4th Edition

Shakespeare: The Basics

By Sean McEvoy Copyright 2025
    330 Pages 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    330 Pages 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Shakespeare: The Basics is a lively and accessible introduction to reading and studying Shakespeare. Exploring all aspects of Shakespeare’s plays, Sean McEvoy considers the language, cultural contexts, and modern interpretations.

    This essential guide to a range of contemporary Shakespearean criticism explores and unpacks the different dramatic genres in which he wrote--comedy, history, tragedy and romance. It also provides a wealth of relevant and concise information on the historical, social and political contexts in which the plays were produced and have been understood. Extensively updated throughout, the fourth edition provides:

    ·         A comprehensive account of Shakespearean tragedy for students

    ·         An introduction to ecocritical, ethical and queer readings of the plays

    ·         Analysis of notable recent Shakespeare films and productions

    ·         Enhanced contextual material on race and empire, gender roles and the theatre in politics.

    With fully updated further reading throughout and a wide range of case studies and examples, Shakespeare: The Basics is an indispensable introduction for college and university students of literature and theatre, but also for anyone with an interest in the world’s most influential dramatist.



    Introduction: William Shakespeare 1564-2024

    Shakespeare’s Life: An Outline

    Shakespeare’s Afterlife

    Shakespeare Goes to College

    Shakespeare 2025

    How to Use this Book

    PART I

    Chapter 1. Shakespeare’s Language

    Writing for a Theatre Audience

    Box 1: Shakespeare’s Audiences

    Simple or Complex, The Language is Dramatic

    Verse and Prose

    Box 2: Playtexts in Shakespeare’s Time

    Rhetorical Figures and Tropes

    Box 3: Some Rhetorical Figures and Tropes

    Rhetorical and  Dramatic Action

    Box 4: Social Hierarchy in Shakespeare’s England


    Chapter 2. Shakespeare’s Theatre

    The Open Air Playhouse

     Indoor Playhouses

    Acting Style

    Box 5: Males Playing Women

    Representation on the Early Modern Stage

    Box 6: Theatre’s Enemies

    Dramatic Forms and Metatheatre

    Chapter 3. Shakespeare on the Modern Stage

    Paul Robeson’s  1930 Othello

    Othello at the National Theatre 2022

    Box 7: Shakespeare, Race and Empire

    Cheek by Jowl’s 1991 As You Like It

    A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre 2019


    Chapter 4. The Shakespeare Film

    Filming Shakespeare

    Tragedy on Screen in 2018 and 2021: King Lear and The Tragedy of Macbeth

    Globalized American Shakespeare at the Millennium: Ten Things I Hate About You (1999) and O (2001)



    Chapter 5. Comedy: The Taming of the Shrew, Measure for Measure, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It and Twelfth Night  

    Men, Women and Marriage in The Taming of the Shrew

    Box 8: Women and Marriage in Shakespeare’s England

    Language and Power in Measure for Measure

    Language and the Outsider in The Merchant of Venice

    Humans and Nature in As You Like It

     Ambiguity, Language and Desire in Twelfth Night


    Chapter 6. The History Plays: Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Henry V

    Feudalism in Historical Perspective: Richard II

    Box 9: Christianity in Shakespeare’s England

    Language, Meaning and Historical Change in Richard II

    Power and Performance in Henry V and Henry IV Part One

    Box 10: Shakespeare’s Theatre and Political Freedom of Expression

    The Subversive Subplot: Henry V and Henry IV Part One

    Women and Masculinity in the History Plays


    Chapter 7. Tragedy: Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear and Romeo and Juliet

    Tragedy and Historical Conflict

    Box 11: London

    Hamlet and Tragic Division

    Tragic Kingship in Macbeth

    Past, Present and Future in Othello

    Unmasking Power in King Lear

    Tragedy and Love in Romeo and Juliet


    Chapter 8. The Romance Plays: The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest

    Female Authority in The Winter’s Tale

    Contesting the Female: Miranda in The Tempest

    Wonder and Artifice in The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale

    Freedom in The Tempest

    Romance and Time






     Sean McEvoy is a Fellow of Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge, UK. His publications include Tragedy: The Basics (2016), Ben Jonson, Renaissance Dramatist (2008), and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: A Sourcebook (2006).