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Updated 03/22/12


Why Study Shakespeare?:
An invitation from the tutor
N.J. Lund, Ph.D.

                                                       THREE-YEAR, ROTATING CURRICULUM:

                                                        Click on Titles for Reading Schedules:
                                                        Chivalry in Shakespeare: Course Schedule (2011-2012)   
                                                        The Best of the Bard: Course Schedule (2012-2013)
                                                        Eight Great Plays: Course Schedule (2013-2014)
                                                        Course Description
                                                        Introduction to Shakespeare
                                                        Introduction to the Plays
                                                        Shakespeare Assignments
                                                        Shakespeare's Canon
                                                        Shakespeare Links
                                                        About the Tutor
                                                        Fees & Registration        

Course Description: 

This is an excellent course for high school students in English literature.  It covers Shakespeare's life and times, focusing on his histories.  Students will critique and analyze these literary works through reading, discussion, and a 'readers' theater' format.  Students are also encouraged to attend a live performance of Shakespeare, and to watch at least two video productions of Shakespeare's plays.  Students have weekly reading assignments as well as assigned parts to read in class.  The tutor sets the scene with historical background and guides discussion of selected themes and topics.  Each class begins with a "Finish This Line" game quiz.  Some essays and memorization may be required.   Ages 13 and up.  To confirm course offerings please check the Course Schedule for the current year.  For additional textbook information please visit the Oxford BookstoreTwo essays per/semester and some memorization may be required. 

Course Requirements

Weekly Reading Quizzes

Students are responsible to keep track of the reading and homework schedule which is posted in each tutorial’s atrium, and to be prepared for a short quiz which will cover that week’s assignment. The quiz will usually consist of about ten Multiple Choice questions which the tutor will post on the Chat Screen, one at a time. The quiz will be given in a "game show" format, with the instructor keeping track of the students who are first to type in the correct answers.   Students are requested to select the best answer (A, B, C, D) and to send it back to the tutor, via Private Chat. The tutor keeps track of the results, and will usually announce each week’s top three winners ("Gold, Silver, Bronze"). The quiz results will not be included in the student’s final grade. However, the quiz is important the two reasons: 1) to alert the tutor to each student’s comprehension and progress; and 2) to keep students motivated and accountable for their weekly reading assignments. In addition, the competitive "game format" adds a dimension of excitement and camaraderie.

Weekly SAT and AP Quizzes

In addition to the weekly reading quizzes students should also be prepared for a weekly quiz over each week’s SAT vocabulary and AP literary terms. All literature students (C. S. Lewis, GBT 1, GBT 2, GBT 3, J. R. R. Tolkien), as well as the Logic and Rhetoric students, are expected to keep track of the assigned SAT vocabulary and AP literacy (terms and authors). Students should have received copies of these lists via email from the tutor. The SAT vocabulary and AP literary terms are also posted on the website in the AP/SAT Atrium:   As with the weekly reading quizzes, the results will not be including in the grades. However, these quizzes are important for two reasons: 1) to assist students in expanding their vocabularies for their own enrichment and understanding; 2) to prepare students for the SAT exam (typically the single most important factor in college admissions).

Major Assignments: First & Second Semester

Most of the tutorials will also include four or five major assignments. The DUE DATES for these assignments are posted near the top of the homepage of at the following link:

Here are the assignments:

1. Midterm Exam: This exam will be scheduled in the middle of the first semester. It will cover the reading during the first half of the semester (comprehension), as well as material presented by the tutor in class (commentary) and the AP literary terms A-G (definitions). Students will be expected to be familiar with the themes and literary devices which are expressed in the reading (examples).

2. Semester Exam: This exam will be scheduled at the end of the first semester. It will involve the same components as the midterm, but it will include the reading for the second half of the semester, and all of the AP literary terms (A-Z). Students will be expected to be familiar with the themes and literary devices which have expressed in the reading thus far (examples).

