Starter Shakespeare: your handy guide to the works of the Bard
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Everyone knows at least one Shakespeare play. There is a 99.9% chance that at some point during GCSEs, A-Levels and University you’ve had the unfortunate luck to come in contact with one of the fifty-four works attributed to Willy Shakes. Though there are plenty that roll off the tongue (like Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream), what about Trolius and Cressida? Two Gentleman of Verona ring a bell? Ever heard of Pericles, or know the plot of Measure for Measure? Worry not, as I’ve produced this handy guide below, that details almost everything you’ll ever need to know when tackling one of these bad boys, with absolutely no sarcasm, distress or flashbacks to Year 8 Drama lessons, and all in aid of the big man's birthday. The Comedies Starting with the largest of Shakespeare’s genres, the comedies are pretty much what they say on the tin. They are meant to be light-hearted ridiculous caricatures and parodies of life. Think stolen identities, messing with drunk people, crossdressing in forests and magical mix-ups. Or not. Some of these plays aren’t funny at all when you think about them- The Merchant of Venice is a race-fuelled tirade against the Jewish, with bargaining for flesh thrown in for good measure. The plots usually go a little something like this: X wants something. Y also does something. X doesn’t know Y is doing something which messes with X’s plan. V and W muck about in between, usually offering critical commentary on social constructs and important issues whilst being jackasses. Along the way, Z decides to fall in love with Y, they end up happily together and X tends to either repent, get arrested, go mad or die. Happy, happy, nice, nice, and altogether difficulty to get to grips with based on summary alone. Or you know, you get Love’s Labour’s Lost when the King dies and all weddings get suspended, which is quite awkward. Regarding the characters, they will almost always be well-off individuals, usually random princes, diplomats, military leaders or gentry if male. If female, then expect women that are witty, intelligent and generally offer an awful lot more to the play than anyone else involved. Get used to seeing names like Moth, Maria, Biron, Boyet, Shylock, Jessica and Bottom. If the name sounds like it could feature in either Greek rhetoric or as a one-off character in Red Dwarf, it is probably from a Shakespearean comedy.
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