Spotlight on Shakespeare
William Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers of our time. The British playwright, poet and actor has paved the way for some of the most substantial and highly regarded works of literature. Born in 1564, the great dramatist rose to fame during the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages. His impressive resume consists of thirty-eight renowned plays, 154 sonnets and a high volume of other poems, including narrative. The Shakespeare’s work has allowed for a lot of contemporary reimagining and adaptation; his work has influenced a lot of modern literature.
Shakespeare married an older and already pregnant Anne Hathaway, and produced 3 children, residing in Stratford-Upon-Avon. If you are a Shakespeare fan, a day out to Stratford is much needed, where his life and works are celebrated beautifully. The legacy of Shakespeare lives on through education and entertainment. There are plenty of his works that are worthy of discussion (and previous features have included Hamlet and Measure for Measure), but here are three of our favourites.
Michael Dobson, the Director of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, describes the Twelfth Night festival in Elizabethan England as an:
“occasion for music, elaborate fancy-dress masked balls and parties, during which whoever found the bean baked into a special cake would be declared ‘Lord of Misrule’ for the night.”
With this in mind, it is unsurprising that the Shakespearean play taking its title from this celebration is a comedy.
Themes of gender and identity are central to Twelfth Night. When the character of Viola finds herself shipwrecked in the land of Illyria, she (mistakenly) presumes that her twin brother, Sebastian, has drowned. Deciding that the only way to find work in this new land is by disguising herself as a man, Viola constructs a whole new identity for herself. Viola’s gender swap — as well as the mistaken identity madness that takes place when Sebastian appears alive and looking remarkably like Viola’s masculine alter ego, Cesario — results in a great deal of comedic confusion and drives the plot forward.
One expectation of a Shakespearean comedy is that it will end in marriage, and Twelfth Night is no exception to this rule. Despite the confusion and hilarity that ensues throughout the play, all is ultimately resolved and the play ends happily in three different marriages.
The first recorded performance of Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest, was in November 1611, staged by the King’s Men for James I. The play is set on an island where Prospero, the once duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda, live with their servant, Caliban, and a sprite named Ariel. When a shipwreck brings outsiders to the island, including Antonio, the brother who usurped Prospero, events begin to unfold.
The First Folio edition of the Bard’s plays, published in 1623, categorised The Tempest as a comedy; however, scholars have since argued that its deviation from Shakespeare’s previous comedies and the amalgamation of romantic, comedic, tragic and fantastical elements within the play mean it cannot be definitively categorised as such. Interpretations of The Tempest have also varied significantly, with some critics citing the play as an ode to artistic creation, with Prospero’s final monologue representing Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage and others seeing it as an allegory of European colonisation. In the best way, The Tempest seems to be a culmination of Shakespeare’s previous work. By encapsulating different genres and spawning such varied interpretations and adaptations, it is definitely a Shakespeare play that anyone can find enjoyment and excitement in watching.
First performed in 1606, Shakespeare’s Macbeth is, I would argue, the most fun of his tragedies, with lots of creative staging potential featuring witches and ghosts.
In the play, Macbeth is a Scottish general under the rule of King Duncan. After a successful battle, three witches appear and tell Macbeth that he will become King of Scotland. With his imagination caught by this prophecy and his ambition coming to the fore, Macbeth goes on to murder Duncan and size the throne, egged on by his ferocious wife. As Macbeth ignores the warning signs of his wife’s encroaching madness, his violent reign comes to an end when he is defeated by the combined forces of Scotland and England.
Macbeth’s fame also lies in the play’s association with a curse. Known as ‘The Scottish Play,” people avoid speaking the play’s name within any theatre for fear of dooming the production. The legend goes that this is because Shakespeare used spells from real witches in the play, thus angering the witches who then cursed the play.
Despite this, Macbeth has been fairly continuous in production since the 1660s and continues to attract many famous actors and new interpretations across all sorts of media formats.