Shakespeare Videos: Complete List Shakespeare
1. Preparing a Manuscript
Writing Tool: Quill Dipped in Ink
.......A quill was the
hollow, rigid shaft of a bird’s feather. The word “pen” is derived from
the Latin name for “feather”—“penna.” Shakespeare and other writers of
his day used a variety of quills that they dipped in an ink container (inkwell)
a stand (standish) that held all the writing materials. If a
writer’s pocket lacked jingle, he invested in a goose quill. If he
could afford something better, he invested in a swan quill. Writers or
artists who needed quills to produce fine lines purchased crow quills.
Quills from ducks, eagles, turkeys, hawks and owls also served as “word
processors,” producing plays, poems, and sometimes revolution.
.......Quills were the writing instruments of choice between
AD 500 and AD 1850. (In the ancient world, writers used a variety of
other instruments to write history, literature, announcements,
bureaucratic records, and so on. These instruments included shaped
twigs or branches that impressed words into clay, mallet-driven chisels
that etched words in stone, brushes that wrote on pottery and other
smooth surfaces (such as plaster and animal skins), sharpened bone or
metal that inscribed words on wax surfaces, and sharpened reed stems
dipped in ink that wrote on papyrus, an Egyptian water plant whose pith
(the soft center of a stem) was dried and pressed to make thin sheets
suitable for receiving impressions. The introduction of the quill in
the 500's (an event recorded by St. Isidore, a Spanish theologian)
greatly eased the task of writers, much as personal computers did when
they replaced typewriters in the last half of the twentieth
Lighting: Daylight, Candlelight, Oil Lamps
probably tried to do most of his writing during the day, perhaps near a
window, because writing at night required lit candles or an oil lamp.
Candles were expensive. A writer could easily spend a day's earnings or
more on candlelight illuminating the first draft of a poem or a
soliloquy in a play. The alternative—oil lamps—gave off smoke and
unpleasant odors. And they, too, required a pretty penny to buy, fuel,
.......However, if Shakespeare attempted to confine all of
his writing to mornings and afternoons, he probably failed. After all,
as a playwright and an actor, he had to appear for the daytime
rehearsals and performances of his works. Like people today, he had a
"nine-to-five job" that probably forced him to moonlight. Also,
passages in his plays suggest that he could have been something of an
insomniac addicted to "burning the candle at both ends." In his book Shakespeare:
Biography, (New York: Doubleday, 2005) Peter Ackroyd speculates
that as a result of his various employments in the theatre,
[Shakespeare] was obliged to write at night; there are various
references in the plays to "oil-dried lamps," to candles, and to "the
smoakie light" that is "fed with stinking Tallow" (Page 273).
Choosing Words and Spellings
.......No official English dictionaries existed in
Shakespeare's time. Therefore, he was free to use spellings and
meanings that did not agree with accepted spellings and meanings. He
could also choose from among words imported from Italy, France, and
other countries by seafaring traders, soldiers, tourists, and
.......When words did not exist to express his thoughts,
Shakespeare made up his own—hundreds of them. Many of his neologisms
are now in common use around the world. Jeffrey McQuain and Stanley
Malless, authors of Coined by Shakespeare (Merriam-Webster,
1998), list numerous words originated by Shakespeare, including bedroom,
generous, investment, madcap, obscene, radiance, torture,
unreal, and varied.
.......Hundreds of words used by Shakespeare
have changed meanings or connotations over time. For example, "Fellow,
has friendly overtones for us, was insulting in Shakespeare's
day. Phrases that were metaphors to him have often lost their coloring
with us: "Since we seldom play the game of bowls, we overlook the
concrete implications of "There's the rub' [a phrase used by Hamlet in
his famous soliloquy] (an impediment on the green)."—Levin,
Harry. "General Introduction." The Riverside Shakespeare. G.
Blakemore Evans, textual ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Page 9.)
Play Sources: History, Myth, Other Writers
.......To write his
plays, Shakespeare borrowed from history, mythology,
other literary works, then used his genius to enliven histories and
myths and improve on plots, reworking them and sometimes adding new
characters, such as Beatrice and Benedick in Much
About Nothing, Malvolio and Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, and the fool in King Lear.
.......Because settings on an Elizabethan stage
were spare, Shakespeare had to write descriptions of them into his
dialogue. This handicap proved to be a boon, for it motivated
Shakespeare to write some of his best descriptions.
