An Introduction to Shakespeare

An Introduction to Shakespeare


Hi everyone, it’s Lauren and this is the
first video in a series that I’m doing on the plays of William Shakespeare. I’m
going to be looking at Shakespeare in context, Shakespeare in performance and
giving some tips and advice on how to read Shakespeare and also doing some
separate videos really analyzing some of his plays, so if there’s any
requests that you have, any specific parts of Shakespeare or certain plays
that you want me to focus on, let me know in the comments below and today’s video
is just going to be a really brief really brand-new overview, sort of a
Shakespeare 1010 for people who maybe who are interested in learning a little bit more about
Shakespeare but don’t really have any experience or have had really bad
experiences in school. Starting from the very beginning, Shakespeare was born in
1564 in Stratford-Upon-Avon which is a small town in the middle of England. He
was married there, he had three children and then sometime later left them all
behind to move down to London to pursue his career as an actor and playwright. He
was part of a group of players called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and they
performed in several different theatres in London, they also toured the country,
until about 15 99 when they opened their own theater – The Globe, a replica of which
is in London which you can go and what plays in today, and this was an open-air
theatre. The stage is covered, so the actors stay dry but if it rains all of the
audience standing in the pit below get wet Although Shakespeare’s language is very
poetic and I do enjoy reading his plays his plays weren’t really written to be
read they are written to be performed so understanding the context in which they
performed really helps you understand what’s going on in the plays and Shakespeare’s
motivation for some of the things that he’s doing. So we can roughly
divided Shakespeare’s plays into about two areas, the first area is when he’s
performing under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and plays of this
time tend to be historical plays which are really fashionable and also a lot of
comedies are written at this time. It’s important to remember with the history
plays in particular that these are not being written from a position of
objectivity because Queen Elizabeth is a Tudor monarch and she is the current
reigning monarch, and there is a lot of Tudor propaganda which turns up in some of
these plays that Shakespeare’s writing particularly Richard III Quick English history lesson here!
Richard III was the king before Elizabeth’s grandfather, Henry VII and he
was killed in battle during a time called the Wars of the Roses and since
he was killed and basically usurped by Henry VII, it was really
important for the Tudors to depict him as a terrible cruel and evil king
which he is depicted as in ‘Richard III’ The second part of Shakespeare’s career
takes place under the reign of King James I who is a Stuart king and
his group of players, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men is changed to become
the King’s Men and they have a much closer relationship with the monarch and
there is a change in the type of plays that he’s producing at this point, they’re not
so much comedies and really literal historical tragedies. They’re a little bit more
complex such as Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and The Winter’s Tale, they are all
written in this period. We also notice some themes which are probably appealing more
to King James’s taste, who was really obsessed with magic and witchcraft and
those sorts of things appear in Macbeth and The Tempest. At this point the King’s
Men are also given a theatre to perform in during the winter months because you can
imagine in The Globe being open air can only be performed in summer, it would be
too cold in the winter otherwise, but performing plays indoors is actually
kind of a new and interesting concept and allows the players to try out some
different techniques with special effects. It means that they can make the
stage dark for the first time, they’ve never been able to do that before and the
use of candlelight is very interesting and important and comes back in lots of
Jacobean plays. Now we come to the part which a lot of people seem to struggle
with with Shakespeare and that is the language itself. So firstly you have to
remember that these plays were written 400 years ago and language and certain
words, certain meanings is very different to how we speak now. Not only that, you’ve
got to imagine that these players are performing these words, performing these
speeches in front of audiences who don’t have very much set, there’s not very
much special special effects as we know them today, people might be standing in
the cold for hours on end to see these plays and the key isn’t just a tell a good
story is also to capture the imagination of the audience and also maybe explain
stuff that can’t be portrayed them visually. For example with plays like
Henry V you can’t have a massive battlefield on the stage, it just isn’t
possible and they can’t do it justice to the audience
so they have to use their words, they have to use the language to really evoke
the atmosphere. So this descriptive poetry that he uses can get a little bit
flowery and to a modern audience seemed to get a little bit off topic, but you’ve got to
perhaps put yourselves in the shoes of the audience who are listening to these
passages.Shakespeare also uses a lot of myth, a lot of stories that his audience
would have been really familiar with in the way that these days we might watch a
lot of World War II films or read some books which are fairytale retellings
because those stories are sort of in our collective consciousness and Shakespeare
uses stories of recent history such as the Wars of the Roses which were not
really long ago for his audience and he also uses allusions and comparisons to
characters in Greek and Roman mythology and well-known folktales because these
are stories that his audiences would have been really aware of and it’s just
a metaphorical way of setting the scene and explaining and the emotions and
motivations of the characters. And this is why I would really advocate listening
to Shakespeare being read aloud, by someone else or reading and out to
yourself or watching an adaptation of one of his plays either on stage or
film. Not only can the language itself be a little bit tricky at times but also
the structure I think people can find alienating. So Shakespeare uses two
different types of structure depending on who’s speaking and depending on the nature of the
speech or the scene. He uses prose for more colloquial chatter when people are
talking to each other, being funny or when characters are of a lower status
and then he uses verse for his epic grand speeches and often when characters
are of noble blood. Now the verses, although it doesn’t often rhyme, it does
sometimes, and they are written in iambic pentameter. Now I’m sure you’ve
heard that phrase before I’m sure it was banged over your head at school, and it
really is very simple, so breaking it down, a penetameter is basically a set
of five pairs of syllables we know that pent (pentagon) is five, it’s five sets of
two syllables which means actually the whole sentence itself is ten syllables
but it’s more like ONE and TWO and THREE and FOUR and FIVE that is a penetameter. Iambic
pentameter flips the rhythm of that on its head a little bit and it means that
the stress is always on the second syllable rather than the first so rather than ONE andTWO and THREE and
FOUR and FIVE it’s more like da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM
To BE or NOTto BE that IS the QUEStion that his iambic pentameter. Simple!
Another reason I think it’s a really good idea to watch a production or an
adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays is the way that his place have been written
down and preserved there aren’t a lot of stage directions in there which can make
a reader perhaps imagine the characters just standing on stage and giving a
really long monologue and that there’s not much going on, and you really need a
director to bring this stuff to life When these plays were written, the actors
didn’t get a whole play as you would these days, they literally got their
parts written down just with the last line of the person speaking before them
so that they knew their cue so that when they heard that line they knew that that
was then their turn to speak so there wasn’t really a play as such
which existed in one form for the actors to work from so the stage directions and what was
going on would have just been happening while the play was being rehearsed and
they haven’t all been written down However there are actually a lot of
visual jokes in Shakespeare and gestures which you can see in people’s words
they’re reacting to, but it’s not obvious that that’s what other characters are
doing so if you are new to Shakespeare I think it really helps having someone who
deeply understands that text bring it to life before your eyes and it just helps
with the comprehension for example there’s a scene in As You
Like It where Rosalind walks on stage and says ‘Well this is the Forest of
Arden’ and that’s just a line when you read it down because she’s saying ‘oh
we’re in the forest’, but if you saw her on stage in a blank and empty wooden
state and she goes ‘Wwell this is the Forest of Arden!’ that’s actually quite funny (if you’re
actually a professional actor and not me) and that’s quite a funny visual joke for
the audience but it’s something that you wouldn’t get on a first read. So I hope
that has whetted your appetite somewhat and given you a little bit of
background into who Shakespeare was and how and why he was writing these plays.
Like I said I’m going to be doing some small videos really focusing on a couple
of his plays, perhaps ones that you’re studying at school maybe Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet
and really going through the language of them, so if there are any that you
would really particularly like me to make a video on please let me know make sure that your subscribed to get all
of the videos in this series and I will see you next time, bye!

