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Essays and Notes

These brief essays and notes examine a variety of issues in some of the passages drawn from Shakespeare's works. Some essays and notes reference multiple passages. All are searchable by keyword and other categories such as character, theme, etc.

Beatrice’s Sonnet

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Beatrice closes Act 3 scene 1 of Much Ado About Nothing, speaking a sonnet.* Shakespeare occasionally used sonnets in his plays, for example, in Romeo and Juliet and Richard III, which were examined in previous essays. He didn’t insert these sonnets arbitrarily. He intended to achieve particular effects,
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The Architecture of Sonnet and Song

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Let’s begin by stipulating that Ira Gershwin is not William Shakespeare. However, despite the gulf that separates their talents, they share some writing techniques that are useful tools for aspiring writers. For example, Shakespeare’s sonnet, That Time of Year, and Gershwin’s song, They Can’t Take That Away from Me*, are variations on a common template,
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The Forms of Things Unknown

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For all the power of his poetry, volume of his vocabulary and sheer prolific output, Shakespeare seemed intent on telling us that we cannot know, truly know, what we most want to know, or even think we already know. We know this on several levels.

We’re frustrated enough that he left no correspondence, no diary, no memoir, no hand-written manuscripts.
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Characters, Actors and Figurative Language

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Early in Henry VIII, Anne Bullen, young and beautiful, considers the prospect of a prosperous future. In the same scene, Anne’s companion, the old lady, sardonically remarks on her lost youth and unfulfilled aspirations for wealth and position at court. The contrast of these two characters is clear, but Shakespeare uses more than casting, makeup, costumes, or even the subject matter of their opening dialogue,
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Video: Lo! She is one of this confederacy

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From Peter Hall’s film (January 30, 1968) of A Midsummer Night’s Dream featuring Michael Jayston, Helen Mirren, Diana Rigg, and David Warner.

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Politics and the People

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Shakespeare often wrote about politics but he usually dealt with political infighting at court. Two of his Roman plays, however, deal specifically with politicians’ relationship with the people, the fickle masses. Julius Caesar and Coriolanus offer observations about these fraught relationships, which are as true today as they were both in Elizabethan and Roman times.

Like many of Shakespeare’s plays,
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Richard, Romeo, Juliet and the Sonnet

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Two of Shakespeare’s earliest playsRichard III and Romeo and Juliet, open with sonnets and then employ variations on the sonnet’s structure for dramatic and poetic effect, which is not surprising. At this point in Shakespeare’s life he seems to have had dual career goals. First, he wanted to make money, which he could accomplish through theatre.
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Shakespeare and the Casting Couch

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Stories about women summoned as supplicants to the portals of men with the power to grant their wishes, for a price, are common across professions, across countries, across millennia. Shakespeare dramatized the dilemmas some of these women faced in more than one of his plays.

In both Henry VI Part 3 and Measure for Measure, for example,
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Unhappy Fortune! The Plague in the Plays

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Shakespeare killed scores of his characters — by sword, by dagger, by poison, by flame, by drowning, by hanging, by murder, by suicide, by accident — men, women, children, all ages, killed by many means, even by a bear. But the deaths of only two of his central characters can be attributed to the plague, and even then, only by proximate cause, not directly by the plague.
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Banishment: Romeo and Coriolanus

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For two of Shakespeare’s most passionate male characters, banishment holds passionately different meanings. Romeo, banished from Verona, is grief-stricken and in fear of never seeing Juliet again. For him, banishment is the equivalent of death. Coriolanus, banished from Rome, is enraged and contemptuous of the plebeians who he hopes he will never have to see again. For him, banishment is an opportunity for a new life. 
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