May 15 2019

How to Write a Shakespeare Essay

Adela Belin photo Adela Belin Content strategist and writer
Knowledge Cell

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears, I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”  
– Julius Caesar

It has been four centuries since William Shakespeare wrote his last play but even today, his work continues to be read by high school and college students. From relatable characters to universal themes – his poems and plays still manage to resonate with us and offer incredible value.

Original: SourceBe it is Othello’s Iago or Macbeth’s Lady Macbeth; this literary genius has given us some of the most complex characters while using interesting literary techniques.

How to Start a Shakespeare Essay

Shakespeare’s plays are divided into four categories: tragedies, romance, history, and comedies. Knowing these will help your work of composing the essay easier.

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Here’s how you can start your Shakespear essay on a solid note.

Choose your topic

The best way to compose a Shakespeare’s essay well is to choose a topic that you are well acquainted with, one that is interesting to you or the reader, assuming that your professor hasn’t assigned you any topic. Your topic should either revolve around his plays or sonnets.

You can come up with topic ideas from The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, King John, Julius Caesar, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For example, if you are using the poem Sonnet 29, your topic/title may read like this: “Sonnet 29 and Depression.”

Note that if you have chosen a topic on your own, find out from your professor if it is allowed, the format requirements, word count, deadline, and style of your essay (debate, review, or investigative).

Gather sources

To make any essay believable and reliable, you need to back it with facts, and Shakespeare’s essays are no different.

For Shakespeare’s essays, it is Shakespeare’s opinion that will act as proof. You can collect these from Shakespeare’s biographies or his actual work, which he wrote himself. These will be your primary source.

You can also dive into online resources like JSTOR and Hope College to find sources.

Note important points

The reason for taking notes is to easily remember something when the time comes for creating the draft. A few things to note down are quotes, important points, or comments you got from your primary and secondary sources.

Remember to include other expert opinions as well. Finally, have an outline to make writing the draft easier. In your outline, understand what goes in the introduction, body, and what background information you need to include in your essay.

How to Write a Thesis Statement for a Shakespeare Essay

The thesis statement forms the core of your Shakespeare essay. Here are three steps to get it right.

Develop a thesis statement

We have mentioned in the previous text the plays by Shakespeare and even a few topics you can use. Now you need to develop a thesis statement for your essay.

Some things to consider when coming up with your thesis statement are to make it as specific as possible while avoiding broad statements or personal opinions. Here is an example of a thesis statement you can make using the poem Sonnet 29.

“Sonnet 29 asserts that love can help you overcome even the worst depression.”

You can use online thesis generator tools to come up with a thesis statement. Other ways to develop a thesis statement include reading Shakespeare plays or watching movies. Besides, have the thesis statement in the first paragraph of the essay.

State the main idea

The next step is to share your ideas about the topic. Here, ask yourself what you are trying to prove or make the reader believe, either by asserting something specific about the topic, taking a stand on an issue, or expressing a real-life opinion.

Provide reasons to support your main idea

An important factor to consider when writing Shakespeare’s essays is you cannot just summarize your points. You must give an explicit statement. This is because Shakespeare’s essays are more of a report, so ensure that you have logical facts and evidence you can use to support the thesis statement.

As a result, go back to the notes you took or you can reread the play, looking for parenthetical citations or quote snippets of texts you can use to support your thesis statement.

How to End a Shakespeare Essay

Your conclusion summaries what you have written in the paper. To write a good conclusion, let your introductory paragraph guide you.

Besides, find what each paragraph is about. This will help you write your paragraph in a way that leaves readers with something to think about. Note that this is not the time to start a new argument or speculate.

Reinstate the thesis statement

If you are writing about the benefits of love, as per the poem Sonnet 29, return to the theme in the introduction and recap the central points showing why the only way we can overcome depression and sadness is by thinking about someone you love. Repeat to the reader the thesis statement and the evidence to support it.

Find a quote to sum up your perspective

Your readers must have something to think about or go home with and the best way to do so is, to sum everything up with an interesting quote. Continuing with our example of Sonnet 29, you can quote these last lines:

“For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”

This will sum up your perspective of how true love inspires positive attributes.

Write the concluding sentence

Your concluding paragraphs or sentences need to be more like a transition connecting two paragraphs to ensure that your idea is strong and easy to follow.

As a result, tie it to the next paragraph to create a flow for your readers. If you were working on two subjects, try to blend the two and easily move to the next subject. Finally, make sure you summarize the subject you talked about in that paragraph.

6 Tips on Writing the Perfect Shakespeare Essay

Being a Literature student, chances are you have been asked to compose a Shakespeare essay at least once in the course of the program. Here are 6 tips to help you write an impressive analysis essay on a Shakespeare play.

Give Multiple Readings

If you think you can read a William Shakespeare play once and wholly understand it, you are mistaken. Shakespeare’s plays are complex and layered coupled with historical and poetic language. To completely get a hang of it, you will need to read it multiple times and make notes on the side.

The first reading should be about knowing the story which can be followed by understanding his use of words and metaphors and digging further into the characters. Highlight paragraphs that are of interest to your topic, so you don’t waste time looking for them later.

It is also a good idea to read a plot synopsis of the play for better understanding.

Understand the Historical Context

Whether you are analyzing what led Brutus to murder Caesar or the role destiny plays in Macbeth – it is imperative to understand the context.

Analyzing the background information and historical context will give you a holistic understanding of the turn of the events and the motivations behind the characters, helping you interpret the play better.

Without considering the historical context, you won’t be doing full justice to your analysis. Hence, remember to not view the characters and their actions in silos but take into consideration the events that were prevalent at that particular period.

Explore Themes and Imagery

One of the biggest defining factors of Shakespeare’s writing was the way he used imagery to reinforce underlying themes in his plays. For example, in Macbeth, the imagery of ‘darkness’ was used to depict the evil side of humans.

Hence, while working on your literary analysis, it is essential to pay close attention to the themes and imagery Shakespeare utilizes in the play which will give you a deep insight into the characters which will help you collect evidence and strengthen your argument.

Form the Thesis Statement

After you have gathered enough evidence, you need to start drafting. Wondering how to craft the perfect introduction for your Shakespeare essay?

The first step is to work on the thesis statement. A crucial statement, it features in the introductory paragraph and puts forth the main argument of the essay. It needs to be arguable and specific which can be proved with the help of evidence from the play.

Think about the issues the play talks about and enlist your personal opinions – this is an effective way to start forming the thesis statement.

Present Well-Supported Arguments

While the thesis statement is a subject of your opinion, you need to present logical evidence from the play to support your argument too.

Start with organizing your arguments first and devote one paragraph to each argument and its corresponding evidence. The evidence presented can be in the form of excerpts and quotations from the play which support the stand you are taking.

However, refrain from quoting lengthy paragraphs or paraphrasing it as it just takes up space and is unnecessary considering your professor is bound to be well-versed with the play.

Use Proper Citations

As you are writing a Shakespeare essay, you are likely to be quoting or citing multiple references from the play.

Shakespearean citations are slightly different from the usual in-text citations. Considering the number of acts, scenes and lines involved, it is essential to accurately refer to the correct source.

Be it MLA or APA format, you can follow these guidelines to provide proper citations.


While these six useful tips will help you write better Shakespeare essays, there are also instances when your overwhelming workload or worse still, lack of interest in Shakespeare might come in the way.

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last edit at Sep 22 2022