How to Write a Research Essay in Shakespeare Studies

Writing guide
Posted on August 9, 2019

William Shakespeare is considered a genius poet and playwright, not only in Great Britain but throughout the world. It is generally recognized that his works are a kind of encyclopedia of human relationships, they are like a mirror in which people, great and insignificant, are represented in their essence. This gives colossal opportunities for thinking, reflection, analysis, and application of the conclusions made in modern realities. That is why students so often receive the task to write an essay based on one of the works of Shakespeare. In this article, we will give practical recommendations and show examples of how to do this.

Essay in Shakespeare Studies vs Any Other Essay – Are There Any Differences

As a general rule, writing an essay on Shakespeare has the same standard requirements as writing an essay on any other subject. You must also observe a clear structure, develop a thesis, back it up with evidence, and come to a conclusion.

But there are some differences. First, all your essay should be concentrated around the literary work. Secondly, quoting Shakespeare has its own special rules. And thirdly, these quotes will be direct evidence of your thesis and all your ideas on which you will build your essay.

What Can You Write in the Essay Based on Shakespeare’s Sonnets?

W. Shakespeare is the author of 154 sonnets, which were first published in 1609. They were created over a long time and reflected the significant changes that occurred in the author’s worldview and creativity. Confirmation of such a maxim can serve as evidence of one of the contemporaries of the poet, who in 1598 wrote that ‘Shakespeare’s sonnets are known among his friends.’ Some of the researchers tried to restore the facts of the biography of the poet, to identify those not named persons whose portraits we find in these verses. However, such efforts, as it turned out, did not bring concrete and convincing results. And it is entirely natural. Therefore, your task as a student studying the works of Shakespeare is to identify these hidden meanings, hints, and references to people and phenomena of those times.

Study the Nature of the Sonnet Based on Comparative Characteristics

You can begin to study the topic by clarifying the concept of a sonnet and its features in Italian and English literature. Sonnet, as a persistent 14-line lyric verse form with a certain rhyming order, was born in Italy in the 13th century. This became one of the favorite forms of the lyrical poetry of the great Italian poets of the Renaissance and under the pen of Dante, and especially Petrarch, acquired the flexibility that is necessary for a short verse that contains partly very important philosophical and aesthetic content. Over time, the sonnet became established through the efforts of Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) and Henry Surrey (1517-1547). But their sonnets were different from Italian. What is this significant difference? For example, you can conclude yourself by comparing one of the sonnets of Petrarch and Shakespeare (in particular, F. Petrarch’s sonnet ‘Laura’s Death’ and XV of the W. Shakespeare’s Sonnet).

Study and Analyze the Internal Structure of the Sonnet

During the analysis, it is possible to conclude that the English sonnet differs from Italian in its internal structure (3 quatrains and 1 distich), free rhyming order, after which three quatrains have two independent rhymes, and the last two lines rhyme with each other. In all Shakespeare’s sonnets, there is one important common feature characteristic of the poet’s creative writing, which is intense drama. There is always a sharp conflict in it, which is usually solved in the last lines of the sonnet. You can choose several sonnets and analyze the development of drama in them, as well as the tools that the poet uses to set the tense.
A few more questions you can answer analyzing Shakespeare’s sonnets

For example, in your essay you can:

  • Define a sonnet like one of the poetic genres;
  • Determine how the sonnet is built, does its structure affect the internal content?
  • Select the images of the first quatrain, find out their meaning;
  • Determine the intonation fracture;
  • Examine what the main informative images in the sonnet you noticed? How do they change the mood of the sonnets?

What Can You Respond to These Questions

Combining the completed form with a rich ideological content made Shakespeare’s sonnets a wonderful aesthetic monument of a distant era, in which the great humanist told his descendants about true and deep feelings. The dominant aesthetics of Shakespeare is revealed in 103 sonnets, where the poet asserts the advantage of the beautiful in life over his reflection in works of art. Art as a mirror of nature is the main leitmotif of the named sonnet.

In several sonnets (55, 60, 63, 64, 65, 107) the theme of the incorruptibility of works of art, the understanding that the poet will be immortal in his works, is revealed. This thought acquires greater flexibility and clarity in the sonnet 55.

Although most sonnets are devoted to solving ethical problems, the poet’s interest in the public life of his era is constantly pulsating. There are images of a state that perishes under the pressure of Time, a war that scars the face of the earth, a miser who trembles over treasures, or a person who is harassed by the nobility of his origin. It is they who testify to the close attention that Shakespeare reveals to the various phenomena of reality. The famous sonnet 66 is a concentrated expression of the poet’s non-perception of life, which distorts the relationship between people. It is not by chance that quite a few researchers compare this sonnet with the gloomy tragedies of Shakespeare.

