In the Spotlight: Romeo and Juliet

In the Spotlight

Romeo and Juliet
Were very much in love when they were wed
They honoured every vow
So where are they now?
They’re dead, dead, very, very dead
– Ms. Fieldmouse, Thumbelina

Date Written: Uncertain but typically placed between 1594-1595

First performed: between 1594 and 1595

Setting: Verona and Mantua in Italy


Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet are teenagers in Verona who fall in love but can’t be together because their families are enemies. They decide to marry in secret despite Juliet being betrothed to Count Paris. Romeo is then forced to leave Verona for killing Juliet’s cousin in a duel and is unable to return.

In an attempt to escape marrying Paris, Juliet fakes her death and tries to let Romeo know of her plan. Unfortunately he never gets the message and he visits her crypt thinking she’s dead. In his grief he kills himself, but Juliet wakes up and seeing Romeo dead before her, kills herself.

Themes: love, revenge, fate


Prince Escalus: ruling Prince of Verona.

Ruling house of Verona

Count Paris: a kinsman of Escalus who wishes to marry Juliet.

Mercutio: a kinsman of Escalus, and a friend of Romeo.

House of Capulet

Capulet: patriarch of the house of Capulet.

Lady Capulet: the matriarch of the house of Capulet.

Juliet: the 13-year-old daughter of Capulet, and the play’s female protagonist.

Tybalt:  cousin of Juliet, and the nephew of Lady Capulet.

The Nurse: Juliet’s personal attendant and confidante.

Rosaline: Lord Capulet’s niece, and Romeo’s love in the beginning of the story.

House of Montague

Montague:  patriarch of the house of Montague.

Lady Montague: matriarch of the house of Montague.

Romeo: son of Montague, and the play’s male protagonist.

Benvolio: Romeo’s cousin and best friend.


Friar Laurence: a Franciscan friar, and is Romeo’s confidant.

 Famous quotes

“Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” (Act I, Scene I)

“My only love sprung from my only hate.” (Act I, Scene V)

“It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” (Act II, Scene II)

“Good Night, Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow.” (Act II, Scene II)

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (Act II, Scene II)

“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” (Act V, Scene III)

Fun Facts

1. The first words of Romeo and Juliet are in the form of a sonnet. This prologue reveals the ending to the audience before the play has properly begun.

2. The number of words in Romeo and Juliet, according to the Complete Public Domain Text is 25,948

3. Romeo and Juliet has inspired other works, such as Berlioz’s dramatic symphony (1839), Tchaikovsky’s fantasy-overture (1869-80), and Prokofiev’s full-length ballet (1938).

4. The academy award winning musical West Side Story is based on the story of Romeo and Juliet.

5. 90% of the play is in verse, with only 10% in prose. It contains some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful poetry, including the sonnet Romeo and Juliet share when they first meet.

6. Although a story of passionate first love, the play is also full of puns. Even in death, Mercutio manages to joke: ‘ask for me tomorrow and you will find me a grave man’.

7. Juliet is only 13 at the time she meets and marries Romeo, but we never learn exactly how old he is.

8. Nahum Tate adapted the play to give it a happy ending.

9. The famous balcony didn’t appear in Shakespeare’s performances. In the 16th Century, the theatrical scenery was so poor that the location was described by actors, and a balcony would’ve been very difficult to represent. Nevertheless, subsequent stagings of the play made it so famous, that it had to be added to Juliet’s house in Verona at the beginning of the 20th Century.

10. In 1916, a silent film version of the play was made.

11. Shakespeare did not invent the story of Romeo and Juliet. He probably heard it via a poem: Romeus and Juliet (1562) written by a poet called Arthur Brooks.

12. Tudor theatre audiences were vulgar and rude, and they would have cheered Mercutio’s rude sexual innuendos.

13. In the famous line ‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’ ‘wherefore’ doesn’t mean ‘where’ – it means ‘why’.

14. Shakespeare original title for Romeo and Juliet is “The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.”

15. A summary going around the internet is that Romeo and Juliet is not a love story it is a 3 day romance between a 13 years old and a 17 year old that caused six deaths. It is a very weird love story to idealise.


Five Facts about Romeo and Juliet
Shakespeare Facts
Romeo & Juliet Facts

In the Spotlight: Hamlet

In the Spotlight

“Sorry,” Hamlet said, rubbing his temples.
“I don’t know what came over me. 
All of a sudden
I had this overwhelming desire to talk for a very long time without actually doing anything.”
― Jasper Fforde, Something Rotten

 “Hamlet is a terrific play, but there are way too many quotations in it.”
– Hugh Leonard

Any discussion about Shakespeare can’t be complete without talking about what history says is Shakespeare’s greatest play. The full title of the play is The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and is, as the title suggests, one of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

Date Written: Between 1600 and 1603

First performed: Solid evidence of early performances is scarce. It was most likely to have been first performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men at the Globe Theatre. There was an early documented performance by the crew of the ship red Dragon in 1607.