Whenever place or time mattered [in a Shakespeare play],
some references to them could be introduced into the dialogue, and if
special atmospheric or dramatic effects were needed, they could be
created by the poet's pen. Hence, it is to the Elizabethan stage that
we are indebted in great measure for the exquisite descriptive poetry
of Shakespeare. Such conditions, moreover, encouraged a greater
imaginative cooperation on the part of the audience in the production
of a play, and this active participation was further increased by the
informality of the platform stage. With such intimacy, soliloquies,
asides, and long set speeches are natural and not absurd as they are in
modern theatre.—Watt, Homer A., and Karl J. Holzknecht. Outlines of
Shakespeare's Plays. New York: Barnes, 1947 (Page 8).
Drafts of Plays and Censorship
manuscripts had to be submitted for approval. After writing out a
manuscript, Shakespeare (or a professional scribe) made a copy of it in
which obvious errors were corrected. The two versions had special
names: the original manuscript was called the "foul papers" because of
the blots and crossouts on it. The new version was called a "fair
copy." It was submitted to the Master of Revels, a government censor
who examined it for material offensive to the crown. If approved, the
fair copy became known as a "prompt copy," which the actors used to
memorize their lines. The acting company bought the prompt copy,
gaining sole possession of it, after paying the writer. The company
then wrote in the stage directions (exit, enter, etc.). John Russell
Brown, author of Shakespeare and
His Theatre (New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, 1982, page 31)
discusses the circumstances under which the censor forbade the staging
of one of Shakespeare's plays:
At a time of
unrest, when the Earl of Essex was challenging the Queen's
[Elizabeth's] authority and armed bands terrorized the streets of
London, the Chamberlain's Men [Shakespeare's company] were forbidden to
perform Richard II, a play already licensed and performed,
because it contains a scene in which a king is compelled to renounce
his crown; in 1601, the queen's counsellors believed that this might
encourage her enemies and spark off a revolution. The theatre was taken
very seriously by the authorities and was allowed to deal with
political issues only if they did not refer too obviously to current
affairs or seditious ideas, but were set, safely, in an earlier century
or, better still, in ancient Rome or foreign countries.
Alteration of the Copy
.......An acting company
could alter a playwright's manuscript with or without his approval. It
is possible that editors improved some of Shakespeare's manuscripts. It
is also possible that they weakened the manuscripts.
.......No original copy,
or foul papers, of a Shakespeare play survived to the present day
except for a few pages of Sir Thomas More,
written by Shakespeare. Fredson Bowers explains why the
manuscripts were lost:.
No Shakespeare manuscript is in existence. This is not
surprising: they were not collectors' items. Printers would have thrown
them away after setting type from them; almost twenty years passed in
the Commonwealth with no public performances of plays, and the
manuscripts of the disbanded theatrical companies were completely
dispersed; the Great Fire of London must have destroyed some. Indeed,
only a relative handful of the hundreds and hundreds of Elizabethan
plays have come down to us in manuscript form, and it is our bad luck
that so few of these are by major dramatists. None is Shakespeare's if
we except the good possibility that one scene in the manuscript of the
unacted Sir Thomas More is in his hand.—Bowers, Fredson. ''What
Shakespeare Wrote.'' Approaches to Shakespeare, by Norma
Rabkin. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964 (page 266).
2. Writing Format: Verse, Prose, and
his plays partly in verse and partly in prose, freely alternating
between the two in the same acts and scenes. It is not unusual, in
fact, for one character to address a second character in verse while
the second character responds in prose. Sometimes, the same
character—Hamlet or King Lear, for example—speaks in verse in one
moment and in prose in another.
is a collection of lines that follow a regular, rhythmic pattern—in
Shakespeare, usually iambic pentameter, a metric scheme in which each
line has ten syllables consisting of five unaccented and accented
syllable pairs. In its highest form—when the language is lyrical and
the content sublime—verse can become poetry, either rhymed or unrhymed.
Prose, on the other hand, is the everyday language of conversation,
letters, lectures, sermons, newspaper articles, book chapters, and
encyclopedia articles. Prose has no rhyme or metric scheme.
did Shakespeare mix verse (including poetry) and prose in his plays?