3. Book Reviews:  This year each of the literature classes will require two formal book reviews.  The books and the due dates are listed at the top of the Oxford home page under “Assignments & Due Dates:”  A book review is distinct type of essay.  Its purpose is to introduce an audience to a new or unfamiliar book.  Its method is to combine elements of an expository essay (briefly explaining the setting, main characters, plot), a persuasive essay (making judgments about the quality and importance of the book and sharing your reactions to it), and an analytical essay (evaluating the author’s purpose and success).  This assignment requires students to use the “Five Paragraph Essay” format, in a length of 250-400 words.    The first part of the assignment will require students to prepare a rough draft of their book review.  The rough draft must include the following elements: 1) a “hook;” 2) a “thesis statement”; 3) an introductory paragraph; and 4) a list of three main points (for the middle paragraphs).  For an introduction to, explanation for, and examples of a Five Paragraph Essay, please visit the AP/SAT Atrium:

. Final Exam: Students should also be prepared for a Final Exam during the final week of class.  It is up to the tutor whether to make this exam a “Take-Home” or “In-Class” format.  The “Take-Home” exam will be sent to students the week before.  They will be allowed to pick their own time to do the exam, before the final class.  The “In-Class” format will require students to complete the exam during the final class session.  The exam may include reading comprehension questions as well as material presented by the tutor in class (commentary) and the AP literary terms A-G (definitions).  Students will be expected to be familiar with the themes and literary devices which have been expressed in the reading (examples) for that class.

Guidelines for Writing a Book Review on Fiction:

You have read your book. Your next step will be to organize what you are going to say about it in your report. Writing the main points in an outline will help you to organize your thoughts. What will you include in the outline? Start with a description of the book. The description should include such elements as:

1. The setting--where does the story take place? Is it a real place or an imaginary one? If the author does not tell you exactly where the story is set, what can you tell about it from the way it is described?

2. The time period--is the story set in the present day or in an earlier time period? Perhaps it is even set in the future! Let your reader know.

3. The main character(s)--who is the story mostly about? Give a brief description. Often, one character can be singled out as the main character, but some books will have more than one. When there are several main characters, you are free to focus on one which is of particular interest to you.

4. The plot--what happens to the main character? WARNING! Be careful here. Do not fall into the boring trap of reporting every single thing that happens in the story. Pick only the most important events. Here are some hints on how to do that. First, explain the situation of the main character as the story opens. Next, identify the basic plot element of the story--is the main character trying to achieve something or overcome a particular problem? Thirdly, describe a few of the more important things that happen to the main character as he/she works toward that goal or solution. Finally, you might hint at the story's conclusion without completely giving away the ending.

5. The conclusion-- The four points above deal with the report aspect of your work. For the final section of your outline, give your reader a sense of the impression the book made upon you. Ask yourself what the author was trying to achieve and whether or not he achieved it with you. What larger idea does the story illustrate? How does it do that? How did you feel about the author's style of writing, the setting, or the mood of the novel. You do not have to limit yourself to these areas. Pick something which caught your attention, and let your reader know your personal response to whatever it was.

Adapted from the Lakewood Public Library Online: Lakewood, Ohio:

5. Final Exam: Students should also be prepared for a Final Exam during the final week of class. It is up to the tutor whether to make this exam a "Take-Home" or "In-Class" format. The "Take-Home" exam will be sent to students the week before. They will be allowed to pick their own time to do the exam, before the final class. The "In-Class" format will require students to complete the exam during the final class session. The exam may include reading comprehension questions as well as material presented by the tutor in class (commentary) and the AP literary terms A-G (definitions). Students will be expected to be familiar with the themes and literary devices which have been expressed in the reading (examples) for that class.

Introduction to Shakespeare: William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the Stratford merchant and Globe actor, traditionally has been identified as the greatest of all playwrights.  He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, the son of a local businessman.  His father was a distinguished citizen who became an alderman and bailiff, but later suffered severe financial difficulties.  It is assumed that Shakespeare attended the grammar school in Stratford where he would have received a good foundation in Latin and classic literature.  In 1582 he married Anne Hathaway.   They had three children: a daughter, born in 1583; and twins, a boy and a girl, born in 1585.  Little else is known of Shakespeare before 1592, when he appeared as a playwright in London.  He may have been a member of a traveling theater group, and there is some evidence that he may have been a school teacher. 