Setting: Elsinore, Denmark


Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, mourns his father’s passing as well as his mother’s sudden remarriage to his uncle, Claudius. The ghost of Hamlet’s father appears before him to tell him he was murdered by Claudius and demands Hamlet avenge him. In an effort to trick his uncle into confession, Hamlet puts on a play to make his uncle confess. Hamlet is deemed mad and it is unclear whether it’s an act or whether it becomes real. Hamlet kills the eavesdropping Polonius and Claudius, becoming paranoid sends Hamlet to England. Polonius’ son vows revenge on Hamlet, and his daughter kills herself in grief over Hamlet’s actions. When Hamlet returns to Denmark there is a great duel resulting in the death of many characters.

Themes:  Madness, revenge, loyalty, religion


Hamlet – Son of the late king and nephew of the present king

Claudius – King of Denmark and Hamlet’s uncle

Gertrude – Queen of Denmark and mother to Hamlet

Polonius – Chief counsellor to the king

Ophelia – Daughter to Polonius

Horatio – True friend to Hamlet

Laertes – Son to Polonius

Voltimand and Cornelius – Courtiers

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – Courtiers, friends to Hamlet

Osric – a Courtier

Marcellus and Bernardo – Officers

Francisco – a Soldier

Reynaldo – Servant to Polonius

Ghost of Hamlet’s Father

Fortinbras – Prince of Norway

 Famous quotes

“In my mind’s eye” (Act I, Scene II)

“This above all: to thine own self be true” (Act I, Scene III)

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Act I, Scene V)

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” (Act II, Scene II)

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t” (Act II, Scene II)

“To be, or not to be: that is the question” (Act III, Scene I)
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks” (Act III, Scene II)

“I must be cruel only to be kind; Thus bad begins, and worse remains behind.” (Act II, Scene IV)
Fun Facts

1. Judging by the number of reprints, Hamlet appears to have been Shakespeare’s fourth most popular play during his lifetime—only Henry IV Part 1Richard III and Pericles eclipsed it.

2. Oxford editor George Hibbard argues that, since the contemporary literature contains many allusions and references to Hamlet, the play was surely performed with a frequency that the historical record misses.

3. Shakespeare’s longest play, with 4,042 lines, totalling 29,551 words—typically taking over four hours to perform.

4. Contains Shakespeare’s favourite device, a play within a play.

5. Hamlet is one of the most quoted works in the English language and is often included on lists of the world’s greatest literature.

6. Hamlet has the most lines of any of Shakespeare’s characters with 1530 lines.

7. Hamlet is the second most filmed story in the world, coming second only to Cinderella.

8. Hamlet was the most popular work during Shakespeare’s own time and has remained his most produced play to this day

9. Disney’s The Lion King is an adaptation of Hamlet

10. Hamlet is the most produced play in the world. It has been estimated that Hamlet is being performed somewhere every single minute of every single day

11. It is believed that Shakespeare played the ghost in Hamlet when it was first performed at the Globe.

12. The first actor to ever play Hamlet was Richard Burbage, the leading actor of Shakespeare’s troupe. It was almost certainly written with Burbage in mind to play Hamlet.

13. In the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2009 production of Hamlet, David Tennant used a real skull in the gravedigger scene. The skull had been bequeathed to the theatre in 1982 by André Tchaikowsky after his death. Tchaikowsky wanted his skull used “in Theatrical Performance.”

14. Hamlet is one of two Shakespeare plays to be translated into Klingon (the other is Much Ado About Nothing).

15. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is an absurdist tragicomedy by Tom Stoppard based on the two courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

16. Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film adaptation is notable as it includes every word of the play.

Links and Bits

Fun Facts source


British Library

William Shakespeare Info

In the Spotlight: The Tempest

In the Spotlight

Now, Ariel, I am that I am, your late and lonely master,
Who knows what magic is;—the power to enchant
– The Sea and the Mirror, W. H. Auden

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s classic comedies; it appears first in the 1623 First Folio selection and is considered by many scholars to be the final play Shakespeare wrote on his own. It also has one of my favourite quotes in it, ‘Thought is free”.

Date Written: 1610 or 1611

First performed: There are records indicating that The Tempest was performed before James I on November 1 1611 but it’s likely there were performances before this.

