Why Read a Shakespeare Play in Class?
Abstract William Shakespeare (1564–1616) is certainly England’s most famous writer. In the Elizabethan and Jacobean era, besides a large number of long poems and sonnets, he wrote some 36 plays. These plays are part of world literature and are kept alive in many play-houses as well as in countless works of criticism, adaptations, varieties of textual renderings, and quotations that have entered the English language and are in use around the globe. This article applies a contextual method, not only in explaining some of Shakespeare’s most prominent plays, but also in providing reasons why these plays should be read and studied, looking at the conditions of their production in the Elizabethan Age and in the following Jacobean Age, and at the cultural and sociological influences in Shakespeare’s lifetime. In order to bridge the gap between the reader of today and the writer of the 16th century, an outline of the linguistic changes which Shakespeare initiated in his texts will be given. Also the theatre-houses, which corresponded to the taste of the audiences of the time, were very different from the shape of today’s theatres, which explains why Shakespeare’s theatre is called the “theatre of the mind”. Most important, however, are the elements which can be recognized both in his plays and in his life, resulting from the religious upheavals of the Reformation, the political developments, and the personal relations which became manifest in his life-time. At the end of this introductory article,...