        In 1594 Shakespeare became an actor and playwright for the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the most successful of several companies of actors in London at that time.  Shakespeare not only acted with this company, but seems to have become a leading shareholder and the principal playwright.   In 1599 the company, the Chamberlain's Men, built and occupied the best known of the Elizabethan theaters, the Globe.  Shakespeare died and was buried in Stratford in 1616.

    The Authorship Debate:   Questions about the authorship of Shakespeare's work have been raised from time to time, beginning in the 1780s, more than 150 years after his death.  Other Elizabethan authors such as Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe have been proposed as more likely candidates of these inspired plays than the legendary playwright from Stratford.  Arguments against the Stratford Shakespeare have included the limitation of his training to a grammar school education and the omission of any reference in his will to his literary legacy.  More recently attention has focused upon Edward de Vere (1550- 1604), the 17th Earl of Oxford, as the most likely of all possible candidates (Michael Satchell, "Hunting for good Will," U.S. News & World Report, July 24/July 31, 2000).

    In de Vere's favor is the evidence that at the time of Shakespeare's death (1616), and twelve years after his own passing, de Vere was widely considered the greatest of the Elizabethan poets.  Other arguments favoring de Vere include the following: (1) in 1593, the year of the first Shakepearean plays, de Vere stopped publishing in his real name (still eleven years before his death); (2) the family crest of de Vere depicts a lion shaking a spear, suggesting a natural pseudonym as "Spear shaker" or "Shake-spear;" (3) the plays contains much material which could have caused political fallout, especially for someone of de Vere's social standing, and he may also have wished to avoid association with the rowdy reputation of the public theatre which existed at that time.  For a scholarly defense of the traditional view of Shakespeare see Irvin Leigh Matus, Shakespeare, In fact (New York: Continuum, 1994) as well as the other Shakespeare biographies listed below (i.e. by Bate, Burgess, Chute, etc.).  Lest students abandon the traditional view too quickly it should be stated that there continue to be compelling arguments for the traditional view of Shakespeare, including dedications in early copies of Shakespeare's works to "thy Stratford moniment" and the "sweet swan of Avon."  It should also be acknowledged that, as the editor of The Shakespeare Quarterly and others have pointed out, there is a considerable amount of elitism, snobbishness, and cultural bias in the refusal to allow "brilliance flowering in humble circumstances" and in the "underestimation of Elizabethan classical schooling."  For more information favoring de Vere's authorship see the Shakespeare Oxford Society website at:

    Shakespeare and Scripture: One of the strongest arguments for de Vere's authorship turns out to be an old Bible.   In a recent Ph.D. dissertation at the U. of Massachusetts- Amherst (April 21, 2000), a student named Roger Stritmatter presented the results of eight years of study of de Vere's Bible.  It turns out that over 25% of the highlighted passages in de Vere's heavily marked Geneva Bible appear in Shakespeare's works.  The dissertation was so convincing that all five of his examiners accepted the candidate's conclusion as persuasive.  Of even greater interest to Christian scholars is the fact that this Ph.D. thesis, as the Shakespeare Oxford Society says: "presents the analysis of the annotations in [de Vere's] 1570 Geneva Bible as being a window into the mind of Shakespeare and his writing [emphasis added]."  Furthermore: "this becomes the first Ph.D. thesis ever accepted at any university which is based upon scholarly analyses of Shakespeare as someone other than the Stratford man" ("Current News," 7/20/00, Shakespeare Oxford Society,    This development demonstrates a continuing recognition that the Bible served as Shakespeare's principal creative resource.  

  Introduction to the Plays of Shakespeare: Although Shakespeare composed some exquisite, enduring poetry (especially the Sonnets), he devoted himself primarily to the theater.  His genius is evident both in the breadth and the depth of some three dozen plays, many of which are counted among the greatest works in English literature.  These plays are often identified in four primary categories as tragedies, comedies, tragicomedies (or "romances") and histories.  They are listed in the following outlines below.  The plays in each category are arranged chronologically, according to the presumed dates of their composition (listed in parentheses).

