© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.

Introduction to Shakespeare

Gettin' cozy with Big Willy Shakes.

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to see a Shakespeare play when it was originally written? What sights and smells you would  have experienced? Okay, on second thought, maybe you're not interested in smelling people who only showered four times a year. But who would be watching a play with you? And were those plays like the latest indie films that everyone is raving about, or were they more like the reality TV shows you're embarrassed to admit you watch?

This course will try to answer just those burning questions about Shakespeare's world and plays. We will look at how he wrote them, who he wrote them for, and how they were performed. Oh, and of course we will be reading selections from his plays, too.

By the end of the course, Shakespeare will be your new best friend.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. All the World's a Stage

This unit will introduce you to the Shakespeare's world, giving you a feel for the historical and social context surrounding the Bard, and providing some deets on what it was actually like to attend the theater back in the day.

Unit 2. Histories: Fact or Fiction?

In this unit, we'll discuss the difference between drama and history by looking at sections of Richard III and Henry V. We'll consider the speeches and personalities Shakespeare gives these historical heavyweights while we ponder the dramatic impact of historical fiction.

Unit 3. Family Feud

In this unit, we'll be reading excerpts from different plays that focus on family relationships—The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and The Winter's Tale—and we'll think about the way Shakespeare's audience would have understood family ties.

Unit 4. What's Love Got To Do With It?

Love is in the air in all of Shakespeare's plays, but we've picked just a few examples to tackle in this unit: Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Unit 5. All's Fair in Love and War

This unit will look at the types of wars waged, from the personal to the political, in Shakespeare's plays, focusing on how the characters deal with the wars going on around them. We'll be looking at Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, and Titus Andronicus.

Unit 6. The Master of Disguise

Shakespeare's plays have more plot twists and disguises than a Plot Twist and Disguises festival. And that's just what we'll be thinking about in this unit, by reading selections from As You Like It, King Lear, The Tempest, and Measure for Measure.

Unit 7. Words, Words, Words

This unit will focus on Shakespeare's words, zooming in on his poetry and taking a closer look at all the wordy legacies he's left us today. (Spoiler alert: there are a ton.)

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 7: Give Me an Audience

"Dude, stop photo bombing me, I'm trying to win over the audience."

[Image from frontispiece to The Wits in Restoration Theatre in England by Francis Kirkman, 1662]

Sometimes the audience is almost as important as the show itself. We know this from attending performances of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And from making jokes that don't land even when we're sure they're hilarious.

So who do you think was watching Shakespeare's plays when they were first performed, and how did they feel about it? Were they blockbuster hits or total flops? And did it matter?

In this lesson, audiences play the leading role. We'll talk about how they responded to plays, what they did while watching (get your mind out of the gutter!), and whether or not they made any difference.

We recommend getting a helmet in case any heavy utensils are thrown at the stage.