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Readers who want to know more about Shakespeare and his plays can follow the paths these distinguished scholars have tread by visiting the Folger either in-person or online, where a range of physical and digital resources exists to supplement the material in these texts. I commend to you these words, and hope that they inspire.

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What is the difference? Many ordinary readers assume that there is a single text for the plays: what Shakespeare wrote. In some cases, the plays have come down to us in multiple published versions, represented by various Quartos Qq and by the great collection put together by his colleagues in , called the First Folio F. Editors choose which version to use as their base text, and then amend that text with words, lines or speech prefixes from the other versions that, in their judgment, make for a better or more accurate text.

See The Tempest , 1. All Shakespeare editors at the time took the speech away from her and gave it to her father, Prospero. At any point in the text, you can hover your cursor over a bracket for more information. Richard is eager to clear his way to the crown. He manipulates Edward into imprisoning their brother, Clarence, and then has Clarence murdered in the Tower. Meanwhile, Richard succeeds in marrying Lady Anne, even though he killed her father-in-law, Henry VI, and her husband. When the ailing King Edward dies, Prince Edward, the older of his two young sons, is next in line for the throne.

Richard houses the Prince and his younger brother in the Tower. Richard then stages events that yield him the crown. He also disposes of Anne, his wife, in order to court his niece, Elizabeth of York. Rebellious nobles rally to Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond. When their armies meet, Richard is defeated and killed. Richmond becomes Henry VII. From the Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. For one amazing example, he asserts that Desdemona is a virgin.

For such unsteadiness of mind, the only cure is another good dose of Hazlitt. To see how, let us retrace our steps and take another route. But in one crucial respect the portrait misleads. Stoppard has Shakespeare searching for an original story, sitting at a desk with pen, ink and paper.


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Provokingly, he has Marlowe suggest the tale to him in a pub. He ignored the classical unities prescribed by Aristotle and his successors, ruled in the shaping of his dramas strictly by the need to tell a whole story economically yet fully, never skimping what was required for his audiences to feel what his characters felt, or to understand the history and conditions of the action. But this, the mere mechanical part, is the least of it.

His subject matter is love, hate, ambition, hubris, revenge, loss, murder, historical cruces of rebellion and war, power human and inhuman , and the divine and tragic possibilities of intimacy. By his language I mean his extraordinary ability to express what is greatest, most moving, most true and deep in that subject matter. Shakespeare is capable of projecting himself into every one of his creations. Each character in his plays, apart from the walk-ons, is an individual; each develops with psychological truth through the action of the drama as a strongly recognisable personality undergoing experiences—of love, tragedy, ambition, disaster—which affect him or her exactly as his or her personality determines.

It has been well said that if you remove the big names from the text of a Shakespeare play, you can still tell who is speaking. His characters are archetypes, his words are constantly in our mouths.

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Harold Bloom-Richard III (Bloom's Shakespeare Through the Ages)-Chelsea House Publications (2010)

He holds a mirror to human nature, so exact and so magnifying that we see the porous greasy skin, the black follicles of hair, the variegation of the irises, all familiar, yet so newly and hugely presented that we stagger back and gasp. And he says what our souls wish they could say at their moments of tenderest or most agonised consciousness, so that to hear his words feels almost like remembering them.

This last point leads to another often expressed reservation about Shakespeare. It is that Shakespeare is too familiar, especially in his own land where he is the national cultural icon. To read or see one of his plays is indeed to remember him; as someone once remarked in unconscious genuflection to his influence, he is full of cliches. What if our enthusiasm for Shakespeare has staled him, made him difficult to perceive properly, like an Old Master painting obliterated under varnish and age?

This question misses the point. Continual staging of Shakespeare is what keeps him alive.


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Experimental stagings, film versions, adaptations and novel interpretations, are all valid operations on the Shakespearean canon—as valid as classic renderings in which different leading actors bring his great roles before us according to their own lights. Difference only makes sense against a background of continuity; there would be no purpose in discussing the merits of Garrick and Kean, Richardson and Gielgud, if there were no constants to give comparison its point.

In that tradition it is variously held that a work of art is great—and therefore its creator a genius—if it has some or all of the following characteristics: it is true to nature; it evokes strong feelings in us; it makes us think; it possess formal beauty; and it stands comparison with what has been acknowledged as great art in the past. On all but one of these counts, Bate observes, Shakespeare passes with flying colours. Shakespeare shared the same rhetorical training as his fellow Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists. But none of them, not Marlowe nor Ben Jonson, not Beaumont, Fletcher nor Thomas Heywood, comes anywhere near him in power of characterisation, or beauty of the poetry which expresses it.

Their characters are cardboard, his are flesh and blood.

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Their language excepting Marlowe is often strained and sometimes bombastic; his is easily and gracefully poetic. In the 17th century his genius went underrated until Dryden kindly remarked that, although he was not a university man like Marlowe, he was nevertheless forgivably ignorant. But Carlyle, not uncharacteristically, was facing in the wrong direction. Every age reads Shakespeare through its own concerns. In the 18th century it was simply unacceptable that the good should not triumph at last; so Nahum Tate revised the ending of Lear to make it happy—Cordelia marries Edgar and Lear lives cheerfully with them ever after.

The Winter's Tale (Bloom's Shakespeare Through the Ages)

We are, incidentally, fortunate that he lived in a most fluid period when the line between private and public was being redrawn as it is once more, as we move beyond the modern. It is a banality to observe that actors have to know how to inhabit many different roles authentically. Shakespeare was not, Nuttall says, and did not seek to be, a problem-solver, a clearer-up of difficulties. That is a good observation.

Shakespeare accepted ambiguities, the open-endedness of things, their givenness and stubborness. When people wonder at how Macbeth, so unsure before the murder of Duncan, could become so tough and resolute afterwards, and how Lady Macbeth, who was so tough before, could become so weak and deranged afterwards, they look at the brevity of the play and surmise that there must be a portion missing which contained an account of the transitions. But for Shakespeare it is enough that they occur; for that is what life is like. Bloom sees all this; he even says most of this; and then he goes beyond it and launches upon transcendentalism and apotheosis.

I prefer the thought that Shakespeare was human, possessed of a very great talent, who belongs in a pantheon with Mozart and Michelangelo, Aristotle and Einstein. Shakespeare is one of the founders of modern consciousness because he puts individuals not types or tokens, as his fellow dramatists did before us. He lets us listen to their secrets and share their feelings in their soliloquies.

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If Bloom had restrained himself he could have made two valuable remarks. Shakespeare introduced us to two connected things, both new and important in their representation to us in literature. First, the idea of genuine individuality—the idea of the solitary soul, the reflecting, self-communing self which speaks and listens to itself and is acutely aware of its sufferings and desires-and correlatively, the idea of inner life, not only as something which exists but as something which can be explored, eavesdropped upon, used as the motor of dramatic action on the stage just as it is the motor of personal action in real life.