    Shakespeare's Redemptive Viewpoint: Shakespeare wrote from a God-centered, redemptive perspective.  As Louise Cowan writes, "Shakespeare saw life as leading to a final end of reconciliation and love."  It is this Biblically based optimism and foundation for hope which inspired Shakespeare's "comic" (happy ending) view of the world.  In his comedies, Shakespeare depicted a world of love and joy, fllled with forgiveness, and leading to a happy end.  The challenge or obstacle  in the comedies is the threats to love and community which are resolved through redemptive tricks and deceits.  In the tragedies, the challenge or obstacle is the pride of a tragic hero who suffers some downfall.  The challenge of the hero is how to respond to the downfall.  Will the hero submit his pride to truth and justice (and ultimately, to God), or will he remain fixed in a defiance which demands his own way.  To quote Cowan again, will the hero "submit to a power higher than his own pride or continue with himself as the center of existence"?  ("Othello and Macbeth choose self; Hamlet and Lear allow themselves to be remade.")

    Shakespeare's Astute Observation of Character:  Shakespeare was an outstanding observer of the weaknesses and strengths of human character.  Many of his characters have become immortal in the sense that they 'capture' types of human personality and character which are universal.  There is much profit to be gained from comparing and contrasting Shakespeare's characters with each other, and from learning the reasons for their strengths and weaknesses.

    Suggested Shakespeare Essay Topics:                                    

1. Shakespeare's View of Pride.  For example, the essay might examine how excessive self-interest and ambition in a heroic figure can lead to tragic consequences for himself and others. 

2. Shakespeare's View of Love.  For example, the essay might examine the self-giving love of a main or supporting figure, leading to hope for others.

3. Shakespeare's Insights about Men and Women.  For example, the essay might examine how women often appear frail in the plays, but prove to possess an inner an strength upon which men depend.

4. Shakespeare's Relevance Today.   For example, the essay might examine Shakespeare's redemptive view of the world and of human relationships and how that viewpoint would help us today.

5. Shakespeare's View of Justice and Mercy.  For example, the essay might examine how
Shakespeare described a moral universe in which evil leads to harmful consequences and needs to be judged, but in which there is a redemptive power in forgiveness and mercy leading to a greater good which the characters don't deserve or expect.

6. Shakespeare's Insights into Human Character.  For example, the essay might attempt to explain why certain characters are appealing and/or repulsive, and why this is so.  Or, the essay might examine how characters such as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth function like Adam and Eve, in giving into temptation, and causing a terrible "fall;" or how a character such as Hero, in "Much Ado About Nothing," functions as a kind of "Christ figure," experiencing a kind of "death and resurrection," and bringing a redemptive surprise and a happy ending.

7. Shakespeare's Biblical Allusions.  An allusion is an indirect reference.  Shakespeare's plays are filled with Biblical allusions, as in the obvious allusion to Matthew 7:1-2 in "Measure for Measure."  Select a play which has some Biblical allusions which are of interest to you.  Identify what the allusions are, and how Shakespeare uses them in the play to make his point(s).   

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   I. The Tragedies  

  1. Titus Andronicus (1593-94)
  2. Romeo and Juliet (1594-95) **  
  3. Julius Caesar (1599-1600)
  4. Hamlet (1600-01) *   
  5. Othello (1604-05) ** 
  6. King Lear (1605-06) ** 
  7. Macbeth (1605-06) *
  8. Anthony and Cleopatra (1606-07)
  9. Timon of Athens (1607)
10. Coriolanus (1607-1608)  *

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II. The Comedies

  1. The Comedy of Errors (1592-93)
  2. The Taming of the Shrew (1593-94) * 
  3. Two Gentlemen of Verona (1594-95)
  4. Love's Labour's Lost (1594-95)
  5. A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595-96) **
  6. The Merchant of Venice (1596-97) *
  7. Much Ado About Nothing (1598-99) *
  8. As You Like It (1599-1600) ** 
  9. Twelfth Night (1599-1600) ** 
10. The Merry Wives of Windsor (1600)
11. Triolus and Cressida (1601-02)
12. All's Well that Ends Well (1602-03)
13. Measure for Measure (1604-05) * 

