This guide helps readers make sense of the most commonly taught writer in the world. One approach to Shakespeare is as a dramatist while another approach is to think of him as essentially a poetic writer. The tension between these two views is a theme in this book because it helps us to reflect upon changing literary and critical trends. This is primarily a book for readers of Shakespeare who most commonly experience Shakespeare-on-stage through imagined performances in their own heads.

The book starts with a brief explanation of how Shakespeare's writings have come down to us as a series of scripts for actors in the early modern theatre industry of London. The first half of the book then interrogates Shakespearean genres, while the second half examines different critical approaches to his plays via the four key issues of authorship, performance, identity and materialism. The book returns repeatedly to such questions as: 'what has changed since Shakespeare's time?', 'to what uses has Shakespeare been put?', and 'what value is in Shakespeare?' - questions that go to the heart of why we study Shakespeare.

Key Features

•A chronology of Shakespeare's career as an actor/dramatist that locates him within the theatre industry of his time.

•New readings of twelve plays that form a core of the Shakespeare canon: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Richard 2, Henry 5, Hamlet, Othello, All's Well that Ends Well, The Winter's Tale, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, The Tempest, and Timon of Athens.

•Critical analyses organized by genre (comedies, histories, tragedies, and romance) and by four key critical approaches: authorship, performance, identities, and materialism.

•An extensive resources section, including a glossary of the important critical terms that are often used in debates about Shakespeare.


The study of English literature in the early twenty-first century is host to an exhilarating range of critical approaches, theories and historical perspectives. ‘English’ ranges from traditional modes of study such as Shakespeare and Romanticism to popular interest in national and area literatures such as the United States, Ireland and the Caribbean. The subject also spans a diverse array of genres from tragedy to cyberpunk, incorporates such hybrid fields of study as Asian American literature, Black British literature, creative writing and literary adaptations, and remains eclectic in its methodology.

Such diversity is cause for both celebration and consternation. English is varied enough to promise enrichment and enjoyment for all kinds of readers and to challenge preconceptions about what the study of literature might involve. But how are readers to navigate their way through such literary and cultural diversity? And how are students to make sense of the various literary categories and periodisations, such as modernism and the Renaissance, or the proliferating theories of literature, from feminism and marxism to queer theory and ecocriticism? The Edinburgh Critical Guides to Literature series reflects the challenges and pluralities of English today, but at the same time it offers readers clear and accessible routes through the texts, contexts, genres, historical periods and debates within the subject.

Martin Halliwell and Andy Mousley . . .

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