William Shakespeare (1564–1616), known as the Bard of Avon (or simply the Bard), is regarded by many as the greatest English-language author of all time. During his lifetime, he wrote 154 sonnets, more than three dozen dramas, and various poems. Many instructors teach Shakespeare as part of their regular English curricula. Shakespeare is most well-known for his theatrical pieces, having written 38 plays throughout his life. His English comedies, tragedies, and historical plays cover a wide range of universal experiences that shed light on the human condition. His theater works tell stories of love, murder, depression, revenge, misguided ambition, and madness. Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Henry V, Richard III, Othello, Twelfth Night, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Julius Caesar, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest, and King Lear are among his most revered works.
As one of history's most prolific playwrights, his work has been produced and performed for centuries. It is to the credit of an acting troupe that Shakespeare's plays survived at all. Those early performers committed to getting the plays published in English, ensuring that the Bard's work would survive beyond the Elizabethan and Jacobean Ages during which he wrote.
As the most produced playwright in the history of theater, William Shakespeare's output provides a wealth of material for critics to pore over, analyze, and interpret. Scholars Harold Bloom and John Drakakis are among the most revered academics who have written critical essays about Shakespeare's contributions to Western culture. During his own time, Shakespeare's contemporaries included fellow English dramatists Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, George Chapman, John Fletcher, and Ben Jonson.
While William Shakespeare was highly regarded in his own time, after his death he became even more widely and universally known through the centuries, thanks in part to the advocacy of people who praised his talents posthumously. Teaching Shakespeare’s plays in the classroom ensures that his legacy continues even for people without access to theatrical productions.
Through the centuries, critics have covered a range of subjects related to Shakespeare's plays, including discussions of gender roles and mistaken identity; devices like monologues and asides that run through many of his works; and his use of language, meter, and rhyme. Some critics might compare and contrast Shakespeare's content with later writers working with similar themes, structures, and language choices. Others might analyze various productions of the works that have been performed on stage or captured on film or digitally. The criticism forms a rich trove of material to deepen and expand one's appreciation for Shakespeare's tremendous body of work, which has continued to entertain and enlighten audiences for more than four hundred years.