Problems in the Play of Romeo and Juliet – Things to Reflect on in Your Research Essay

The plot used by Shakespeare – two siblings of warring families was used in ancient literature more than once.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ – one of the most famous works of Shakespeare, as the figurative concentration, the concentration of motifs and the eternal themes of humanity in it reaches its maximum. This is the theme of love, and the theme of blood feud, and the theme of death, and the theme of hostility, and the theme of chance. You can highlight each of these topics or issues in your essay.

The main problem in the play is the problem of the conflict of real big love and prejudices of society. The reason for the hatred of the warring families has long been lost in time, but the misunderstanding remains.

The theme of love, of course, is basic. And it is affected not only in the context of the relationship between Romeo and Juliet but also speaking as an important area of human life. Many characters speak about her, everyone sees his own. Especially distinguished in the love line 5 scene – a ball in the house of Capulet. Here, the theme of love is concretized to the motive of love at first sight. You can further elaborate on this phenomenon in the works of Shakespeare and search for the phenomena of such love in sonnets and other plays.

In addition to love between a man and a woman, in the tragedy, a great place is given to the boundary between love and youthful passion. In this context, it would be interesting to reconcile the feelings between Romeo and Juliet with the feelings of Othello and Desdemona. The theme of maternal, paternal, family love, as well as the love of the nurse to Juliet, is highlighted. Here, by analogy, it is possible to recall Hamlet and his father.

All the problems, themes, and motives in the tragedy are related to each other. Revenge and anger give birth to death, which in turn is overcome by love. But the case – an unknown and omnipotent force, still overtakes those who dare to go against the system, order, and God.

Throughout the whole play, we see the rebellion and liberty in complying with church laws – Romeo, who was dressed as a monk, both families repeatedly violated the most important religious commandment to ban murder, the main characters also do not respect their parents. In your essay, you can reflect on the inevitability of the script written by fate, on the will of chance or higher powers, on the place of religion and its prohibitions in the past time and modern life.

What Can You Write in Your Research Essay on Hamlet

Working with an essay on this work, you can start by describing the main problem. Motives of treason, crime, love have always been popular in literature and in life itself. W. Shakespeare was able to notice the internal fluctuations of people and convey them with the help of the word, so he could not stand aside from the listed problems. The main theme of ‘Hamlet’ is a crime committed for the sake of wealth and power. In this context, it is very interesting to conduct a modern study and find traces of crimes committed in a still tangible past for a similar purpose.

It is also interesting to analyze the features of the composition of the play. Even though everything is very logical, some things can be analyzed in your essay. Features of the composition are dictated by the laws of drama organization. The work consists of five acts. The plot is revealed sequentially, it can be divided into six parts: the exposition – acquaintance with the heroes, the plot – the meeting of Hamlet and the ghost, the development of events – the prince’s way to revenge, the climax – the observation of the king during the play, the denouement – the death of the heroes.

The event outline is interrupted by Hamlet’s philosophical reflections on the meaning of life, on death. You can penetrate his reflections by highlighting one topic for one essay, or you can combine all thoughts in one work, exploring how these reflections fit into the whole structure of the play.
It is also interesting to look at this play from literary techniques and tools. Hamlet’s genre is a play written as a tragedy since all events are centered around the problems of murder, death, and revenge. The denouement of the work is tragic. The direction of the play of Shakespeare ‘Hamlet’ is baroque, so the work has an abundance of comparisons and metaphors. You can focus your essay on some of them.

One More Idea to Study Is the Influence of Shakespeare on the Development of Science

Today, Shakespeare is not only the genius of Anglo-Saxon literature, but also one of the key figures of American and surely British educational systems, both at school and in universities.

Shakespeare’s studies have long gone beyond the English culture. Turning to Shakespeare, in the largest educational centers of the world, they study not only the literature of the late Renaissance, the evolution of Shakespeare’s poetics in the context of world culture, Shakespeare’s reminiscences in national literatures, not only the evolution of drama, the history of theater, music, cinema, but also other, seemingly far away discipline from the world artistic culture.

So, according to Shakespeare’s characters, human psychology is studied. Many authors of classical works on the nature of human consciousness addressed them. Z. Freud, used the characters of Shakespeare as illustrations to explain his psychoanalytic concepts and ideas. His “Freudian” reading of the image of Hamlet was especially popular. His work played a huge role not only in the improvement of psychoanalysis, but also had a direct significance for the development of Shakespeare studies in particular, and world philosophical criticism in general. They became the impetus for the emergence of a completely new trend in philosophy – psychoanalytic criticism. In the Shakespearean characters, Freud discovered a fertile field for reflection on human nature, which it would have been much harder to imagine or discover if Freud turned to his real patients.

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