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2016 marks the 400th death anniversary of the world’s favorite playwright. Despite the passing of four centuries, his influence, and people’s ambition to get to know his work, still remains. That’s why we’ve put together this list of top resources to help you learn more about Shakespeare, the times he lived in, and the work he is famous for.
Somehow the characters and plots of Shakespeare’s plays are as alive to us today as they were when they were first performed in England in the 16th and 17th Centuries. When Alan Craven, Professor Emeritus at UTSA was asked Why Do We Still Care About Shakespeare?, he answered:
“He is the greatest dramatist, the greatest poet and the greatest prose writer in the history of the language…He has a presence like Lincoln or Washington in American history.”
Just like the rest of the world’s great literature, Shakespeare demands our attention. But he also demands our study. This list of resources will take you further than simply reading Sparknotes on the subject. They will help you get to grips with The Bard (as he was called), and to understand what enabled him to stand the test of time as well as he has.
Shakespeare-Online is a leading treasure trove of the man and his works. You’ll find almost anything you could be looking for here (provided it’s in written form), from the complete texts for each play and sonnet, to study guides and detailed biographies.
Approaching Shakespeare (Free Course)
Approaching Shakespeare is a free online lecture series from the University of Oxford, available both as online audio, or in iTunes, with the course description below:
Each lecture tackles a single play, showing the listener different ways in which the work can be interpreted. This leaves open many pivotal but intriguing questions, which is one of the great appeals of Shakespeare himself.
There are many other sites where you can find online Literature courses.
If you find the prospect of reading Shakespeare to be a little daunting, tackle the problem with the help of No Fear Shakespeare.
This is a site that houses almost 20 plays and various sonnets. When you start reading, the left side of the screen shows the original text, while the right side shows a simpler, colloquial version that’s far easier to follow. This is a fantastic way to introduce yourself to the language, without fear of getting in over your head.
If you don’t have the time to read or watch the plays themselves, but still desire to understand the various plots, you should visit the Shakespeare’s Summaries website. The plays are split into three categories: Comedy, History, and Tragedy.
Click on any of these to be given a short plot summary which will at least give you an idea about what the individual plays are about.
To have the entire works of Shakespeare at your fingertips (including his poems), the free Shakespeare app (iOS) available on this website is the perfect option.
Additional features include a complete Shakespearian dictionary, the ability to add bookmarks and notes, and a fantastic search feature to help find the quotes you’re looking for. There’s also a similar Shakespeare app for Android.
No Sweat Shakespeare is “The Home of Modern Shakespeare Resources”. From offering modern translations of many of Shakespeare’s works, to a large number of in depth articles and essays on a variety of topics, a few hours on this site will gift you an understanding of the man and his times.
Watch the Plays
If you’re looking to watch Shakespeare plays online, the best places to check out are Digital Theatre and GlobePlayer.tv. Digital Theatre has a great iOS app, as well as an in-browser player, with plays available to rent or buy for $3–10. GlobePlayer.tv gives prices in GBP, but should work worldwide (prices range from £6–10).
If you’re looking for free performances, searching YouTube for the play you want to watch will usually turn up some older results, such as this 1978 recording of Macbeth.
Foreign Language Shakespeare
If you would like to access many of Shakespeare’s works in foreign languages, Project Gutenberg has many quality translations available for free download in various languages. Each file can be downloaded in formats including EPUB, Kindle, HTML, and plain text.
Lectures on Shakespeare
This YouTube playlist currently contains 16 academic lectures on Shakespeare, including Harold Bloom on Shakespeare, Shakespeare is Everywhere, and Shakespeare vs. Milton. You will have to carve out some decent chunks of time to get through several of these. But if you truly want to deepen your knowledge of The Bard, these lectures are a brilliant entry point to do so.
The Playwright Game
This interactive “choose-your-own-adventure” game from PBS is a fantastic way to get children and students interested in Shakespeare. At each stage, the player is encouraged to understand the culture, politics, and ethics of the time before making their decision as to where to take their character. This helps to give a much fuller understanding of Shakespeare’s plays as a whole.
Shakespeare’s Globe 360 is a free iPad and iPhone app which truly brings Shakespeare’s Globe Theater to life.
With plenty of interactive content, the ability to look inside the theatre, and some cool augmented reality features, you’ll struggle to forget what you learn in this app. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a similar app for Android users, but there are some in-browser tours available on the Shakespeare Globe’s website.
Download: Shakespeare’s Globe 360 for iOS (Free)
Interactive Map of Shakespeare’s London
The Agas map of Early Modern London gives glimpses into the London that Shakespeare himself would have experienced over 400 years ago. The original map was actually printed on woodblocks in 1561. Although it’s not the most exciting or information-dense website, it can be interesting all the same, especially when you zoom in to street level.
These interactive Shakespeare folios add an extra dimension to reading selections of The Bard.
Simply click on the highlighted text on the website to discover more. You’ll be given definitions of lesser-known words, videos, audio readings, and images to shed more light on the excerpt.
What Else Would You Like to Know?
Between these sites, videos, and interactive content, there will be little else available for you to learn about Shakespeare. They will cover in detail his life, times, works, and influence in great detail. Enough detail for any bibliophile to be able to enjoy his works on a different level and to spread their enthusiasm for The Bard far and wide.
Do you most enjoy reading or watching Shakespeare? Which is your favorite play? And for how much longer do you think The Bard will continue being so popular?