The Shakespeare Study Guide

Formerly Known as Shake Sphere
Spring-Summer, 2023

Summaries and Analyses of Every Shakespeare Work  |  Essays, Glossaries, Quotations, Annotated Texts
A Free Resource for Students and Teachers Posted by Michael J. Cummings  (  
Recommended as a Shakespeare Resource byThe New York Times and the British Library | Copyright 1995-2021 
"An Excellent Site": The British Library

Table of Contents

The Plays: Summaries and Study Guides

Plot summaries of all the plays, including those of doubtful or joint authorship, such as Edward III, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Sir Thomas More (partly written by Shakespeare), and Cardenio (probably partly written by Shakespeare). The play guides include information on sources, settings, dates, themes, and many other topics.

All's Well That Ends Well       Antony and Cleopatra       As You Like It       Cardenio       Comedy of Errors       Coriolanus       Cymbeline     Edward III     Hamlet, Prince of Denmark     Henry IV: Part I      Henry IV: Part II       Henry V      Henry VI: Part I      Henry VI: Part II
Henry VI: Part III       Henry VIII      Julius Caesar      King John       King Lear      Love's Labour's Lost     Macbeth       Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice       The Merry Wives of Windsor       A Midsummer Night's Dream       Much Ado About Nothing       Othello 
Pericles, Prince of Tyre      Richard II       Richard III     Romeo and Juliet       Sir Thomas More       The Taming of the Shrew      
The Tempest
     Timon of Athens       Titus Andronicus       Troilus and Cressida     Twelfth Night, or What You Will      
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
       The Two Noble Kinsmen       The Winter's Tale

The Sonnets Explained and Annotated

All the Sonnets: Texts, Summaries, Analysis, Definitions, Explanations, Background  

Narrative and Complaint Poems

The Rape of Lucrece: Tragic narrative poem. Summary, analysis, setting, sources, rhyme, meter, and imagery.
Venus and Adonis: Narrative love poem. Summary, analysis, rhyme, meter, imagery, and complete annotated text. 
The Phoenix and the Turtle: Historical background, interpretation and analysis, symbolism, and other information.
A Lover's Complaint: Complaint poem, popular in Renaissance times. Text, summary, analysis,  authorship question.

Shakespeare's Craft//

How Shakespeare Prepared Manuscripts: Word choice, prompt copy, printing and registration, editing, pirated plays, texts.
Shakespeare's Writing Tools: All about Will's quills.
Anatomy of a Shakespeare Play: Divisions of the script and drama with a glossary of stage directions.
Shakespeare's Four Writing Periods: Early, Balanced, Overflowing, and Final.
Meter, Including Iambic Pentameter  Explanation of iamb, trochee, spondee, anapest, and other kinds of meter.
Blank Verse and Iambic Pentameter: Explanation of the verse form of Shakespeare's plays and poems.

Prose vs Poetry in the Plays: Why Shakespeare used three modes of expression. The difference between poetry and verse.
Censorship: What Shakespeare had to do to receive approval for a play.
Surviving Manuscripts: Do any of the original manuscripts of Shakespeare's plays survive?

Holinshed's Chronicles and Other Major Sources for Plays About British History
What Made Shakespeare Great?
Shakespeare's Swooping Imagery: Birds of prey help Shakespeare make apt comparisons. 
Shakespeare's Use of Allusions and Direct References
Allusions to Greek and Roman Mythology in Shakespeare's Works
Thou or Thee? You or Ye? Rules governing the use of Shakespearean pronouns, including thou, thee, thy, thine, and ye.
Why Low-Tech Special Effects Made Shakespeare a Better Writer


The originator of the phrase “In God We Trust” on American currency, (2) the world’s wealthiest woman in the early 1900s, (3) the Supreme Court justice who cast a vote that was a key cause of the U. S. Civil War, (4) the Union musicians who played for Grant and Lee at the end of the Civil War, (5) the inventor of driver education in high schools, (6) the ballplayer who hit the first home run in the first major-league World Series? (7) the founder of Little League Baseball (8), the inventor of the Yellow Cab, (9) the author of the first American novel by an African-American woman.  ANSWER

Complete Texts With Definitions of Difficult Words and Explanations of Difficult Passages

