Study Guide for

Shakespeare Backgrounds


I. A Portrait of the Playwright


1. What sorts of documents must we research to discover reliable evidence about who Shakespeare really was.




2. Do we have any accurate idea of what Shakespeare looked like? How has the popular conception of Shakespeare’s likeness changed over the years?




3. Where did Shakespeare spend his early years? What kind of education might he have had?




4. Why was Shakespeare's education ended?




5. How old was Shakespeare when he married Anne Hathaway? How old was she?




6. During the years between 1585 and 1592 nothing is known of his life, yet when Shakespeare arrived in London in 1592, he had already achieved some renown in the theatre world. What do you suppose happened during the seven years about which we know nothing?




7. How many plays did Shakespeare write each year for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men? How many plays did he write in his lifetime?




8. What profit did Shakespeare earn from the ticket sales of performances of his company? How much money did he make in his career?




9. Why were the theatres closed during the summer months in London?



10. Why do modern scholars suggest that there may have been problems in Shakespeare’s relationship with his wife, Anne Hathaway?




11. How old was Shakespeare when he died? What  legend is told about the circumstances of his death?




12. Why do many scholars argue about the authenticity of Shakespeare’s authorship of the plays?




II. Understanding Shakespeare’s Plays


1. How much has the English language changed since Elizabethan times?




2. How does Shakespeare’s verse give indications to the actor about how the words should be spoken?




3. Define blank verse. Why did Shakespeare choose to write in this particular verse form?




4. In general, which type of characters will speak verse and which will speak prose in Shakespeare’s plays?




5. How close were the actors to the audience in Shakespeare’s theatre?




III. The Wild and Wonderful World of Shakespeare’s Theatre


1. In which part of London was the Globe Theatre built?




2. From which part of the theatre did most of the audience watch the plays? How much did they pay to see a show?




3. What kind of scenery would have been used in the performances of Shakespeare’s plays? How did this limitation affect the poetry and costumes of the productions?




4. Why did the acting companies consist only of men and boys?




5. Describe a typical audience for one of Shakespeare’s plays.




6. When were the plays performed?




7. What caused the Globe to burn?




8. Why were the theatres eventually closed in England for nearly one hundred years?