Setting: an unnamed, uninhabited island


The magician, Prospero, rightful Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda, have been stranded for twelve years on an island after Prospero’s jealous brother Antonio deposed him. Prospero is reluctantly served by a spirit, Ariel, whom Prospero had rescued from a tree in which he had been trapped by the cruel witch, Sycorax. Her son, Caliban, a deformed monster and the only non-spiritual inhabitant before the arrival of Prospero, was initially adopted and raised by him. He taught Prospero how to survive on the island, while Prospero and Miranda taught Caliban religion and their own language.

Three plots alternate through the play. In one, Caliban falls in with Stephano and Trinculo, two drunkards. They attempt to raise a coup against Prospero, which ultimately fails. In another, Prospero works to encourage a romantic relationship between Ferdinand and Miranda. In the third subplot, Antonio and Sebastian conspire to kill Alonso and Gonzalo so that Sebastian can become King.

Themes: Theatre, the soul, and magic


Prospero: the main character. The overthrown Duke of Milan. He now lives on an island and is a great sorcerer.

Miranda: Prospero’s daughter

Ariel: a spirit who does Prospero’s bidding and is, at times, visible only to him.

Caliban: a villainous island native, who ruled the island before Prospero arrived. Sycorax (unseen), a deceased Algerian sorceress who was banished to the island before Prospero arrived and enslaved the spirits on the island.

Iris, Ceres, and Juno: spirits who perform the roles of goddesses in a masque presented to the young lovers.

Alonso: King of Naples

Sebastian: Alonso’s treacherous brother.

Antonio: Prospero’s brother, who usurped his position as Duke of Milan.

Ferdinand: Alonso’s son.

Gonzalo: a kindly Neapolitan courtier

Trinculo: the King’s jester

Stephano: the King’s drunken butler


Master of the ship

 Famous quotes

Hell is empty, and all the devils are here!” (Act I, Scene II)
Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” (Act II, Scene II)

Thought is free.” (Act III, Scene II)

He that dies pays all debts.” (Act III, Scene II)

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life, is rounded with a sleep.” (Act IV, Scene I)

O, brave new world that has such people in’t!” (Act V, Scene I)

Fun Facts

1. Adaptations of the play, different from Shakespeare’s original, dominated theatre performances from the English Restoration in 1660 until the mid-19th century.

2. The Tempest has more music than any other Shakespeare play, and has proved more popular with composers than most of his other plays with 46 operatic performances throughout history, the first in 1695 by Henry Purcell. Two arrangements that might have been used in Shakespeare’s time still exist – one for “Full Fathom Five” and another for “Where The Bee Sucks There Suck I”, both printed in the 1659 publication Cheerful Ayres or Ballads’.

3. There is no single origin for the plot in The Tempest and many scholars believe it is an amalgamation of many. A strong contender being a document from William Strachey, titled A True Reportory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight.

4. Many well known phrases came from The Tempest including “Brave new world”, “In a pickle”, “Melted into thin air”, “sea change” and “Such stuff as dreams are made on”.

5. The play also demonstrates Shakespeare’s knack for creating new words with word such as abstemious (from the Latin absetmius meaning to indulge slightly in an alcoholic drink), baseless, eyeball, leaky, and watchdog.

6. With only one female speaking role The Tempest has the fewest female characters compared with the other plays.

7. The 1948 western Yellow Sky is a subtle yet clear adaptation of the play, as is the 1956 film Forbidden Planet.

8. One of the shortest Shakespeare play with 17 233 words; outdone only by A Midsummer Night’s Dream (16 511) and A Comedy of Errors (14 701).

9. It is the most performed Shakespeare play on BBC Radio with 21 productions.

10. Thanks to a precedent set by John Herschel, son of astronomer William Herschel who discovered Uranus, two regular moons and seven of the outermost moons of Uranus are named after characters from The Tempest. These are Ariel, Miranda, Caliban, Sycorax, Prospero, Setebos, Stephano, Trinculo, Francisco, and Ferdinand.

11. Unlike most of his plays, The Tempest conforms to Aristotle’s unities – the neoclassical notion that drama should follow three rules: unity of action (a play should have one main plot line with few distractions), unity of place (it should take place in one physical space) and the unity of time (the action fit within 24 hours).

12. Characters from The Tempest have gone further into space than even Uranus with numerous satellites being launched with their namesakes. Ariel 1 was the first British satellite in space, launched in 1962, in addition to six other Ariel satellites developed between 1962 and 1979. In 1971, the Black Arrow R3 rocket launched “Prospero X-3.

Links and Bits

Fun Facts source


In the Spotlight: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

In the Spotlight

“This is magnificent…and it’s true! It never happened, yet it is still true! What magic art is this?”
Robin Goodfellow, Sandman #19

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays and one of my favourites. It is classed as a comedy and is part of the First Folio collection printed after Shakespeare’s death.