As You Like It     The Comedy of Errors     Edward III     Hamlet, Prince of Denmark      Henry IV Part I     Henry IV Part II      Henry V
Henry VI Part I      Julius Caesar      King John     King Lear      A Lover's Complaint     Macbeth
     Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice      A Midsummer Night's Dream      Much Ado About Nothing      Othello
      Pericles, Prince of Tyre
The Phoenix and the Turtle      The Rape of Lucrece     Richard III      Romeo and Juliet      Complete Sonnets With Explanations
The Taming of the Shrew     The Tempest      The Winter's Tale
      Timon of Athens      Titus Andronicus      Twelfth Night
Venus and Adonis    

The Theatre

Globe Theatre: Description, location, builders, actors, owners, sets, special effects, costumes, acoustics, motto. 
Stage Directions, Drama Terms: Definitions of alarum, aside, exeunt, exit, fair copy, foul papers, and other terms Shakespeare.
Why Low-Tech Special Effects Made Shakespeare a Better Writer
Shakespeare in the Modern Era: The story of the man who rescued Shakespeare from overblown productions.
Shakespeare's Views on Acting: Speaking through Hamlet, Shakespeare presents his opinions on how actors should perform.

Printing and Publishing

The Worshipful Company of Stationers: Government trade organization that controlled the publishing industry.
Explanation of Folio and Quarto Texts: Definitions and descriptions of these printing terms used in Shakespeare's time.
Quarto Editions of the Plays: Early editions of the plays. 

Shakespeare's Life

Biography: 5,300-word essay (with documentation) on the private and public lives of Shakespeare.
Chronology of Shakespeare's Works and Timeline of His Life

The Shakespeare Family: Short profiles of William Shakespeare's parents, brothers and sisters, and his own children.
Was Shakespeare Catholic? Discussion of evidence suggesting that Shakespeare was a lifelong Roman Catholic.
What Did Shakespeare Look Like? How Did He Sound? Information on Shakespeare's physical appearance and voice.
Shakespeare's Last Will and Testament: Complete text of Shakespeare's final words.
Was Shakespeare a Seafarer?.Ships are important turning points, or plot catalysts, in many of Shakespeare plays.

Shakespeare's Times

London in 1600: Everyday Life, Occupations: Everyday life in Shakespeare's time. Included is a glossary of occupations.
The Age of Shakespeare: Major events in Shakespeare's time, including inventions and discoveries.
Shakespeare's Taverns: When an ill humor oppressed Shakespeare, he could count on a tavern to revitalize his spirits.

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Expressions, Quotations, and Fascinating Facts

Curses and Insults in Shakespeare's Plays
Everyday Expressions From Shakespeare
: Fool's paradise, one fell swoop, and other expressions originated by Shakespeare.
Fascinating Facts About Shakespeare
Shakespeare Quotations for All Occasions: A page of quotations from Shakespeare's plays and poems on a variety of subjects.


Allusions to Greek and Roman Mythology in Shakespeare's Works
Animals and Animal Parts in Witches' Brew (Macbeth): Definitions and descriptions of terms.
Archaic and Difficult Words: Definitions and usage of words in Shakespeare's plays and poems.

Drama Terms: Definitions of alarum, aside, exeunt, and other playwrighting terms used by Shakespeare.
Elizabethan Occupations: From actor, apothecary, armorer, and cordwainer to skinner, tiler, and washerwoman.
Feudal Terms
Globe Theatre Actors: The names of the twenty-six actors who performed most frequently in Shakespeare's plays.
Legal Terms in Shakespeare: Essay and glossary on Shakespeare's knowledge of the law and legal terminology. 
Literary Terms: All the major literary terms explained, from allegory to zeugma..
Medical Terms Used by Shakespeare
Musical Instruments in Shakespeare's Time
Stage Directions

Royalty, Nobility, and Feudalism

Kings and Queens of England: The royal line from the first monarch to the present.
Royalty and Nobility: How They Ranked
Feudalism: All about kings, queens, knighthood, chivalry, and castles. 


Authorship: Why Edward de Vere and Others Don't Measure Up

Who Quilled Shakespeare? Debates flourish today on whether William Shakespeare really wrote the plays and poems attributed to him. Among those promoted as the true author of the plays and sonnets are Edward de Vere, Sir Henry Neville, Christopher, Marlowe, Francis Bacon, William Stanley, and Queen Elizabeth I. This essay maintains that evidence against Shakespeare is weak and that there is no reason to doubt that William Shakespeare of Stratford was indeed the author of the plays and sonnets.

