PlaysStudy materials and links about plays in English
This section of the site will eventually include materials and resources for both modern and classic dramas. For the present, I will focus on Shakespeare plays that are widely read in American schools.
How to Read Shakespeare’s Plays
Shakespeare’s plays, particularly Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet, are perhaps the most widely read (and widely taught) texts in English. However, for contemporary readers, especially young readers, they present a number of difficulties. I wrote a detailed handout called “Reading Shakespeare: A Primer” to give students advice on how to make sense of Shakespeare’s plays. Download a PDF version of the handout and get additional resources on my Shakespeare Primer webpage.
As the most revered writer in the history of English literature, Shakespeare naturally has an overwhelming number of websites devoted to his life and work. Here are some of the best online resources.
Wikipedia’s main Shakespeare page: An overview of Shakespeare’s life and career with thorough citations and links to many other resources.
Folger Shakespeare Library: Home of the world’s largest Shakespeare collection and an institution that promotes engagement with Shakespeare’s works through research, publication of his works, teaching, and performance. See its Teach & Learn page for a collection of educational resources. It also has an online teacher community called Forsooth!.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (MIT): Simple, no-frills (i.e., no explanatory content whatsoever) public domain versions of all of Shakespeare’s plays and poems, launched in 1993.
The Poetry Foundation’s William Shakespeare page: A biography, articles and podcasts, and no-frills versions of most of Shakespeare’s poems, including poetic excerpts from his plays.
Open Source Shakespeare: All of Shakespeare’s plays and poems, with a number of advanced search and statistical tools to facilitate research on Shakespeare’s language and characters; associated with George Mason University.
Shakespeare Online: A privately run website with a large collection of interesting articles and resources; features the full text of the plays and poems with extensive notes.
William Shakespeare: The Complete Works by Linda Alchin: A privately run website with the full text of the plays and poems (without notes), along with other resources about Shakespeare’s life and works. Not as well presented as Shakespeare Online.
As Shakespeare’s language is particularly troublesome for contemporary readers, here are some other websites with information on the unfamiliar vocabulary found in his plays:
A General Glossary to Shakespeare’s Works: Very extensive Tufts University glossary of words in Shakespeare’s plays, including citations of each instance of the word’s use in Shakespeare’s works.
William Shakespeare Elizabethan Dictionary: Fairly extensive and useful list presented very simply.
Shakespearean Vocabulary: Important words commonly used in Shakespeare’s plays (Quizlet list).
Language of Shakespeare: A list of other useful links.
The highly rated Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion by David and Ben Crystal is a well-organized, exhaustive glossary of Shakepeare’s lexicon that also has numerous useful features for students of Shakespeare. It seems to be regarded as today’s definitive Shakespeare glossary, superseding resources like Alexander Schmidt’s famous Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation Dictionary, first published in 1874 and later revised and updated.
Best Editions of Shakespeare Texts
For a detailed discussion of the virtues of various editions of individal plays, see this discussion on Quora and this detailed post by the writer David Auerbach. The general consensus is that for advanced Shakespeare readers doing research and analysis at the undergraduate level or beyond, the Arden editions are usually the best because of their extensive play-specific introductions and detailed notes and glosses. The Norton, Oxford, Cambridge, and Yale editions are also well regarded.
For high school students, I think the Folger editions are a good choice. They are highly readable, with notes and glosses alternating with the text of the play on facing pages. Each edition features helpful introductory material, including advice on how to read Shakespeare, a play-specific introduction, and sections covering Shakespeare’s life, the publication of his plays, and Elizabethan theater. The text is followed by an essay that provides a modern critical perspective on the play. Although the Folger editions don’t have the copious notes and lengthy introductions of the Arden editions, they give an appropriate amount of information for high school students.
For a complete edition of Shakespeare’s works, I recommend The Norton Shakespeare (Third Edition), which is available in a variety of formats (such as a four-volume version) and includes access to an interactive digital edition (which can also be purchased separately). It now seems to be generally preferred to The Wadsworth Shakespeare, which in its former incarnation as The Riverside Shakespeare was long favored by universities.
Watching Shakespeare Plays
There are many critically acclaimed film versions of the plays, each with its own virtues. On this page I’ve compiled a list of film versions of the Shakespeare plays most often read in American high schools. The ones I’ve chosen are generally straightforward and faithful adaptations and are accessible to a mainstream audience, so they are probably the most useful ones for students and teachers. Note that many of these films can also be streamed online. Also note that some of them include nudity and/or graphic violence.
