The Importance of Context

Often, when people approach learning the work of Shakespeare, they look at it in isolation. “Let’s look at the imagery” or “What does the character mean?”. Although, of course, these things are important, it is also important to remember that Shakespeare, as all other writers, is a product of his time. When we seek to understand his plays and poems, we also must study the Renaissance in England. I truly believe that you cannot understand HENRY IV without the study of the English monarchy. You should not read Macbeth without a study of how the people of the Renaissance felt about ghosts and magic.

TIME TO PLAY: Make a timeline of the Renaissance. Do an internet search for “homemade timelines” and you will see a million creative ideas. On the timeline add political figures, events, artists, scientists and any other people of interest. Read a bit about the person or event when you add it to the timeline. Then, overlay the works of Shakespeare and draw conclusions about why he may have created that play at that time!