A possible portrait of Shakespeare. Click the image to see the Wikipedia entry regarding its provenance and authenticity.

We, the readers of Shake­speare in the early twenty-first century, and born to the English lan­guage, are perhaps the most fortunate audience since he wrote his plays four hundred years ago. Our lan­guage has not (yet) departed so much from Eliza­bethan English that we can no longer under­stand Shake­speare’s text anyone with even modest ex­posure to the English of King James will be able to get through much of Shake­speare easily. And we can share the plays and study them over the Internet — something Shake­speare might have liked. His texts are free and portable, and we have had the benefit now of four centuries’ worth of scholar­ship con­cerning them. The plays of Shake­speare are now read by, and loved by, many more (and more educated) readers than ever. There is every reason to hope this trend will continue.

These web presen­ta­tions are meant as user-friendly, basic intro­ductions to Shake­speare for those approaching the subject for the first time — speci­fically, mid­dle school and high school students. I am not quali­fied to teach Shake­speare in any greater depth, or to present his works in a scholarly edi­tion. I hold only a bachelor’s degree in English, from the Uni­ver­sity of Ala­bama, but I was for­tunate enough to have as my Shake­speare mentor none other than the late Henry Jacobs, PhD (Yale). He not only brought Shake­speare to life from the text alone, his enthu­siasm for the study of the texts was infec­tious. I remain grate­ful to him, and I offer these presen­ta­tions to honor his memory.

These presentations attempt to offer at least a few things that other web ver­sions of Shake­speare do not. You can search the com­plete works for any specific word or phrase (an extremely useful tool) at http://the-tech.mit.edu/shakespeare — with some sites, the indexing is set up so that you must first specify which play you’ll be searching. But what if you can’t remember which play some text occurs in? No problem — the master list of famous phrases here will take you to the right pas­sage immediately. In these presentations, you can jump directly to famous phrases or speeches.

The com­mentary and expla­nations accom­pany­ing the texts, in the foot­notes and the ancil­lary materials, are mostly my own. When I recog­nize that I learned a par­ti­cular fact from a par­ti­cular printed edition, I have tried to attribute such. Edi­tions used to sup­port my notes include The River­side Shake­speare (my per­sonal favorite), the Pen­guin Editions of Shake­speare, Four Tragedies, various internet-based sources, etc.

I am specifically not trying to present the works of Shake­speare in a way that would in­fringe on any edition’s copy­right — where I know I have bor­rowed an expla­nation or a criticism from a par­ti­cular edition, I have tried to indi­cate such. But this is my presen­tation, this is Shake­speare as I per­ceive it, and what little value I can add to the play­text itself I offer out of my own store of knowledge of the meanings and con­cepts encoun­tered therein. Most of this I learned in class from Dr. Jacobs, some I have learned from my own reading, some from seeing various pro­duc­tions on stage and in film, some from my class­mates, some from my friends . . . the list keeps growing.

I have made minor emen­da­tions to the stage directions, following my own pre­ferences. I have in certain places changed punc­tu­ation (where I thought it would add clarity to do so), and have chosen words and readings that I prefer, but only where dif­feren­ces among the his­torical texts permit such choices. I have not regu­larly followed the earlier emen­dations of the editors of the First Folio or any other standard source material, but have picked and chosen as seemed best to me, wherever the text might be in doubt. Since there is no such thing as a single stan­dard, authori­tative text for reading Shake­speare, this is my presen­ta­tion, my edition, my Shake­speare.

Please contact me with any cor­rec­tions, emen­dations, or other matters that you feel would improve these presen­tations, at jhherring@yahoo.com. I’m always eager to learn and to cor­rect mis­takes. These plays will come out irregularly, as I have time to work on them. If you’d like to be notified of the impending release of any par­ti­cular play, or of play releases in general, please let me know and I’ll add your e-mail address to my Shake­speare mailing list (also distributed at irregular intervals).

I offer these presentations free of charge for any and all to use. The play­texts them­selves are, of course, in the public domain, but these presentations of them remain copy­righted by myself. You are free to copy, print, use as scripts, and/or distri­bute these presentations or any portion of them, as you see fit, as long as the struc­ture (with all links, notes, and credits), remains intact. You may, of course, use Shake­speare’s texts any way you like — if you want just the texts, without all the extra stuff, just do what I did: go to http://the-tech.mit.edu/shakespeare.

This HTML presentation of Romeo and Juliet is copyright © 2011 by John Herring.

Parental Warning

Shakespeare’s plays contain lots of sex and violence. He made no apologies for his intense scenes and bawdy puns. These presen­ta­tions make no attempt to shield the reader from any of this. In fact, some ob­scure puns and other references are made less ob­scure, more explicit.

If you don’t approve of sex and violence in literature, don’t read Shakespeare.