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III. The Tragicomedies

1. Pericles (1608)
2. Cymbeline (1609-10)
3. The Winter's Tale (1610-11)
4. The Tempest (1611-12) **

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IV. The Histories

  1. Henry VI, Part I (1590)   #  Summary & Study Questions by N. Lund
  2. Henry VI, Part II (1590)  #  Summary & Study Questions by N. Lund
  3. Henry VI, Part III (1590 ) #  Summary & Study Questions by N. Lund
  4. Richard III (1592)  #  Summary & Study Questions by N. Lund
  5. Richard II (1595)  #    Summary & Study Questions by N. Lund
  6. King John (1596)
  7. Henry IV, Part I (1597)  #  Summary & Study Questions by N. Lund
  8. Henry IV, Part II (1597)  #   Summary & Study Questions by N. Lund
  9. Henry V (1598)  #  Summary & Study Questions by N. Lund
10. Henry VIII (w/ J. Fletcher?/1612)

                                                                            V. The Sonnets

The Sonnets (150) (1592-1597) **   

   * Plays covered in Shakespeare 1 
**  Plays covered in Shakespeare 2
  #  Plays covered in Shakespeare 3
An illustrated edition of the complete Tales From Shakespeare, written originally by Charles and Mary Lamb for children in 1806, and revised in a contemporary html format by Terry A. Gray.  Gray comments that these: "prose renderings for children...though originally intended for children ...are revered works in their own right and serve as wonderful introductions to the plays."


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Internet & Print Resources

The outstanding link on the internet for Shakespeare resources is the award-winning web site by Terry A. Gray, "Mr. Shakespeare and the Internet."  Other great web links include the MIT Shakespeare Homepage and The Shakespeare Homework Helper.   Here is an index to help you find your way around:


Internet Resources:

1. William Shakespeare and the Internet":
  2. Shakespeare's Complete Works:
  3. Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare:
  4. Shakespeare Timeline:
  5. Shakespeare Genealogy:
  6. Online Biography Quiz:
  7. The Oxford Society Web Site:
  8. Interactive Shakespeare Online:
  9. Encyclopedia Britannica Online:
10. Shakespeare Concordance:
11. Plot Summaries:
12. Shakespeare Bibliography:

Print Resources:

Bate, Jonathan.  The Genius of Shakespeare (Oxford U. Press, 1998): "A new kind of biography" by an Oxford scholar which supports the traditional view of Shakespeare.   According to Bate, Shakespeare's lack of a university education turned out to be his greatest strength.  It is simply a cultural bias to deny that a mere grammer-school boy and butcher's son could prove to be as talented as the university wits of his day.  386pp.

Boyce, Charles.  Shakespeare A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Plays, His Poems, His Life and Times, and More (Delta/Roundtable Press, 1990).  This reference book has it all: short paragraphs which identify characters according to the plays in which they occur; longer paragraphs with the historical background behind all of the plays and characters; complete summaries of all the plays with lucid commentary.   728pp.

Boyce, Charles.  The Wordsworth Dictionary of Shakespeare (Wordsworth Editions Ltd.,  1996): This is a new publication of the same book, Shakespeare A to Z (see above).  It is the same book and just as helpful, but please note that this version uses smaller pages with a smaller print font.

Burgess, Anthony.  Shakespeare (Elephant Paperbacks, 1970): A biographical work which assumes traditional authorship and which aims: "to set down the main facts about the life and society from which [Shakespeare's] poems and plays arose," in the context of the Elizabethan age.   Follows topical chapters on subjects such as "Home, School, Marriage, London, Globe," etc.  Includes a good index.  238pp.

Charney, Maurice.  All of Shakespeare (Columbia U. Press, 1993): This remarkable little volume contains summary essays and literary evaluations of the entire corpus of Shakespeare's work, including all of the plays and the poems.  One chapter is dedicated to the Sonnets.  Written by a professor from Rutgers U., the essays are very readable and full of helpful insights.  Contains a substantial index.   424pp.

Chute, Marchette. Shakespeare of London (Dutton Co., 1949): Considered a classic biographical account of the traditional Shakespeare, his life and times, based upon the documentary record and expressing a vivid picture of the Elizabethan theatre and of the personalities involved.  Includes a very substantial index.  372pp.  Unfortunately this classic is out of print.   Check your local library.  Many copies are still in circulation

Clark, W.G. & W.A. Wright, eds.  The Unabridged Shakespeare (Running Press, 1989)

Cowan, Louise & Os Guiness, eds. Invitation to the Classics (Baker, 1998): This is a gem of a resource, sub-titled: "A Guide to Books You've Always Wanted to Read."  It includes fresh material by credentialed, Christian scholars, providing introductions and summaries, study questions and discussions of the relevance, for dozens of the literary classics, including a chapter on Shakespeare's Hamlet, King Lear, Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Tempest by Louise Cowan, former chairman of the English Dept., and dean of the Graduate School at the U. of Dallas.  384pp.

