Order 1

An Incredibly Brief
Introduction to Shakespeare
Everything you NEED to know to read his plays
Three Basic Types of
Shakespearean Plays
• Shakespearean Tragedy is the classification of drama written by William
Shakespeare which has a noble protagonist, who is flawed in some way,
placed in a stressful heightened situation and ends with a fatal conclusion.
• Typically there is a clear progression regarding the choices faced by the
protagonist. Consequences become increasingly intense. It is as if the
character is unknowingly sealing his or her fate.
• "Comedy", in its Elizabethan usage, had a very different meaning from
modern comedy. A Shakespearean comedy is one that has a happy ending,
usually involving marriages between the unmarried characters, and a tone and
style that is more light-hearted than Shakespeare's other plays.
• A pattern in the comedies is movement to a "green world“ – main characters
escape the order of a city for a forested and wild setting adjacent to the city.
• Another common dynamic found in comedies is the contrast of Apollonian
values with Dionysian values.
Characteristics of Shakespearean Comedies
• Shakespearean comedies tend to also include:
A greater emphasis on situations than characters
A struggle of young lovers to overcome difficulty, often presented by elders
Separation and re-unification
Deception of characters
A clever servant
Disputes between characters, often within a family
Multiple, intertwining plots
• The histories might be more accurately called the "English history plays"
and include the outliers King John and Henry VIII as well as a continuous
sequence of eight plays covering the Wars of the Roses.
• Histories are dramatizations of real historical figures.
Basic 5 Act Structure
• Act One: The conflict and characters are established and the audience takes sides. It gives
the rationale and emotional background of the coming action. (Exposition)
Act Two: Suspense builds up as the “good guys” and the “bad guys” make preliminary
moves against one another. (Rising Action)
Act Three: Things begin to look as if the bad guys are going to win, so the audience is
interested to see if they actually do. (Climax)
Act Four: The good guys rise up. The act ends at a point where the audience is ready for
the final victory, but the play has not quite arrived there. (Falling Action)
Act Five: The good guys win and although there could be a twist or turn that is not
expected, the win is inevitable. (Denoument)
Instant Analysis, or Shakespeare Made Easy
• The structure goes like this:
• When the play begins, the word is in chaos.
• There is an inadequate solution imposed by a Duke or King, resulting in:
• A rebellion against that duke or king (successful in comedy, unsuccessful in tragedy),
leading to:
• The installation of a new (or renewed) duke or king, but resulting in a less satisfying
resolution for the world of the play.
Instant Analysis, or Shakespeare Made Easy
• We might label it like this:
• Disorder
• Order 1
• Rebellion
• Successful/Unsuccessful
• Order 2
• Let’s look at a popular Shakespeare play we all love…
For Example: Romeo & Juliet
• Disorder: The opening fight and the Montague/Capulet feud.
• Order 1: The Duke of verona orders an end to the fighting, or the Montagues and
Capulets will pay with their lives. The Capulets throw a ball; Romeo and his friends
attend so that he can see his true love, Rosaline. Everyone seems happy. Then…
• Rebellion: R & J fall in love, defying evryone and everything.
• Successful: No. Many people die, including the two lovers.
• Order 2: Peace is restored by the Duke, who, renewed, now knows the truth of R &
J’s love. The families agree to build a monument to honor their children.
Iambic Pentameter
• Iambic refers to a foot (unit of two or more syllables that together make up
the smallest unit of rhythm in a poem) consisting of an unstressed syllable
followed by a stressed syllable.
• Pentameter means that each line will contain five feet – sets of syllables.
This is often compared to a heart beat.
Soliloquy, Aside, & Monologue
• Soliloquy: a long speech given by a character that is alone on stage in order to
reveal his or her thoughts
• Why does Shakespeare use soliloquies to reveal characters' thoughts?
• Why is it important that the character is alone on stage during the soliloquy?
• Monologue: a speech given by a single person to an audience
• How would this monologue be different if it were a soliloquy?
• What effect, if any, does this monologue have on other characters?
• Aside: a comment made by a character to the audience or another character that no
one else can hear
Dramatic Irony
When the reader is aware of an inconsistency between a character’s perception
of a situation and the truth of that situation
• Shakespearean drama consists of dramatic irony, when the audience
knows something that at least one character does not. Dramatic irony
increases suspense, gives the audience the big picture, and helps make the
audience feel superior. Here is one famous example:
• In Romeo and Juliet, we know that Juliet has taken a potion to simulate death. Everyone else
thinks she is dead.
• A reference to a well-known person, place, or thing from literature, history,
A Contemporary Allusion
when she sings
parts of Shakespeare’s
the following
“Love Story”:
& Juliet, as
families and the
scene from the play.
you balcony
were Romeo
This is allusion because she mentions the names and
You were throwing pebbles
plot aspects of Romeo & Juliet in passing assuming
my daddy said
her audience willAnd
Stay away from Juliet”
Stock Characters
Love Struck Boy/Girl
Unfair Parents
Tyrannical Rulers
Stupid or Clever Servant
The Fool