71 thoughts on “An Introduction to Shakespeare

  1. Looking forward to more of your Shakespeare videos, I recently bought the complete BBC box of Shakespeare plays and it's my goal to go through them all and read them too.

  2. This video was the best ever! I'm studying a module called "Shakespeare Perspectives" in uni this year, and we're reading six of his plays. I'm planning to do my own little series on my experience with Shakespeare too! I would love to see you do something on Hamlet, Henry V, or Anthony and Cleopatra as these are a few of the ones I'm studying. Thanks so much for this anyway! Lovely to see that Shakespeare is still being discussed ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. That's such an amazing idea, you seem so knowledgeable about Shakespeare. I'm trying to get into his work and bought myself a copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream, so a video on that would be very helpful ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I have to read romeo and juliet for english class soon and i'm not a native speaker, so i appreciate a video about that play a lot ^^'

  5. This is so fantastic, Lauren! You are so creative with your videos, I adore them all!
    I am so intimidated by "Othello", but I so so want to read it! Perhaps with your clever and wonderful analysis I might venture into it!
    Love from Denmark xxx

  6. It's a great video ! I really would like to discover Shakespeare (especially since I saw the Doctor Who's episode about him) but I am always afraid to miss out on something.
    I bought A Midsummer Night's Dream in a bilingual edition so I will understand the text and have verses and the rhythm at the same time ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I added this video to my favourites and am very much looking forward to all your other videos on Shakespeare!!! You would make an amazing, outstanding teacher ๐Ÿ™‚ so happy I found you! Xxx

  8. Great introduction! Thank you for doing this series; I am very much looking forward to your next videos. As for specific requests, I would be interested in hearing more about Shakespeareโ€™s plays in comparison to one another, e.g. earlier vs. later ones, or what differences there are in the construction or language between histories, comedies, and tragedies.

