:
Francois Laroque

Both A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night take their names from seasonal celebrations. Francois Laroque considers the cultural and theatrical context for Shakespeare's festive comedies, and their exploration of merrymaking, disguise and the natural world.

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Mechanicals in a Midsummer Night's Dream

Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Article by:
Simon Callow

The Mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream have long been a favourite with audiences. Simon Callow walks us through their best moments, shining a light on their wit and appeal.

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Comedy, tragedy and gender politics in Much Ado About Nothing

Comedy, tragedy and gender politics in Much Ado About Nothing

Article by:
Emma Smith

Much Ado About Nothing pits male bonding against heterosexual relationships. Emma Smith examines this conflict and the ways in which it threatens the play's status as comedy.

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Benedick and Beatrice: the 'merry war' of courtship

Benedick and Beatrice: the 'merry war' of courtship

Article by:
Penny Gay

Penny Gay sees Benedick and Beatrice as the witty stars of a Shakespearean rom-com. She explores both their modernity and their conformity to traditional gender roles and marriage.

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Deception and dramatic irony in Much Ado About Nothing

Deception and dramatic irony in Much Ado About Nothing

Article by:
Andrea Varney

Although the characters might be fooled by the many deceptions in the play, the audience seems to know better, but Andrea Varney suggests that our role as observers is more complex and uncertain.

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Questions of Value in The Merchant of Venice

Questions of Value in The Merchant of Venice

Article by:
Farah Karim-Cooper

The valuation of property and people – particularly women – in Shakespeare’s Venice reflects contemporary anxieties nearer home, suggests Farah Karim-Cooper.

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How were the Jews regarded in 16th-century England?

How were the Jews regarded in 16th-century England?

Article by:
James Shapiro

Jews in 16th-century England practised their religion secretly, and many of those raised in the Jewish faith either converted to Christianity or pretended to have done so. James Shapiro considers Elizabethan prejudices and paranoia about Jews, putting Shakespeare's Shylock in context.

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A Jewish reading of The Merchant of Venice

A Jewish reading of The Merchant of Venice

Article by:
Aviva Dautch

From Antonio spitting on Shylock's 'Jewish gabardine' to the moneylender's famous speech, 'If you prick us, do we not bleed?': Dr Aviva Dautch responds to The Merchant of Venice as a Jewish reader.

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Prospero : magician and artist

Prospero: magician and artist

Article by:
Emma Smith

In his portrayal of Prospero's 'art', Shakespeare seems to draw parallels between theatre and magic. Emma Smith explores these, but questions the idea that the magus is a self-portrait of the playwright.

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The Tempest and the literature of wonder

The Tempest and the literature of wonder

Article by:
Martin Butler

Martin Butler shows how Renaissance travel, trade and colonisation shaped the portrayal of Caliban and the Italians in The Tempest.

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Prospero - A Renaissance Magus

Prospero: a Renaissance Magus

Article by:
Malcolm Hebron

Malcolm Hebron explains how the Renaissance figure of the Magus, as a force of both good and evil, helps us understand the character of Prospero in The Tempest.

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Post-colonial reading of The Tempest

Post-colonial reading of The Tempest

Article by:
Jyotsna Singh

Post-colonial readings of The Tempest were inspired by the decolonisation movements of the 1960s and 1970s in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. Jyotsna Singh describes how these readings challenge more traditional interpretations of the play, questioning Prospero's ownership of the island and rethinking the role of Caliban.

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The first night of the Tempest

The first night of The Tempest

Article by:
Gordon McMullan

The Tempest was first performed in the enclosed, candlelit space of the new Blackfriars theatre. Here Professor Gordon McMullan describes how audience members would have found themselves participating in an innovative and captivating theatrical experience.

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Tempestuous Words: The Tempest and Shakespeare’s linguistic innovation

Tempestuous words: The Tempest and Shakespeare’s linguistic innovation

Article by:
David Crystal

'Over-stink', 'instinctively', 'bow-wow', 'reeling-ripe': some of the words in The Tempest appear nowhere else in literature, whereas others have become embedded in the English language. David Crystal takes a look at Shakespeare's verbal ingenuity.

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Twelfth Night and festive comedy

Twelfth Night and festive comedy

Article by:
Penny Gay

Penny Gay considers the qualities of Twelfth Night that make it a festive comedy, from its romantic setting to the persistent riddling of its characters.

