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Analyzing Shakespeare

Analyzing Shakespeare

Author: Meghan Hatalla

To provide guidance for in-depth analysis of Shakespeare's comedies, tragedies and sonnets by using examples.

This packet is intended to compliment the packet "William Shakespeare" ( While the aforementioned packet gave a broad overview of Shakespeare's works as a whole, this packet specifically targets "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Hamlet" or tragedy of the reader's choice, and a sonnet-analysis video to provide examples of how to look at Shakespeare's works.

Tag: ENCO130

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Comedic Example: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This is generally believed to have been written around 1594 to 1596, making it a fairly early work for Shakespeare, but still exemplary of his later complexity.

If you are unfamiliar with this work, you may want to run through the slideshow from the beginning to get a grasp on the content. If you have a background with this play, slides 15-22 provide an excellent grounding in themes that, though central to this work, are universal to Shakespearean comedies.

DIY Tragedy: Hamlet (or a tragedy of your choice)

The full title of this play is "The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark," but it best known as simply "Hamlet." It's estimated to have been written between 1599-1603.  "Hamlet" is  Shakespeare's longest play and generally acclaimed to be one of the most powerful and influential tragedies in the English language.

Below is a kind of rubric to apply when assessing the nature of a tragedy, and a tragic figure. While some critics consider Hamlet especially complex and problematic, those qualities are also what make him open to anyone's guess.

If you've never read "Hamlet," review a short synopsis. Or choose a figure from a Shakespearean tragedy you are familiar with.

Tools for Analysis of Tragedies & Tragic Actions

There are three factors to consider in determining the degree of tragedy:

  1. Type of person - consider:
          - Character & personality
          - Integrity
          - Lucidity
  2. Tragic flaw - the input the person has into the action. The stronger the input, the more intense the tragedy. The better the motive, the more intense the irony, and the more powerful the tragedy. Consider:
          - Virtue
          - Good judgement
          - Faulty or bad judgement
          - Affirmation of self, self-assertion in the face of challenge to dignity
          - Hubris (lack of insight, or arrogance due to excessive pride and insolence towards others)
          - Weakness in some area (not having *enough* of a good quality)
          - Vice or bad quality
  3. Nature of consequent misfortune, misery, loss, or disaster - tragic actions result in degrees of loss.

Once you've worked through this rubric and identified the three factors, you've established a great point of reference for reading Hamlet.

Source: Meghan, Wiki

The Kennedy Center: Characters & Themes of Shakespeare's Sonnets

This six-minute video is a small piece of a larger series on exploring Shakespeare. Though it's a little dry, it's full of great information from leading critics. To review the sonnets on your own, refer to The Amazing Web Site of Shakespeare's Sonnets (