Shakespeare’s early works are a testament to his genius and creativity. His earliest plays, such as ‘The Comedy of Errors’ and ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’, are full of wit and wordplay, and demonstrate his skill in creating complex characters and storylines.
The early works: an introduction
Shakespeare’s early works are a testament to his genius and creativity. His earliest plays, such as ‘The Comedy of Errors’ and ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’, are full of wit and wordplay, and demonstrate his skill in creating complex characters and storylines. His poems, such as ‘Venus and Adonis’ and ‘The Rape of Lucrece’, are full of vivid imagery and emotion, and show his ability to craft powerful and beautiful language. Together, these works provide a glimpse into the mind of a young Shakespeare, and the beginnings of his career as a playwright and poet.
Shakespeare’s early works also demonstrate his versatility and range. He was able to write both comedies and tragedies, and his plays often featured a mix of both genres. His poems, too, ranged from the lighthearted to the deeply serious, and his use of language was always inventive and captivating. His early works are a testament to his talent and creativity, and provide a fascinating insight into the development of his later works.
Themes of the early works
In Shakespeare’s early works, certain themes and motifs are recurring. These include love, death, and the power of nature. Love is a major theme in many of his works, such as ‘Romeo and Juliet’, where two young lovers from warring families fall in love but then die because they can’t be together.
Death is another key theme, with many of his plays featuring characters who are killed off or suffer a tragic end. For example, in ‘Hamlet’, the play revolves around the main character avenging the murder of his father at the prompting of a ghost. According to LC Knights, a famous Shakespearean critic, “Hamlet is an immature person lacking a ready responsiveness to life who is pushed by the ghost to concentrate on death and evil”.
Finally, the power of nature is a recurring motif in his works, with characters often being at the mercy of the elements. In ‘The Tempest’, for example, the characters are stranded on an island and must contend with the forces of nature. These themes and motifs are integral to understanding Shakespeare’s early works, and provide insight into his writing style.
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” – Troilus and Cressida
Comparisons to the later plays
Shakespeare’s early works, including his earliest plays and poems, show a remarkable level of skill and maturity for his age. Even when compared to his later, more well-known works, the quality of his early writing is evident. His use of language and structure is complex and sophisticated, and his characters are well-rounded and believable. His plays were always full of wit and humor, and his poetry is lyrical. It is clear that even in his earliest works, Shakespeare was a master of the craft.
“Nothing can come of nothing” – King Lear
The comparison between Shakespeare’s early works and his later, more famous plays is striking. While the themes and characters are similar, the writing in Shakespeare’s later works is more refined and complex. His use of language is more sophisticated and the structure of his plays and poems is more intricate.
He often uses more complicated political allusions to convey deeper meaning, and his characters are more fully developed in exploring complicated moral dilemmas. As Shakespeare’s fame grew, he was also able to explore more ideas critical of the government, like in his examination of Kingship in ‘Macbeth’. It is clear that Shakespeare’s writing evolved over time, but his early works still show a remarkable level of skill and maturity.
Genre in the early plays
Shakespeare was a master of many forms, and his use of tragedy, comedy, and history in his early works is no exception. His comedies often featured characters from different social classes, and he used the form to explore the tensions between them. For example, in ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’’, Shakespeare attacks the barrier class provides to marriage between the nobility and the landed gentry.
His tragedies, like ‘Henry VI, Part II’, often focused on the consequences of ambition and the power of fate. Often, Shakespearean tragedies used the supernatural as a medium for exploring his themes.
His histories, including ‘Henry V’ and ‘Richard II’, explored the political and social issues of the day. Shakespeare’s skill in using these forms to tell stories and explore themes was unparalleled, and his early works are a testament to his talent.
‘Cry God for Harry, England and St George’ – Henry V
Shakespeare’s use of these forms was a skillful way of engaging his audience and exploring the issues of the time.
Shakespeare’s sonnets are some of the most famous and beloved poems in the English language. They are a collection of 154 poems that were first published in 1609, and are widely considered to be some of the greatest works of English literature. The sonnets explore themes of love, beauty, mortality, and time, and their structure and language have been studied and admired for centuries.
