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William Shakespeare

Term Definition
William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is considered to be one of the most famous writers and playwrights of the mid Renaissance period. During his lifetime, he published almost 40 plays, over 150 sonnets and a number of other works (with debated authorship on a few works). While he wrote many comedies (as well as tragedies), he is well-known for employing dark themes in his writing, commenting on the cruel nature of human beings.

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon (Warwickshire, England) on 26 April 1564 and died on 23 April 1616. Some scholars have argued that Shakespeare practiced Catholicism - a banned religion during the time period in England.

Popular works by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare published many notable works that are still in popular culture today.

William Shakespeare's selected works
During his lifetime, Shakespeare published almost 40 plays and hundreds of other works.
Work and Summary Published
Macbeth is a play set in Scotland that follows the tragic story of a young Prince (named Macbeth) who hears (from three witches) that he will become the king of Scotland. His obsession for power causes an uproar, civil war and his ultimate death.
The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice is a play set in 16th century Venice and concerns a shopkeeper (Antonio) who apprehensively borrows money from a Jewish moneylender (Shylock). When Antonio defaults on the debt, Shylock pursues morbid justice.
Hamlet is considered to be an archetypal tragedy in which Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, carries out a revenge plot to kill his uncle Claudius for killing his father. The plot focuses on the struggle for power and the way romance impacts our decision making.
King Lear
King Lear is a tragedy that depicts the titled King's descent into madness after he gives away his entire estate to two of his three daughters. Unfortunately (like in many Shakespearean works), the story unfolds into a tragedy riddled with cruelty and suffering for all involved.
Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar is a play Shakespeare wrote concerning the Roman empire and the downfall of the great Roman emperor. It explores a very strong theme related to the public vs. private self while being involved in politics. Interestingly enough, Caesar is not the main character as he is in only four scenes.
A Midsummer's Night Dream
A Midsummer's Night Dream is a comedy by Shakespeare that takes place in 1595 - 1596. It portrays the marriage of the Duke of Athens, Theseus and Hippolyta

Note that the exact publication dates of his works are disputed; although, scholars tend to agree that he published most of his main works between the years of 1580 and 1608.

Common literary themes

Shakespeare's works are known for sharing common themes. Mainly, many of his writings are considered to be in the genre of tragedy as human suffering is a focal point. Additionally, the author tended to make power-hungry Princes, Kings and rulers main characters in his plays. Often times, the ruler underwent psychological duress or insanity, resulting in tragic (and deadly) outcomes. For example, Hamlet was a young Prince who lost everything in his quest for revenge and power. Learn more about Hamlet and how Shakespeare depicted his youthful nature.

Notable criticisms

While Shakespeare did gain lots of notoriety for his work, he did (and continues to) face criticism over the themes and contents of his work. For example, it is well known that he generally marginalized women in many of his writings. Feminists have argued that the popularity of his works have contributed to the enduring injustice women faced during his lifetime. Other critics have also cited themes of anti-Semitism (The Merchant of Venice) and depictions of racial inferiority (Blacks in Othello for example).

Notwithstanding, Shakespeare's work continues to draw readership in many school curriculums and his works have been translated to many languages around the world.

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