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Shakespeare/Shakespeare Thesis Statement help?


In what ways did Shakespeare’s works reflect specific areas or events in his life?
That is my research question. I have to come up with a thesis statement. I don't want you to create one for me, but I would like you to kind of show me how to create my own..

Hello, Julianne,

I apologize for my delay in responding; we are finishing up the fall term, collecting research papers, grading journals, beginning to grade the research papers, and preparing final exams for next week!  It is a very busy time, but no doubt that is true for you, too!

Oh, dear, you have a difficult task!   First, I need to ask you to reflect back on your assignment, to try to remember if there was any oral discussion or oral direction that mentioned whether or not you must use the actual events in his life?  The fact is that we know very little about actual events in Shakespeare's life. If you are allowed to make hypotheses or to create conjectures, then there is a greater chance you can make connections between the writer and his works, you see. If you are allowed to speculate, your task will be easier.

The first thing I recommend is that you do some research to find a list, an article, or a book chapter that discusses the few things we know for certain about William Shakespeare.  If you have access to a library, the book called Shakespeare's Lives , by Samuel Schoenbaum, contains a short chapter that conveys the facts known about him.  It's a huge book, but you don't have to read all of it, just the short chapter on the facts. He is the most reliable scholar in this era.  He is not only careful to indicate conjecture on his own part or on the parts of other scholars, but very careful to say what is actually known versus what is assumed.  

For example:  we all say that William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, right?  But Schoenbaum tells us that, in fact, the marriage license actually reads "Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton," a small town near Stratford.  He agrees that in all probability it was Anne Hathaway, because there had been a family of "Whateley"s who had appeared before the magistrate earlier that day, so the likelihood of a mental error on the part of the magistrate is pretty high. Add to this the fact that we cannot find any trace of someone named "Anne" among any Whateleys around that area, plus the fact that the next day, the marriage bond was issued to William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway, and we have a very strong likelihood that an error accounts for this strange entry. Nevertheless, some biographers of the early 20th century try to come up with plausible answers (such as this:  Shakespeare really wanted to marry Anne Whately, and he tried to, but on the day of the wedding Anne Hathaway showed up and forced him to marry her, because she was pregnant [another odd fact of their marriage that can be interpreted in lots of different ways]). Nevertheless, most websites and books simply say that he married Anne Hathaway.

You must be very wary of using material you find on the internet on this subject, particularly on websites run by people who do not have credentials as Shakespearean scholars (i.e., PhD degree or Professorship at a reputable University, teaching and researching Shakespeare).  In particular, I advise you not to rely on anything by Michael Wood, who is very popular right now, unfortunately. He made a series of television shows on BBC network and some books afterward, all entitled In Search Of . . . [in this case, In Search of William Shakespeare ]] about the lives of famous writers, in which he travels the world to be in the actual place where the events of a writer's life took place.  It sounds wonderful, and indeed the film visuals are stunningly lovely, if you can block out the narrative, because he tends to seek sensational ratings rather than accurate scholarship. There are scores of incorrect statements in his work on Shakespeare. He often states a conjecture or hypothesis as if it is fact: for example, he states outright that "Shakespeare was of the Old Faith," meaning that he was Catholic, when in fact we know nothing of the kind. Officially, he was Protestant Church of England, which was the law of the land. There are some records that his father, John, got in trouble with the law for "nonattendance" of the Protestant church, and so Michael Wood apparently extrapolates from this evidence that John Shakespeare was a Catholic and had raised his son a Catholic, as well, which was illegal at the time.  If Wood were to state something like, "I believe that Shakespeare was Catholic because . . ." I would have no problem, but he does not, which unfortunately misleads the non-scholarly readers, like yourself, who depend upon their authors to tell them the truth.  Wood's works are full of these kinds of willful stretchings and misrepresentations, but he also offers statements that are simply untrue (and not only in Shakespeare's biography, either. My fellow professors in other areas of study tell me that his other programs, such as "In Search of Joseph Conrad," are not in the least bit trustworthy.)

The "wikipedia" article online is actually the best and most accurate summary I was able to find online, just by scanning over some of the sites that came up unrecognizable to me.  Its best quality, I think, is that it states fact as fact, and it labels a conjecture as a conjecture, telling us the source of the conjecture so that we can make up our own minds whether we think it is true or not.  This is crucial.  Unfortunately, too many biographies state these conjectures as if they are fact when they are merely the opinions of the writer.  But much of the articles about Shakespeare's life on wikipedia are surprisingly good.

After you have read some of the facts about his life, your next task is to find your way to match some of those elements with aspects of his plays and/or poems.  If you haven't read very much Shakespeare, your task is going to be harder, but I will say that the majority of critics who believe that his works were influenced by his experiences seem to turn to his sonnets, principally, and to the family relationship patterns that repeat among the characters in his plays.

Try making a list of biographical facts and a list or column of elements from his plays and poems, to see if you can start matching up some that may seem to belong together.  Once you find some elements that seem to go together, your task then is to find the overarching theme that unites all of them.  That will be the core of your thesis statement.  The final step then will be to refine it into a sentence that is articulate and that forecasts the argument that came from the theme that emerged from your search.  Depending on the number of his works that you've decided are applicable, you may want to mention the specific plays or poems that will be examined, if you have a short list, for example:  A comparison of Shakespeare's [title], [title], and [title] with [fill in the blank about his life] will reveal  [fill in what you've found].  Or, if the amount of influence of his life experiences on his works is too widespread to keep your argument confined to two or three works, then you can craft a thesis statement that literally argues that the number of biographical elements are really too numerous to detail in a short paper, but they seem to add up to specific themes that he returned to, again and again, such as [fill in the themes you plan to discuss, etc.].

I hope this is helpful to you.  The difficulty of your assignment is not enviable!  But I have tried to offer specific enough advice that you can do the work necessary to achieve success.

If you have further questions, please write back, and I will try to answer more quickly!

Thanks for consulting AllExperts, and good luck!
Dr. T.


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Dr. T.


I can answer questions about Shakespeare's life and times, his plays and poems, the history of criticism and critics' responses to Shakespeare's works, other authors of the time period, the audiences of the time period, Queen Elizabeth I, women of the Renaissance or Early Modern age, history of rhetoric, British drama, etc.


I have taught Shakespeare, Early Modern literature, Early Modern women's literature, the history of rhetoric, Arthurian literature, and related general literary subjects and many others in university classrooms for more than 25 years.

Renaissance Society of America, South-Central Renaissance Society, John Donne Society

3 books with University Presses, 1 book with HarperCollins Press; articles with: Continuum Press, DLB, Gale Research Shakespearean Criticism and Shakespearean Criticism Yearbook, College English journal, Studies in English Literature journal, CEA Critic journal, Renascence journal, Texas Papers on Language and Literature journal, several others.

Ph.D. in British Renaissance Literature and Rhetoric; M.A. in English; B.A. English and Theatre

Awards and Honors
I was editor of a scholarly journal for 10 years; Recipient of my university's Recognition Awards for Research, Teaching, and Service; two Sabbatical awards; graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude

Past/Present Clients
Panelist/Reviewer for National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington, DC, 2001, 1997, and 1993; Referee for College Literature, Yale University Press (numerous editions of Shakespeare’s plays), College English, Harper/Collins (1992 to 1995: full-length book manuscripts, including the complete manuscript of The HarperCollins World Reader, Volume I.); Dramaturg for local Little Theatre, 2001–03 (including productions of Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Dangerous Liaisons); Dramaturg for various productions in Theatre/Dance Dept at my University (including As You Like It, Midsummer Night's Dream, Measure for Measure, The Tempest)

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