That is a question that inevitably occupies anyone studying
Shakespeare’s writing techniques. Before considering that question, the
Shakespeare analyst first needs to learn how to identify the verse and
prose passages in a play. That task is easy. Here’s why:
most modern editions of the plays, each line in multi-line verse
passages begins with a capital letter, and each line in multi-line
prose passages begins with a small letter except the first line or a
line beginning with the opening word of a sentence. In addition, verse
passages have a shortened right margin, but prose passages have a full
right margin. Following are examples of these visual cues in verse and
prose passages from Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:
Verse Passage Spoken by Hamlet
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Prose Passage Spoken by Hamlet
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 (3.1.66-72)
Slanders, sir. For the satirical rogue says here that old
men have gray beards, that their faces are wrinkled, their eyes purging
thick amber and plum-tree gum, and that they have a plentiful lack of
wit, together with most weak hams. All which, sir, though I most
powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it
thus set down; for yourself, sir, should be old as I am if like a crab
you could go backward. (Hamlet, 2.2.204)
then, what about single lines—those spoken in conversation as
questions, replies, or ripostes? They are in prose if one line has no
paired rhyming line or is too abrupt to contain a metric scheme. The
following exchange between Hamlet and Guildenstern contains such short
lines absent of meter and rhyme. The exchange begins when Hamlet asks
Guildenstern to play a wind instrument called a recorder, which
resembles a flute:
you play upon this pipe?
these lines are too short to contain a pattern of meter or rhyme.
Moreover, the content is mundane and prosaic. “I pray you” does not a
poem make. For these reasons, the passage qualifies only as prose.
GUILDENSTERN:..My lord, I cannot.
HAMLET:..I pray you.
me, I cannot.
HAMLET:..I do beseech you. (3.2.256-260)
what of the multi-line passages? Why are some in verse and others in
prose? The answer some Shakespeare commentators provide—an answer that
is simplistic and not
wholly accurate—is that Shakespeare reserved verse for noble, highborn
characters and prose for common, lowborn characters. It is true that
royalty and nobility often speak in verse and that peasants and
plebeians—or wine-swilling hooligans, like Falstaff (Henry IV Part I and Henry IV Part II)—often speak in
prose. But it is also true that noble characters, like Hamlet and
Volumnia (Coriolanus), sometimes
speak in prose and that lowborn characters, like the witches in Macbeth,
speak in verse. Even the lowest of the low—the beast-man Caliban
in The Tempest—speaks often in
verse. In The Merchant of Venice,
the characters associated with the dirty world of money speak
frequently in verse, and the characters associated with the rarefied
world of nobility and refinement speak often in prose. Shakespeare's
comedy Much Ado About Nothing is
almost entirely in prose, with highborn characters only occasionally
speaking in verse.
then, does Shakespeare alternate between verse and prose?
Shakespeare used verse to do the following:
One: Express deep emotion requiring elevated
language. Because nobles and commoners were both capable of
experiencing profound emotion, both expressed their emotions in verse
from time to time.
wise, penetrating, and reflective observations that require lofty
language. Such a passage is a famous one recited by the outlaw Jaques
in Act II, Scene VII, of As You Like It. The passage—which
begins with the often-quoted line “All the world’s a
stage”—philosophizes about the “seven ages” of man, from infancy to
a lyrical poem as a separate entity, like the famous song in
the fifth act of As You Like It. The
first stanza of that poem follows:
It was a lover and his lass,
irony. When the highborn speak humble prose and the hoi polloi
speak elegant verse, as is sometimes the case in The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare may
be saying up can be down, and down can be up. In The Merchant,
the noble characters are just as reprehensible as—or perhaps even more
reprehensible than—the workaday, unsophisticated characters. Portia is
often depicted in critical analyses of the play as its noblest
character. But a close reading of the play reveals her as a racist and
a self-seeking conniver. Thus, Shakespeare makes her tongue wag in
prose and verse, revealing her Janus personality.
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o’er the green corn-field did pass
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding:
Sweet lovers love the spring. (5.3.11)
order and exactitude. A character who speaks in precise rhythms
and patterns is a character with a tidy brain that plans ahead and
executes actions on schedule.
Shakespeare used prose to do the following:
One: Express ordinary, undistinguished observations
coming from the surface of the mind rather than its active, ruminating
quick, one-line replies such as “Ay, my lord” that are the stuff
of day-to-day conversations.
auditory relief for audiences (or visual relief for readers)
from the intellectual and connotative density of the verse passages.
madness or senility. In King Lear,
Lear speaks almost exclusively in verse in the first half of the play.