‘We, which now behold these present days, have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise’ – Sonnet 106
The sonnets are written in the form of a three-quatrain poem with a rhyming couplet at the end. This structure allows Shakespeare to explore his themes in a concise and powerful way. He often uses imagery, metaphor, and alliteration to create vivid and memorable images. His use of language is often complex and sophisticated, and his ability to express emotion and create vivid imagery has been praised by critics and scholars alike.
The form of the sonnets
Shakespeare’s sonnets are a unique form of poetry, combining elements of traditional English sonnets with his own personal style. His sonnets are often characterized by their use of iambic pentameter, a poetic meter based round five stressed syllables in a line.
The structure of the sonnets is also unique, with each poem consisting of three quatrains (blocks of four lines) and a concluding couplet (two rhyming lines). This structure allows for a greater range of expression, as the poet can explore different themes and ideas in each quatrain before concluding with a powerful final couplet.
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” – Sonnet 18
The themes of Shakespeare’s sonnets are varied, ranging from love and loss to the nature of beauty and mortality. His sonnets often explore the idea of love in its many forms, from the joys of a new relationship to the pain of a lost one.
He also examines the nature of beauty and mortality, often using vivid imagery to explore these themes. Shakespeare’s sonnets are a testament to his skill as a poet, as he is able to explore complex themes in a concise and powerful way.
Reception of the early works
Shakespeare’s earliest works were met with a variety of reactions from contemporary audiences. Some of his plays and poems received great acclaim, while others were met with criticism. His early works were often seen as a reflection of the Elizabethan era in which they were written, rather than taking into account more modern ideas imported by James I upon his accession in 1603.
Many of Shakespeare’s early plays and poems were seen as innovative and daring, and they were praised for their originality. Indeed, some of them dealt with complicated topics like atheism and homosexuality. Despite this, Shakespeare’s early works were generally well-received and enjoyed by audiences. They provided a unique perspective on the world and were seen as a reflection of the culture of the time.
Shakespeare's developing style
Shakespeare’s earliest plays are a fascinating insight into his developing style. His comedies, such as ‘The Comedy of Errors’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ experiment with the conventions of the genre.
His use of farce, wordplay, and physical comedy demonstrate a mastery of the form, and a willingness to push the boundaries of what was considered acceptable. However, Shakespeare often underpinned his comedic characters with serious messages: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ exposes the danger of gossip and many critics have argued that ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ exposes the problems with the patriarchy.
“No legacy is so rich as honesty” – All’s Well That Ends Well
His tragedies, such as ‘Titus Andronicus’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’, show a playwright exploring the depths of human emotion. His characters are complex and nuanced, and his use of language is both poetic and powerful. Shakespeare’s early plays are a testament to his skill as a dramatist, and provide a valuable insight into his development as an artist.
Shakespeare's worldview in the early works
During the early period of Shakespeare’s career, his writing style was still developing and maturing. He was experimenting with different techniques and forms, and this is evident in his earliest works.
His early plays are often characterized by a focus on the physical and emotional aspects of the characters, with a focus on the psychological motivations of their actions. His early poems, on the other hand, are often more lyrical and romantic, with a focus on the beauty of nature and the power of love.
As his career progressed, Shakespeare began to incorporate more complex themes and ideas into his works, and his writing style became more sophisticated. He began to explore the complexities of human relationships and the power of language, and his works became more nuanced and layered. His later works are often considered to be some of the greatest works of literature ever written, and his early works show us the beginnings of this evolution.
The significance of the early works
Shakespeare’s early works are a window into his worldview and attitudes. His earliest plays, such as ‘The Comedy of Errors’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, reveal a lightheartedness and a fondness for the absurd. His poetry, such as ‘Venus and Adonis’ and ‘The Rape of Lucrece’, demonstrate his ability to evoke powerful emotions and explore the depths of human experience. His sonnets, such as Sonnet 18 and Sonnet 116, show his deep understanding of love, and his ability to capture the beauty and complexity of the human heart.
“I am one who loved not too wisely but not too well” – Othello
Through these works, we can see that Shakespeare was a master of the human condition, and that his worldview was one of compassion and understanding. He was able to explore the depths of human emotion, and to capture the beauty of the world around him. His works are a testament to his ability to capture the complexity of the human experience.