Date Written: 1595 or 1596

First performed: 1595 or early 1596

Setting: Athens, Greece


The play consists of four interconnecting plots, all connected to the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons and takes place in both the forest and in Fairyland. From the start it’s a complex plot, two sets of couples (Hermia & Lysander and Helena & Demetrius), whose romantic affections are complicated enough already, enter the forest and find themselves in the realm of King Oberon and his Fairy Queen Titania. Also entering the forest are a band of amateur actors (known as the Mechanicals) who wish to rehearse their play. Throughout all of this a mischievous fairy known as Puck wreaks havoc and the other fairies play tricks on those who’ve entered as well.


The Athenians

Theseus: Duke of Athens
Hippolyta: Queen of the Amazons, betrothed to Theseus
Philostrate: Master of the Revels
Egeus: father of Hermia, wants her to marry Demetrius
Hermia: daughter of Egeus, in love with Lysander
Helena: in love with Demetrius, Hermia’s friend
Lysander: in love with Hermia at first but later loves Helena and then returns to loving Hermia
Demetrius: initially loves Hermia but later loves Helena
Spirits 1 & 2 (speak only to Puck and Oberon)

The fairies

Oberon: Titania’s husband and King of the Fairies
Titania: Oberon’s wife and Queen of the Fairies
Robin Goodfellow/Puck: servant to Oberon
Peaseblossom: fairy servant to Titania
Cobweb: fairy servant to Titania
Moth: fairy servant to Titania
Mustardseed: fairy servant to Titania

The Mechanicals

Peter Quince: carpenter, leads the troupe and plays Prologue
Nick Bottom: weaver, plays Pyramus
Francis Flute: bellows-mender, plays Thisbe
Robin Starveling: tailor, plays Moonshine
Tom Snout: tinker, plays Wall
Snug: joiner, plays Lion

 Famous quotes

The course of true love never did run smooth.” (Act I, Scene I)

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” (Act I, Scene I)

Lord, what fools these mortals be!” (Act III, Scene II)

Though she be but little, she is fierce!” (Act III, Scene II)

If we shadows have offended, 
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.” (Act V, Scene I)

Fun Facts

1. The mechanicals’ play-within-a-play was performed by the Beatles as part of Around the Beatles, a TV special, broadcast by ITV on 28 April 1964. Paul McCartney played Pyramus, John Lennon was Thisbe, while George Harrison and Ringo Starr played Moonshine and Lion respectfully.

2. Judi Dench enjoys the rare privilege of having played Titania in early youth and relatively old age. She played the role at school in York in the 1940s, on stage and screen for Peter Hall in the 1960s and then again for Hall in 2010 at the Rose Theatre, Kingston.

3. Samuel Pepys, the diarist, saw it on 29 September 1662 and is recorded as hating it, saying “Then to the King’s Theatre, where we saw “Midsummer’s Night’s Dream,” which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life. I saw, I confess, some good dancing and some handsome women, which was all my pleasure.”

4. After the Restoration era, the play was not performed in its entirety until the 1840s.

5. The scholar Harold F Brooks pointed out that the title could be read as “The Dream of a Midsummer Night”, noting that Theseus’s palace is to be sprinkled with the fairies’ field-dew benediction – “It was to dew gathered on May-day morning that magic properties were attributed.” It could therefore be set in May and people are dreaming of midsummer.

6. According to the Rough Guide to Shakespeare, one staging that took place around 1631 at Buckdale, Huntingdonshire broke the Sabbath, causing the actor playing Bottom to be placed in the stocks for 12 hours, still wearing his ass’ head.

7. The 19th century saw a rash of extravagantly designed productions. The most over the top in the UK was probably Charles Kean’s 1856 production at the Princess’s Theatre, which employed the services of 90 tutu-wearing sprites for the finale. The show was also notable for casting an eight-year-old Ellen Terry as Puck.

8. A Midsummer Night’s Dream inspired the musician Felix Mendelssohn. He wrote Wedding March in 1842 and is from his Midsummer Night’s Dream incidental music. This wedding march is very popular to hear in weddings and is often played by using a church pipe organ. Interestingly Mendelssohn was just 17 when he wrote it.

9. The wedding march was very popular after the Princess Royal Victoria chose the music on her wedding on 25 January 1858 with Prince Frederick William of Prussia.

10. If you look at the traditional folklore, there is no name for a fairy queen. Shakespeare took the name Titania from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

11. The two largest moons of Uranus are named after Titania and Oberon. In 1787, British astronomer William Herschel discovered the moons and named them after the King and Queen.

12. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been the inspiration for classical ballets such as George Balanchine’s two-act ballet of the same name in 1962 and Frederick Ashton’s one-act ballet entitled The Dream in 1964.

13. Aside from in the title, the word ‘midsummer’ does not appear at all in the play.

Links and Bits

Fun Facts sources