The BBC Shakespeare Collection doesn’t have the high-budget cinematic production values of many of the other films listed here, but its versions of the plays are generally faithful to the texts and well acted, and they include good subtitles. If you’re a teacher looking for something appropriate for classroom viewing, you may find that this is your best option, especially because many of them currently can be streamed for free with Amazon Prime Video. I’ve linked a number of these individual plays here. (Note that this version of Othello, while well received at the time of its release in 1981, is now criticized for its casting of Anthony Hopkins in the titular role. Personally, I’d go with the excellent Oliver Parker version featuring Laurence Fishburne, with Kenneth Branagh as Iago.) Many of them can be purchased as DVD box sets:
Tragedies: Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Othello
Histories: Henry IV, Part I; Henry IV, Part II; Henry V; Richard II; Richard III
Comedies: As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice
More recently, the BBC has adapted a number of Shakespeare’s English histories as a television series called The Hollow Crown. Season 1 includes Richard II; Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; and Henry V. Season 2 includes Henry VI, Part 1; Henry VI, Part 2, and Richard III. They are all critically acclaimed versions (among the Shakespeare films with the highest ratings on IMDB) starring well-known actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston. For viewers in the US using region-limited DVD and Blu-ray players, the discs linked on this page currently seem to be the best options.
To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Globe Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe released a 21-DVD set (Region 0; will play on most players worldwide) that includes recent productions of twenty Shakespeare plays. Filmed live at the Globe itself, these DVDs have excellent video and audio quality and most closely reflect the original experience of a Shakespeare play, including interaction between the cast and the audience. At about $130 (£99.99), it’s a great value. You can also purchase individual plays on the Globe’s online store. In addition, the Globe offers on-demand streaming versions of these productions through its Globe Player and Globe Player app, but both forms of this service seem to have some bugs.
Shakespeare on Film
Romeo and Juliet: Franco Zeffirelli, 1968 (DVD)
Hamlet: Kenneth Branagh, 1996 (DVD)
Macbeth: Justin Kurzel, 2015 (Blu-ray + digital)
Othello: Oliver Parker, 1995 (DVD)
Henry V: Kenneth Branagh, 1989 (Blu-ray)
Julius Caesar: Joseph Mankiewicz, 1953 (DVD)
Much Ado About Nothing: Kenneth Branagh, 1993 (Blu-ray)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Michael Hoffman, 1999 (DVD)
The BBC Shakespeare Collection (DVD):
Tragedies | Histories | Comedies
Amazon Video: Macbeth | Othello | Romeo and Juliet | The Taming of the Shrew | A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Comedy of Errors | King Lear | Henry IV
Shakespeare Teaching and Learning Materials
The materials below are examples of the materials I’ve developed to use with my students. Teachers, feel free to adapt them to your needs. For an introductory course on how to read Shakespeare’s plays, see Reading Shakespeare: A Primer.
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is one of the most widely read of Shakespeare’s plays as well as one of the first plays read in many high school English curricula. As such it often sets the tone for students’ attitude toward Shakespeare, so ensuring a positive reading and learning experience is critical. I recommend the Folger edition of the play; Folger’s editions of Shakespeare’s works seem to be generally well edited, with a wealth of useful information, and they are used by a lot of American schools. I also highly recommend, as with all plays but especially Shakespeare’s, watching a good adaptation like the acclaimed film version by Franco Zeffirelli—what may be difficult for students to appreciate on the page often comes to life on the stage or screen.
I have written a few materials to help students process Romeo and Juliet:
When my students read Shakespeare plays for school, their teachers usually focus primarily on the overall meaning of each play: elements such as plot, theme, and character. To augment my students’ schoolwork and help them develop the tools necessary for a closer reading of the play, I like to give them short excerpts with very specific questions about elements such as vocabulary in context, the meanings of specific sentences, rhetorical devices, and Shakespearean syntax and grammar. I also provide questions for broader discussion and writing that facilitate reflection on how these details and devices contribute to the larger meaning of the work. These kinds of questions and exercises serve as an effective foundation for a far more nuanced reading experience and a deeper appreciation for Shakespeare. Here are a few examples of the excerpts I use. Teachers, if you find these materials useful, please feel free to adapt them to your own needs.
Excerpt I from Macbeth (PDF)
Excerpt I from Othello (PDF)