English Literature

William Shakespeare  (1564-1616)

Apart from the information recorded in the Stratford-Upon-Avon parish registers about William Shakespeare's birth as the third child of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, his marriage to Ann Hathaway in 1582, the birth of their three children, and his death, most of what we know about his life is merely the guesswork of historians and biographers. However, Shakespeare probably did not have an academic education. He may have learned his craft in the theatre. From 1585 he seems to have been in London in several capacities connected with the theatre. In 1594 he joined a company of actors, and later became part owner of the Globe Theatre. But, most of this is uncertain. The only real evidence we have are his works and the references to them and their author, which we find in the work of contemporary and later writers. 


Some rather splendid Shakespeare lines:

"To be, or not to be, that is the question"

"To me, fair friend, you never can be old. For as you were when first your eye I eyed, such seems your beauty still"

"The devil can cite scripture for his purpose"

"O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?"

"With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come"

"Through tatterd clothes, small vices do appear. Robes and gowns hide all"

"All the world's a stage"

"Have you not a moist eye, a dry hand, a yellow cheek, a white beard, a decreasing leg, an increasing belly? Is not your voice broken, your mind short, your chin double, your wit single, and every part about you blasted with antiquity"

"If music be the food of love, play on"

"Journeys end in lovers meeting"

"All that glisters is not gold"

"Your old virginity is like one of our French withered pears: it looks ill, it eats dryly"

"He that is well paid is well satisfied"

Oh, what a bitter thing it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes"

"Such as we are made of, such we be"

"The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes"

"Of all base passions, fear is the most accursed"

"Reason and love keep little company together now-a-days"

"Friendship is constant in all other things, save in the office and affairs of love"

"Nothing can come of nothing:"

"Though this be madness, yet there is method in it"

"My only love sprung from my only hate"

"The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together"

"Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind"

"In delay there lies no plenty"

"He is not great who is not greatly good"

"Time is the justice that examines all offenders"

"Love sought is good, but given unsought is better"

"By medicine life can be prolonged, yet death will seize the Doctor too"

"Some cupid kills with arrows, some with traps"

"We may know what we are, but know not what we may be"

"The course of true love never did run smooth"

"So wise so young, they say do never live long"

"Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?"

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on"

"Some are born great, spme achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them"

The Works of Shakespeare in Chronological Order


 Venus and Adonis

The Rape of Lucrece

A Lover's Complaint

The Phoenix and the Turtle




HenryVI, RichardIII, Titus Andronicus, Love's Labour Lost, The Gentlemen of Verona

The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Richard II, King John, The Merchant of Venice, Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing,

Merry Wives of Windsor, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, Trylus and Cressida, Hamlet

Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure, All's Well That Ends Well, Othello, King Lear

Macbeth, Timon of Athens, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Pericles, Cymbeline

The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, Henry VIII


Short summaries of, and lines from, some of our favourite works:

Romeo and Juliet (1594-95)

The first of Shakespeare's great tragedies. The plot of this story: pure and tragic love, is known throughout the world. The deaths of Romeo and Juliet are in many ways necessary: their families are enemies, and death appears to be the only way out of their hopeless situation. The tragedy is deeply sad and moving.


NURSE: Even or odd, of all the days of the year,

Come Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen;

That shall she, marry; I remember it well.

'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years;

And she was weaned, i never shall forget it,

Of all the days of the year, upon that day ...


The Merchant of Venice (1594-97)

In this play Antonio, a merchant, borrows money from the jew, Shylock, to help his friend Bassanio, who wants to marry therich and beautiful Portia.  Shylock hates Antonio and only agrees to lend the money on condition that, if it is not repaid at the right time, Antonio shall pay a pound of flesh. When Antonio's ships are wrecked, and to everyone's surprise he cannot pay the money, Shylock demands his pound of flesh. the case is taken to court, and Antonio has no hope. then suddenly Portia, dressed as a lawyer, appears in court. At first she tries to persuade Shylock to have mercy, but she does not succeed, even with the famous speech about mercy:

It (mercy) droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath; it is twice blessed:

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes

'T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown.

Then Portia herself becomes hard: Shylock may have his flesh - but not one drop of blood; there is nothing about blood in the agreement. As Shylock cannot take the flesh without spilling some blood, Antonio is saved.


Macbeth (1605-06)

In Macbeth the hero, Macbeth, is told my three old witches that he will receive high honours and then become king. The high honours come, and he decides to help fate to make him king. King Duncan stays with him at his castle, and he and his wife, Lady Macbeth, murder the king; but Duncan's sons escape. One of the sons, Malcolm, brings an army against Macbeth, who is killed. Lady Macbeth is already dead. here are some words of Macbeth when he hears of her death:

  She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more; it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.


Twelfth Night (1600)

This play has been called the perfection of english comedy. The whole play is alive with humour and action. The Duke of Orsino believes that he is in love with the Lady Olivia, but he is more in love with love. "If music be the food of love," he says at the beginning of the play, "play on." Like  several other of his plays there are twins, and they cause great confusion when the girl dresses like her brother. Two other characters, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek provide much amusement with their foolish plans and their drinking. The play contains a number of songs. Here is one:

O, mistress mine, where are you roaming?

O, stay and hear; your true love's coming,

That can sing both high and low.

Trip no further, pretty sweeting;

Journeys end in lovers meeting,

Every wise man's son doth know.

What is love? 'T is not hereafter;

Present mirth hath present laughter;

What's to come is still unsure.

In delay there lies no plenty;

Then come and kiss me, sweet and twenty,

Youth's a stuff will not endure.



Some of Shakespeare's most famous lines are from this play:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them?
To die: to sleep;
No more; and, by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.



I had rather be a toad

O curse of marriage!
That we can call these delicate creatures ours,
And not their appetites! I had rather be a toad
And live upon the vapour of a dungeon
Than keep a corner in the thing I love
For others' uses.


Photographs from Stage Productions of Shakespeare's Works: