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Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, and the Elizabethan Era

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David Kayler

on 21 May 2014

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Transcript of Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, and the Elizabethan Era

Shakespeare, Romeo + Juliet,
and the Elizabethan Era

William Shakespeare
(aka Billy Boy, Sir Shakes-alot,
or "The Bard")
Born in 1564, grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon, a country-side town
Parents were common, "middle-class" folks
Shakespeare was educated in a Grammar school. This was like the "public school" of the day. He would have studied Latin and classical authors - folks who wrote during the era of Greco-Roman dominance.
At the age of 18, Shakespeare married a woman named Anne Hathaway, who was 26 years old at the time.
Something potentially fishy about the marriage: it happened fast for that day and age and six months after the weeding, Anne gave birth to daughter... hmmm...
Shakespeare: What's the Big Deal?
Shakespeare lived and died around 400 years ago. His language is archaic and sometimes hard to understand. So why do we all still read him?
He wrote a great deal, and is considered the greatest writer in the English language
He helped to shape the English language itself
He wrote about themes that we're still
concerned about today
He lived at one of the turning points of English (and world) history
His complete works include 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and 2 long narrative poems.
Countless later authors were influenced by his work: Milton, Coleridge, Tennyson, Dickens, Melville, Faulkner
But Shakespeare’s magic could not copied be;
Within that circle none durst walk but he.
- John Dryden (1631–1700) Essay of Dramatic Poesy
He was the man who of all modern, and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul.
- John Dryden (1631-1700), Essay of Dramatic Poesy
He was not of an age, but for all time!
- Ben Jonson (1573-1637), Preface to the First Folio
Soule of the Age!
The applause! delight! The wonder of our stage!
- Ben Jonson (1573 - 1637), Preface to the First Folio
During Shakespeare's lifetime, English grammar, spelling, and pronunciation were not as standardized as they are today.
The ways in which he used language helped to set a standard for the way we still use language now
He also created a large number of new words and phrases that are commonplace today
Words and Phrases Coined (or made popular) by Shakespeare
"a laughing stock"
"eaten out of house and home"
"as dead as a doornail"
"in a pickle"
"Mum's the word"
"there's method in my madness"
"vanish into thin air"
"too much of a good thing"
His biggest themes included: love, death, war, fate,
violence, greed, lust, fear, aging, youth, and what it means to be human
In part, we read Shakespeare to learn about the concerns, hopes, fears, and dreams of his era - a time when the new world was just being colonized, and England was turning into the superpower that dominated the world until the rise of the United States in the 20th Century
Actor and Playwright
Sometime in the late 1580s or early 1590s, Shakespeare began his career in London.
Records show that several of his plays were being performed throughout London in 1592, and by then he was well known enough that other playwrights were attacking him in writing
Theatre company: The Lord Chamberlain's Men, name changed to The Kings Men after the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603
1599 - The Globe Theatre constructed on the bank of the river Thames
The Elizabethan Era
Often referred to as the "golden age" of English history, it was an era of general peace, prosperity, and creativity
Also called the "English Renaissance" - theater was a major popular art form at the time, and several other famous playwrights (Marlowe, Jonson, etc.) were writing at the same time as Shakespeare
This was also a culmination point of the "Age of Exploration" - Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe, and Sir Walter Raleigh began the colonization of "Virginia," named for the "Virgin Queen"

1558 - 1603
Queen Elizabeth I
The "Virgin Queen"

An Era of Tension -
Big Concerns:

Elizabethan Theatre
Shakespeare's Style
Blank Verse - unrhymed iambic pentameter; the popular form for plays at that time.
Puns - plays on words. Shakespeare is especially good at using multiple meanings of words that sound the same when spoken. Ex: "sole" vs. "soul." These are called "homophones." He also uses "homonyms" - words that are spelled and pronounced the same but can mean different things. Ex. "grave" as in serious, vs. "grave" as in a place for a dead body.
Bawdiness - indecent sexual humor. "That's what she said," sort of jokes. Shakespeare often uses double entendre and puns to create secondary, sexual meanings.
Soliloquies - literally means "talking alone." These are long speeches in which a character wrestles with a big issue and reveals their inner thoughts. Shakespeare used these speeches more than many of his predecessors to dig into the psychology of his characters.
Romeo and Juliet:
The Story
Comes from an earlier set of legends, tracing their way from Ovid's "Pyramus and Thisbe." Shakespeare drew directly on a 1562 poem called "The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet."
Set in Verona - Italy was the birthplace of the Renaissance movement and a favorite subject for theatre-goers.
Big Questions/Themes: Love, Fate vs. Chance, Duality, Age vs. Youth (Time)
The Prologue
Rivalry With Spain
The New World
Background: Protestant Reformation. In the late 1400s, Europe is being torn apart by Catholic-Protestant tension
1534 - Henry VIII passes laws declaring himself as the sole head of the Church of England. This officially separates England from Roman Catholic authority.
Henry's male successor, Edward, persecutes Catholics.
Edward's half-sister Mary takes over - she marries a Catholic from Spain, flips things around and begins persecuting Protestants.
Mary was childless, so Elizabeth took over when Mary died in 1558.
Elizabeth adopted a policy that has been referred to as the "Middle Way," shaping an English Church that reached a sort of compromise between Catholics and Protestants
Still tensions though - some Catholics plotted rebellions (Gundpowder Plot of 1605, for example), and many looked to Mary Queen of Scotland (a Catholic) as a possible successor. Elizabeth actually had to imprison and then behead her in order to quell the continuing uprisings.
Difficult dealings with Ireland. Although Ireland was part of Elizabeth's kingdom, they were in a state of almost constant revolt. From 1594 to 1603, this came to a head in the "Nine Years War."
Factional strife in Parliament. New leaders played favorites, stalled decisions, had each other beheaded, and took power away from the crown in a way England had not seen up to that point.
England experienced more prosperity - but that new wealth was not evenly distributed. There was a growing gap between the gentry and the commoners, the city and the country.
The question of succession: had already been hotly debated during the transition from Henry to Elizabeth, but with Elizabeth never marrying, it was unclear who would take over. Different factions feared the intrusion of Spanish or Scottish monarchs upon her death.
Spain was the other "superpower" of that day and age. They were the big Catholic nation, and with the backing of the Pope, had plans to wrest power from Elizabeth.
Their rivalry was also over territory in the New World. Sir Francis Drake and other "privateers" attacked various Spanish outposts in the new West Indies.
Defeat of the Spanish Armada - one of the real turning points of history. The English Royal Navy repulsed a huge invading force of Spanish ships in 1588, preventing a hostile takeover.
War continued throughout the era, however, taking a great toll on England's political, military, and financial resources.
Power struggle with Spain and France - who will be dominant in the new territory?
Settling the colonies -- what to do with the natives? (Convert them? Kill them?)
In general, the discovery of this "new world" prompted questions of age old beliefs about the centrality of Europe and the reliability of Christianity. It prompted a spirit of questioning and exploration.
Theatre became HUGE during this period. Lots of new playhouses were constructed in and around London. In the summer of 1580, around 5,000 people were attending plays each day. By 1610, theatre capacity had increased to 10,000.
Plays were performed at court and at public playhouses. In this era, drama was a unifying force, in that the Court and the commoners all saw the same works. Poor citizens could gain ground-level entry for just a penny = "groundlings."
The public theatres also became sites for bear-baiting, gambling, and other "immoral" activities - they were therefore a target of opposition from Puritans and church officials.
No women were involved - boys or young men played all the female roles.
No lights, special effects, or elaborate backgrounds like we have today (this is why you'll see so many lines discussing what time of day it is, or what characters see nearby)
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