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A Queer reading of Twelfth Night

A Queer reading of Twelfth Night

Article by:
Miranda Fay Thomas

Miranda Fay Thomas explores how Twelfth Night interrogates conventional ideas about gender and sexuality, portraying gender as performative and suggesting erotic possibilities between same-sex pairs.

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Festivity, dressing up and misrule in Twelfth Night

Festivity, dressing up and misrule in Twelfth Night

Article by:
Michael Dobson

In the Elizabethan period, 'Twelfth Night' was a festival celebrated with music, masked balls, misrule and general revelry. Michael Dobson considers the place of festivity and disguise in Shakespeare's play of the same name.

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Shakespeare’s comedy

An introduction to Shakespeare’s comedy

Article by:
John Mullan

John Mullan considers the key characteristics of Shakespeare's varied comedies, but he also considers the ways the playwright mixes genres by bringing comedy into his tragedies and tragedy into his comedies.

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Measure for Measure - a problem play

Measure for Measure: what's the problem?

Article by:
Kate Chedzgoy

Measure for Measure is one of Shakespeare's "problem plays": it sits uneasily between tragedy and comedy. Kate Chedzgoy discusses how the play combines the two genres and, in doing so, raises questions about morality, justice, mercy and closure.

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Measure for Measure: Symmetry and substitution

Article by:
Emma Smith

The title of Measure for Measure suggests the play's concern with equality and exchange. Emma Smith discusses how Shakespeare explores these ideas through imperfect or unsettling symmetry and substitution, including the possible substitution of London for Vienna as the play's setting.

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measure for measure

Measure for Measure and punishment

Article by:
John Mullan

John Mullan considers how Measure for Measure explores ideas about justice, mercy and punishment.

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gender and measure for measure

Gender in Measure for Measure

Article by:
Kathleen E. McLuskie

Kate McLuskie explores how Shakespeare used a comic framework in Measure for Measure to debate ideas about rights, responsibilities and the social regulation of sexual relations.

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shrew

Comedy in The Taming of the Shrew

Article by:
Penny Gay

Penny Gay investigates how The Taming of the Shrew both draws on and challenges comic conventions.

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shrew

Power and gender in The Taming of the Shrew

Article by:
Rachel De Wachter

Does The Taming of the Shrew advocate sexual inequality or does it show and critique men’s attempts to subordinate women? Rachel De Wachter discusses how we should think about relations between the sexes in the play, and examines how writers, directors and actors have explored this question over the past four centuries.

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Clothing and transformation in The Taming of the Shrew

Clothing and transformation in The Taming of the Shrew

Article by:
Emma Smith

Emma Smith explores how clothing complicates ideas about gender and social status in The Taming of the Shrew.

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Further themes

Comedies

From cross dressing in Twelfth Night to magical storms in The Tempest; from deception in Much Ado to doubling in Midsummer Night’s Dream, discover the beauty and complexity of Shakespeare’s comedies.

Tragedies

From Hamlet’s melancholy to Juliet’s eloquence; and from Lear’s madness to Othello’s misunderstanding, discover the richness of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

Histories

From the staging of disability to the influence of Machiavelli, explore Shakespeare’s history plays.

Shakespeare’s life and world

From the open air Globe to the candlelit Blackfriars; from countryside to city; and from noblemen to strangers, discover the world that shaped Shakespeare’s work and that influenced his legacy.

Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage

From courtship rituals to cross-dressing, examine the ways in which Shakespeare explored identity and gender roles

Elizabethan England

Exploration and trade, crime and punishment, clothing and social structure: explore key aspects of Elizabethan life, culture and society.

Ethnicity and identity

From Othello and Shylock to depictions of the ‘New World’ and anti-immigration riots, explore Shakespeare’s fascination with ethnic identity

Power and politics

A murdered king, a homeless ruler, an exiled Duke with magical powers: discover Shakespeare’s fascination with power and powerlessness

Global Shakespeare

Discover how Shakespeare’s work was influenced by other cultures, and how it’s been interpreted in nations across the world for 400 years.

Interpretations of ‘Madness’

From Lear’s breakdown to Ophelia’s malady, examine the ways in which Shakespeare depicts ideas of ‘madness’

Deception, drama and misunderstanding

Investigate the ways in which Shakespeare explores miscommunication, dishonesty, trickery and the nature of theatre

Language, word play and text

Prose and verse, word play, neologisms and rhetoric: discover Shakespeare’s innovative and experimental use of language.

Magic, illusion and the supernatural

Mischievous fairies, monstrous apparitions and scheming witches: examine the ways in which Shakespeare played with the magical and supernatural

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