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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Wealth, status, and currency in Shakespeare’s world [infographic]

In 1623, one kilogram of tobacco was roughly five times more expensive than Shakespeare’s newly published First Folio. The entire collection, which cost only £1, contained thirty-six of his works, many of which incorporate 16th- and 17th-century notions of status, wealth, and money. Most of his characters are garbed in colors and fabrics befitting their social standing, and he frequently presents foreign currencies alongside English coins.

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Shakespeare and Religion

We want to know what Shakespeare believed. It seems to us important to know. He is our most important writer, and we want to know him from the inside. People regularly tell us that they do know what he believed, though mainly by showing what his father believed, or his contemporaries believed or, more accurately, what they said they believed—by demonstrating, that is, what was possible to believe.

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Shakespeare and Holinshed’s Chronicles

Where did Shakespeare obtain material for his English history plays? The obvious answer would be to say that he drew on the second edition of Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1587), a massive work numbering no fewer than 3,500,000 words that gave rise to more Renaissance plays than any other book, ancient or modern.

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The Wiz, then and now

When the late Ken Harper first began pitching his idea for a show featuring an all black cast that would repeat and revise the popular plot of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, augmenting it with a Hitsville USA-inspired score, he had television in his sights.

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This blasted heath – Justin Kurzel’s new Macbeth

How many children had Lady Macbeth? The great Shakespearean critic L. C. Knights asked this question in 1933, as part of an essay intended to put paid to scholarship that treated Shakespeare’s characters as real, living people, and not as fictional beings completely dependent upon, and bounded by, the creative works of which they were a part.

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Women onstage and offstage in Elizabethan England

Though a Queen ruled England, gender equality certainly wasn’t found in Elizabethan society. Everything from dress to employment followed strict gender roles, and yet there was a certain amount of room for play. There are several cases of (in)famous women who dressed as men and crossed the bounds of “acceptable behavior.”

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Going to the pictures with Shakespeare

Not so long ago, we ‘went to the pictures’ (or ‘the movies’) and now they tend to come to us. For many people, visiting a cinema to see films is no longer their principal means of access to the work of film-makers. But however we see them, it’s the seeing as much as the hearing of Shakespeare in this medium that counts. Or rather, it’s the interplay between the two.

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Shakespeare the Classicist

The traditional view of Shakespeare is that he was a natural genius who had no need of art or reading. That tradition grew from origins which should make us suspect it. Shakespeare’s contemporary Ben Jonson famously declared that Shakespeare had ‘small Latin and less Greek’.

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Shakespeare and the suffragettes

The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were famously the age of “Bardolatry,” Shakespeare-worship that permeated artistic, social, civic, and political life. As Victorian scientific advances including Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, published in On the Origin of Species (1859), destabilised Christianity as ultimate arbiter of truth, rhetoricians invoked Shakespeare’s plots and characters to support their arguments.

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“There is figures in all things”: Historical revisionism and the Battle of Agincourt

Young Cressingham, one of the witty contrivers of Thomas Middleton’s and John Webster’s comedy Anything for a Quiet Life (1621), faces a financial problem. His father is wasting his inheritance, and his new stepmother – a misogynistic caricature of the wayward, wicked woman – has decided to seize the family’s wealth into her own hands, disinheriting her husband’s children.

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Lady Macbeth on Capitol Hill

Describing her role as the ambitious political wife Claire Underwood in the American TV series House of Cards, Robin Wright recognized she is “Lady Macbeth to [Francis] Underwood’s Macbeth.” At one point in the second series, Claire emboldens her wavering husband: “Trying’s not enough, Francis. I’ve done what I had to do. Now you do what you have to do.”

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