The 23rd April is World Book Day, but did you know that it is also Shakespeare Day? Everybody has heard of Shakespeare, but do you know how many plays he wrote? Have you heard of any of his poetry?
Shakespeare’s plays fit into three categories: tragedies, comedies and histories. Perhaps his most famous play is the tragic story of Romeo and Juliet, which deals with two young lovers who are forbidden to marry by their parents. Other tragedies include Hamlet, a play about a vengeful ghost, Othello, about an army general who is manipulated into killing his wife, and Macbeth. If you’ve seen Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, you’ll recognise ‘hubble bubble boil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble’ which is sung in the Great Hall after the Sorting Ceremony. These words come from the Witches in Macbeth!
Shakespeare’s comedies include Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night is a play about confusing identities. Two twins are shipwrecked and the sister, Viola, dresses up as her brother, Sebastian, who she thinks is dead. It’s hilarious, because the brother reappears without Viola realising and there’s a big love triangle going on: Viola is in love with the Duke, who is in love with Olivia, who falls in love with Sebastian, except she doesn’t realise that Sebastian is actually Viola dressed up! Everybody falls in love with the wrong person, but it is all made right in the end.
The history plays, such as Antony and Cleopatra, Richard III and Henry V are based on the lives of real historical people. Antony and Cleopatra is a story about a doomed romance in ancient Egypt. Cleopatra becomes Antony’s mistress and Antony becomes so obsessed with her that he loses his military might. Cleopatra commits suicide by letting a snake bite her after Egypt's army has been defeated by Octavius and Antony kills himself too.
Shakespeare’s plays can be very heavy going sometimes. Some of the themes they deal with are heavy and complex, so they almost always contain a lighter subplot with characters who aren’t closely linked to the characters in the main plot. They are often used in tragedies to lighten the mood of the play and to keep the audience interested in the main plot.
Have you seen or read any of Shakespeare’s plays? Which is your favourite? Which of the plays Ellen mentions are you interested in?