Essays and Short Articles on This Site

Shakespeare and Medicine: Discussion of Shakespeare’s knowledge of human afflictions. Included is a glossary.  
Shakespeare's Messengers: How they helped him with his plots, themes, and imagery. NEW
The Four Humors in Shakespeare's Works: Explanation of body fluids that influenced Shakespeare's characters.
Shakespeare and the Bible: Discussion of Shakespeare's allusions to Scripture.
Shakespeare and the Law: Essay centering on Shakespeare's impressive knowledge of the law and legal terminology.
Shakespeare and Music: Discussion of the role of singers, instrumentalists, and dancers in Shakespeare's plays.
Shakespeare, Shylock, and Anti-Semitism: This essay centers on the Anti-Semitism of Christians in The Merchant of Venice.
Why Hamlet Did Not Become King of Denmark: Why Claudius, not Hamlet, acceded to the throne of Denmark in Hamlet.
Romeo and Juliet: Why the Capulets and Montagues Hate Each Other
Titus Andronicus: Shrewd Business Coup: This bloody play attracted theatergoers and made big profits.
Troilus and Cressida: Tragedy of Ignorance: All about the characters' ignorance of who they are and what spurs them to action.
In Macbeth, True is False and Fair Is Foul: Macbeth's world is a world of contradiction. Good is bad. True is false. Light is dark.
Fate vs Free Will in Shakespeare's Works: Is an individual in complete control of his destiny?
The Suicides of Romeo and Juliet: Had the lovers lapsed into insanity?
Why Low-Tech Special Effects Made Shakespeare a Better Writer
Shakespeare's Ships: Ships are important turning points, or plot catalysts, in many of Shakespeare plays.
Hamlet and Oedipus: Hamlet exhibits the symptoms of an Oedipus complex as defined by Sigmund Freud.
Shakespeare's Swooping Imagery: Birds of prey help Shakespeare make apt comparisons.
Portia as a Hypocrite: Close examination of The Merchant of Venice reveals its leading lady as deeply flawed and detestable.
What Is Meter in a Play or a Poem?
Shakespeare's Openings: The openings of Shakespeare's plays open doors into the labyrinth of the human mind.
Shakespeare's Blunders: Shakespeare's plays are not without shortcomings. This essay discusses them.
Was Shakespeare a Plagiarist? Evidence indicates that Shakespeare is innocent of all charges of plagiarism. 
Authorship Question
Shakespeare's Use of Allusions and Direct References
Shakespeare's Four Writing Periods: Analysis of Shakespeare's four writing periods: Early, Balanced, Overflowing, and Final. 
Blank Verse and Iambic Pentameter: Explanation of the verse form of Shakespeare's plays and poems.
Prose vs Poetry and Verse in Shakespeare's Plays
Was Shakespeare Catholic? Discussion of evidence suggesting that Shakespeare was a lifelong Roman Catholic.

Shakespeare's Hellhounds: Profiles of His Most Evil Villains      NEW

Richard III (Title character in Richard III)
Claudius (Antagonist in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark)
The Macbeths (Husband and wife murderers in Macbeth)
Iago (Antagonist in Othello)
Antiochus (Loathsome king in Pericles, Prince of Tyre)
Goneril, Regan, Edmund, and the Duke of Cornwall (Villains in King Lear)
Aaron the Moor, Tamora and Sons, Others (Villains in Titus Andronicus)

About the Developer of This Site

Michael J. Cummings, a native of Williamsport, Pa., was a public-school teacher, journalist, freelance writer, author, and college instructor before retiring and devoting his time to writing. He graduated from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and undertook additional studies at Elmira (N.Y) College and Lycoming College in Williamsport. He also underwent training at the American Press Institute at Columbia University in New York and at the institute's facility in Reston, Va. Mr. Cummings is the author of five print books, more than twenty ebooks, and numerous newspaper and magazine articles. Among those he interviewed over the years were actors Peter Ustinov and Dennis Weaver, Merrill-Lynch chairman William Schreyer, Indy race-car champion Rick Mears, and George W. Bush (while he was running for vice president on Ronald Reagan's ticket). Mr. Cummings continues to reside in his hometown. He welcomes feedback at <>.


They all lived or worked at one time or another in the remarkable north-central Pennsylvania city of Williamsport, once the lumber capital of the world and the home of more millionaires per capita than any other city in the world. The author of this web site has written an e-book about Williamsport and its neighboring communities. To see more information about it or to buy a copy, click here.