  9. Such a great idea! I've always been curious about Shakespeare and his writing but:
    -as a non native speaker in class we really didn't study much of it, probably the teacher didn't think our English was good enough (and at the time, it wasn't)
    – I've always refused to read it translated
    -I've always been scared be the aura of: top of the English literature, and scared not to understand it.
    probably it about time I start it though… I'll follow you very closely in this series ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. These will be fun to watch. Shakespeare has been a favorite ever since I was 12. When I was 18 I had the privilege to see Romeo & Juliet at the Swann Theater in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Sadly, the actress who portrayed Juliet screamed all her lines to the point where her death was closer to bringing on applause than tears. I'd love it if you focused on some of Shakespeare's lesser known plays, such as A Winter's Tale and Two Gentlemen of Verona. This year I'll be teaching Shakespeare's Julius Caesar to my kids, which should prove interesting. I'd love to find some great BBC adaptations, but as yet have not found any.

  11. This series is going to be so cool! Are you going to speak about the plays in a particular order?
    And you should check out the duke of bookingham tumblr. The girl who runs it loves shakespeare and the greeks and moby dick, and she's hilarious

  12. I just love these series that you do!! And I have always been a Shakespeare fan so all the better! My top three favorites are Midsummer Night's Dream, King Lear, and Romeo and Juliet. Great intro / background video —- thanks for all you do!!!

  13. When I was a kid I really struggled with reading because I was dyslexic; it wasn't until I was in the sixth grade that I overcome my disability and reading became imperative to appearing smart and collected amongst my piers. And whilst in my English classes I couldn't wait for my teacher to reveal our reading syllabus, always on the edge of my seat one word could send me into a slouching, saddened, mess- it was Shakespeare. I can't make heads or tails of his writing, and my grades really suffered because of it. But since he's a writer I did enjoy learning a thing or two about him from your video.

  14. Love this! I'm a huge Shakespeare fan. I actually chose to take a Shakespeare English class in college even though I majored in Animal Health Science

  15. Just read and LOVED Jeanette Winterson's The Gap of Time, but I'm a bit sheepish to admit that I've never read The Winter's Tale! I'd like to hear your thoughts on that one.

  16. I am taking a Shakespeare course this semester and this series will be very helpful!! I would love to watch a live production. This was a fantastic video(:

  17. Hi Lauren! This is such a brilliant video, and I'm looking forward to see more! About the language, I've seen a video a little while ago (I think it was actually made by the people from the Globe) about how Shakespeare is supposed to be pronounced – it makes a lot of sense when they show it. It's quite interesting, I'd definitely recommend you watch it if you haven't yet! Just type Shakespeare's pronunciation and it should be one of the top ones here (: xx

  18. This is SUCH a lovely, comprehensive introduction to Shakespeare. I absolutely adore it. I especially love that you went into the culture of play-writing and play-going at the time — since knowing that information is really integral to unlocking his astounding plays. And this video has PERFECT timing — I'm hosting readalongs beginning next month in which we read one Shakespeare play a month and chat about it. Cannot wait to follow this series closely and have chats about Shakespeare with everyone! Thank you for this! Booktube needs more Bard. ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Going the the globe is such a cool experience! I had the chance to see Richard III there and it really did help with understanding the play ๐Ÿ˜›

  20. My favorite plays are Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night (because I am a twin!). Maybe you could tackle one of them? ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. I'm really looking forward to more of your videos about Shakespeare! My favourite play is Much ado about nothing, so I'd like to see you analyse it a bit more. Also, could you recommend some stage productions, movies or audiobooks for each of the plays you'll be covering? Thanks!

  22. I have been meaning to read more Shakespeare for a while now so this video series is definitely apt for me. I am thinking of reading Macbeth first or maybe rereading Hamlet.

  23. I'm studying The Taming of the Shrew with my 9-10th graders and I'd love more info about that one! I'm excited that you are doing this!

  24. Loved this video! I studied Macbeth in school & was the only one in class to read ahead…..tad bit nerdy I know. I would love to see you do a video on Macbeth.

  25. I d' just like to thank you So Much Lauren ! I've been eager to study William Shakespeare for more than 22 years ! I went on his grave in 1994 during my studies … I will soon be retired but still have as much admiration for his work . Thank you for your help to improve my understanding of it . .

  26. Thank you so much! I used your video to introduce Shakespeare in my 9th and 10th grade classes. I would love to see your take on Much Ado. Thanks!

  27. Please consider doing "A Midsummer NIght's Dream," it would make a lot of 8th grade English teachers happy.

  28. Really good explanation! Iโ€™m Brazilian and I would like to start reading Shakespeare but I always get discouraged when I start reading all of those complicated words. But I will give it a try – Iโ€™m currently watching The Hollow crown show and if I like it Iโ€™ll try to read it in but not sure if I should read it in Portuguese first or go straight to the original

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