Epstein, Norrie.  The Friendly Shakespeare: A Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Best of the Bard (Penguin USA, 1994_: Another handy and economical resource which is recommended for High School and College students.

Fox, Levi.  The Shakespeare Handbook (G.K. Hall & Co., 1987): A compendium of scholarly essays on topics such as "The Elizabethan World,: "Shakespeare's Life," "Elizabethan & Jacobean Theater," and "Shakespeare on Film."  Assumes traditional authorship.  264 pp.

Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition (Norton & Co., 1997): Contains the modern-spelling Oxford Shakespeare with supplementary introductions, textual notes, and brief bibliographies, as well as a combination of marginal glosses and footnotes explaining and clarifying archaic words and concepts; 3,420 pp.

Honan, Park.  Shakespeare : A Life (Oxford U. Press, 1998)

Laroque, Francois, et al. The Age of Shakespeare (Abrams, 1993)

Lamb, G. F.  Dictionary of Shakespeare Quotations (Wordsworth Editions, 1998):  The relevance of this resource is reflected in the fact that Shakespeare is the most widely quoted author in the English language.  This classic selection lists 2,160 quotations (250pp.) by subject and topic headings.

Leithart, Peter. Brightest of Heaven of Invention (Canon Press, 1996): This is a first-rate Christian commentary on six of Shakespeare's most popular plays: Hamlet; Macbeth; The Taming of the Shrew; Much Ado About Nothing; Julius Caesar; Henry V.  No index, but many helpful review and study questions.  286pp.

Matus, Irvin Leigh.  Shakespeare, In fact (Continuum, 1994): A well-researched and documented investigation of the historical sources associated with Shakespeare's works and the questions about authentic authorship.   Provides a strong and winsome defense of traditional  Shakespearean authorship);

Macrone, Michael.  Brush Up Your Shakespeare! (NY: Harper & Row, 1990): "An Infectious Tour Through the Most Famous and Quotable Words and Phrases from the Bard;" well over one hundred of Shakespeare's most famous phrases and explained and interpreted in the context of the plays in which they occur; a fascinating, illuminating and very rewarding study by a prof. from U.C.--Berkeley  235 pp.

Rowse, A. L.  William Shakespeare (Harper & Row, 1963): A fresh biographical study which ssumes traditional authorship and includes reference to Shakespeare's dependence upon the Bible as a primary source: "Of all Shakespeare's 'sources' the Bible and the Prayer Book come first and are most important.  Altogether there are definite allusions to forty-two books of the Bible... It is impossible to exaggerate the importance, then, of this grounding in childhood: for the adult [Shakespeare] the Bible and the Prayer Book formed the deepest, most constant and continuing influence and inspiration" (pp. 41, 47)

Schoenbaum, Samuel.  William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life (NY: Oxford U. Press; Rev. ed., 1987): A very well documented and highly respected treatment which sifts between facts and suppositions; the chapter entitled "Faith and Knowledge" reveals how rich and deep Shakespeare's education would have been at the King's New School at Stratford-upon-Avon.  He also points out that Shakespeare would likely have attended the morning and evening services at Holy Trinity Church and have heard: "Over the year the whole of the New Testament--Revelation accepted--read three times" (pp. 56-57)  384 pp.

Scott, Mark W.  Shakespeare for Students (Gale Research Inc., 1972): Includes a chronology and critical interpretations of As You Like It; Hamlet; Julius Caesar; Macbeth; The Merchant of Venice; A Midsummer Night's Dream; Othello; Romeo and Juliet.  Each play includes overviews as well as topical and character studies, explanatory annotations and sources for further study529 pp.

Finally, students are encouraged to investigate the introductions and literary notes in older encyclopedias (with 'signed' articles) as well as older and contemporary critical editions of Shakespeare's works.

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