Then suddenly, he lurches back and forth between verse and prose,
perhaps to suggest the frenzied state of his aging mind. Hamlet
sometimes shifts to prose in front of observers, perhaps in hopes of
presenting his feigned madness as real.
the rambling, desultory path of conversation from a tongue
loosened by alcohol, as in Henry IV Part
I and Henry IV Part II.
fun at characters who lack the wit to versify their lines.
that prose has merits as a literary medium. In
Shakespeare’s day, verse (and its elegant cousin, poetry) was the sine
qua non of successful writing. As an innovator, Shakespeare may have
wanted to tout the merits of prose. Thus, on occasion, he infused his
plays with prose passages so graceful and thought-provoking that they
equalled, and sometimes even surpassed, the majesty of verse or poetry
passages. Such a prose passage is the following, spoken by Hamlet in
Act II, Scene II:
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how
infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in
action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of
the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this
quintessence of dust? man delights not me: no, nor woman neither,
though by your smiling you seem to say so. (Hamlet, 2.2.250)
3. Blank Verse and Iambic
Format: Verse, Prose, and Poetry, you read that Shakespeare
wrote his plays in verse, prose, and poetry and that he used a rhythm
format called iambic pentamenter.
his verse lines in iambic pentamenter do not rhyme, they are said to be
in blank verse. (Note that Shakespeare also wrote his sonnets in iambic
pentameter, but the lines had a rhyming scheme. For more information on
this scheme, see sonnets.
Shakespeare also wrote parts of his plays with rhyming lines.)
understand iambic pentameter, you first need to understand the term
''iamb.'' An iamb is a unit of rhythm consisting of an unstressed
syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Consider the words ''annoy,''
''fulfill,'' ''pretend,'' ''regard,'' and ''serene.'' They are all
iambs because the first syllable of each word is unstressed (or
unaccented) and the second syllable is stressed (or accented): an NOY,
ful FILL, pre TEND, re GARD, and ser ENE. Iambs can also consist of one
word with a single unstressed (unaccented) syllable followed by another
word with a single stressed (accented) syllable (the KING). In
addition, they may consist of a final unstressed syllable of one word
followed by an initial stressed syllable of the next word. The
following line from Romeo and Juliet
demonstrates the use of iambs. The stressed words or syllables are
But, SOFT!..|..what LIGHT..|..through YON..|..der WIN..|..dow BREAKS?
two more lines from Romeo and Juliet that also demonstrate
the use of iambs:
I WILL..|..not FAIL:..|..'tis TWEN..|..ty YEARS..|..till THEN.
a line has five iambs, it is in iambic pentameter. The prefix
''pent'' means ''five.'' (A figure with five sides is called a
''pentagon''; an athletic competition with five track-and-field events
is called a ''pentathlon.'') The suffix ''meter'' (in ''pentameter'')
refers to the recurrence of a rhythmic unit (also called a ''foot'').
Thus, because the above lines contain iambs, they are ''iambic.''
Because they contain five iambs (five feet) they are said to be in
iambic pentameter. Finally, because the words at the end of each line
don't rhyme, the lines are said to be in unrhymed iambic pentameter, or
I HAVE..|..for GOT..|..why I..|..did CALL..|..thee BACK.
verse was modeled after ancient Greek and Latin verse. It was
first used in 1514 in Renaissance Italy by Francesco Maria Molza. In
1539, Italian Giovanni Rucellai was the first poet to label the
unrhymed iambic pentameter in his poetry as blank verse (versi
sciolti in Italian). Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, first used
blank verse in English in his translation of Vergil's epic Latin poem The
Aeneid. The first English drama in blank verse was Gorboduc,
or Ferrex and Porrex, staged in 1561, by Thomas Sackville
and Thomas Norton. It was about an early British king. Later in the
same century, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare turned blank
verse into high art when they used it in their plays. Marlowe used the
verse form in Doctor Faustus, Tamburlaine, and Edward II.
Shakespeare used it in all of his plays. In Germany, Gotthold Ephraim
Lessing (1729-1781) popularized blank verse in his poem "Nathan the
Wise" ("Nathan der Weise"), published in 1779.
4. Publication of a Play
........The publishing industry operated under the control of
the Worshipful Company of Stationers, a trade organization which
government established and supervised in order to guard against
printing subversive books or books unduly critical of the Crown. If a play met government standards—that is, if it did
not attempt to inflame the people against the crown—a publisher could
print and sell the play. Authors of plays often had misgivings about
committing their work to print.
The plays of the first professional companies [in
Shakespeare's day] were written mainly by actors themselves. . . . The
players were reluctant to allow their dramas to be printed. They
apparently thought that if a play could be read, few people would wish
to see it acted. They may also have feared that their plays, if
printed, would be appropriated for acting by rival companies. This
reluctance explains the fact that only eighteen of Shakespeare's plays
were printed during his lifetime. They were published in small
pamphlets called quartos, which sold for only sixpence a piece.—Alden,
Raymond MacDonald. A Shakespeare Handbook. Revised and enlarged
by Oscar James Campbell. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries, 1970,
For a detailed
discussion of publishing formats—in
particular, folio and quarto texts—click here.