Intro to Shakespeare


Students will understand basic Shakespeare information including his four categories of plays by synthesizing lecture through notes and a class discussion.


Materials Needed:

– monologue descriptions
– monologues for students


Hook: (5 minutes)

Today we are starting our Shakespeare unit!!! How many plays do you think Shakespeare wrote? Have students raise their hands when they hear the category they think is correct:
500+ 200-300 40-50
400-500 100-200 30-40
300-400 50-100
That’s probably as far as you’ll need to go since there will be a good portion of the class that knows about the 36/38 plays. Shakespeare actually wrote 38 plays. Some people argue for 36 as there are two plays of which he probably wrote a little more than 50%.


Instruction/Discussion: (15 minutes)

Have the students raise their hands and say any facts they know about Shakespeare or his plays. Write them on the board. Discuss some of the more important ones (bolded below) in more detail.

Baptized: 26 April 1564 Died: 23 April 1616 (age 52)
Born and raised: Stratfor-upon-Avon
Married: Anne Hathaway
Three children: Susanna, twins: Hamnet and Judith (Hamnet died age 11: cause unknown- Hamlet was written shortly after his death)
His daughters all died without having any children ending Shakespeare’s direct line.
Company: Lord Chamberlain’s Men
Became popular: 19th century
1599: Globe created on the south bank of the Thames 1613: June 29 cannon set fire to roof burning it to the ground. It was rebuilt shortly after with a tile roof instead of a thatched roof.
1593-1594: theaters closed because of the plague
1609: 154 sonnets published
Romeo and Juliet was the first romance portrayed as a tragedy.
Scholars have identified 20,000 pieces of music linked to Shakespeare’s works.
Under Elizabeth, the drama was a unified expression as far as social class was concerned: the Court watched the same plays the commoners saw in the public playhouses.
Never did the same show 2 nights in a row, and hardly ever same show twice in a week.
Each of his plays includes a story about a king, a nobleman, and a working class individual.


Instruction/Dicussion: (25 minutes)

Tell students that the 38 Shakespeare plays are divided up into four categories—comedies, tragedies, histories, and problem plays. Draw four columns on the board with the categories at the top of each. Have students shout out any of Shakespeare’s plays they know and categorize them into the correct column as they say them.



Midsummer Night’s Dream Antony and Cleopatra King John Cymbeline
All’s Well That Ends Well Coriolanus Richard II Love’s Labour’s Lost
As You Like It Hamlet Henry IV Part 1 Measure for Measure
Comedy of Errors Julius Caesar Henry IV Part 2 Troilus and Cressida
Merchant of Venice King Lear Henry V Pericles
Merry Wives of Windsor Macbeth Henry VI Part 1 Winter’s Tale
Much Ado About Nothing Othello Henry VI Part 2 The Tempest
Taming of the Shrew Timon of Athens Henry VI Part 3 Two Noble Kinsmen
Two Gentlemen of Verona Romeo and Juliet Richard IIII
Twelfth Night Titus Andronicus Henry VIIII


What makes a comedy a comedy? A tragedy a tragedy?

Signs of a comedy: Comedies are serious situations to the characters that appear funny to us. They always end happily and end in marriage; sometimes in double marriages. Comedies out of the four categories most showcase the idea that there are three storylines representing the three classes in society—lower, upper, and royalty—in each play.
Signs of a tragedy: Tragedies are serious situations with deadly endings. Normally all of the main characters die at the end. The tragic hero (main character who dies at the end) always has a tragic flaw—the one thing that ends up being their demise.
Signs of a history: History plays are really easy. It’s only a history play if the title of the play is a real king of Britain who once ruled the country. However, the title character is not always the main character—for instance, both Henry IV plays are focused more on Prince Hal than his father, and each of the Henry VI plays have a different main character, none of which are Henry VI. History plays are not historically accurate—Henry V is the most historically accurate from what we can see just because it’s based around so many prominent British battles. Interesting fact: Richard III is portrayed as evil and a humpback because Queen Elizabeth’s family deposed Richard’s family for the throne… so Shakespeare had to make him evil so it wouldn’t look like Elizabeth’s family was in the wrong. Also, they think they found his remains, it looks like he might actually have been a hunchback. Crazy!!! Follows a lot of political intrigue.
Signs of a problem play: Well that’s just the thing… problem plays cause problems when we try to put them into other categories—take Cymbeline for instance—it is about a British king, but he’s not a real king, so it’s not a history. It doesn’t end in a marriage, so it’s not a comedy, but only the bad guys die, so it’s not a tragedy. See the issue? There are elements of all the other categories in the plays, so we created a catch all category for the red-headed step children of OCD categorizers. There is also a lot of magic in problem plays. Pastoral settings—super mystical.


Instruction: (40 minutes)

For the remainder of class, read off all of the different characters available to students for their monologues. Each monologue is only 16 lines long to give extra time for students to focus on the different principles we will be discussing. The sooner you memorize, the better you will do on your final because you can focus on the principles instead of worrying about your words.


Students will be turning these scripts back in at the end of the unit with the different principles we discuss marked in the scripts.