Here you will find a detailed analysis of selected plays, including information on the major characters and themes, study questions, annotations, and the theatrical history of each drama. Please check back frequently for more additions to this page. You will also find extensive explanatory notes and commentary for most of the plays at the bottom of each scene.
Your majesty loads our house: for those of old,
And the late dignities heap'd up to them,
We rest your hermits. Macbeth (1.6), Lady Macbeth
Yes, a king travelling with an entourage of hermits sounds like a scene from Monty Python, but Duncan's hermits were actually almsmen, hired to pray for the welfare of Duncan and his men. According to the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1898, the number of these almsmen was "equal to that of the king’s years, so that an extra one was added every returning birthday."
In the context of the play, when Lady Macbeth says 'We rest your hermits' she means that, because of their tremendous feelings of gratitude, she and her husband will pray so hard for Duncan that his almsmen will be able to stop praying ('rest'). Read on ...
Marcellus, shaken by the many recent disturbing events and no doubt angered (as is Hamlet) by Claudius's mismanagement of the body politic, astutely notes that Denmark is festering with moral and political corruption.
Francisco's lament that he is "sick at heart" acts in concert with Marcellus's famous line to provide an account of a diseased country. Their comments set the gloomy mood of a neglected populace and substantiate Hamlet's suspicions about Claudius's corruption. Read on ...
On Shakespeare's Mind
"Shakespeare's power of imagination was as fertile as that of any man known to history, but he had another power which is rarely absent from great poets, the power of absorbing or assimilating the fruits of reading. Spenser, Milton, Burns, Keats, and Tennyson had the like power, but probably none had it in quite the same degree as Shakespeare. In his case, as in the case of the other poets, this power of assimilation strengthened, rendered more robust, the productive power of his imagination. This assimilating power is as well worth minute study and careful definition as any other of Shakespeare's characteristics." [Sir Sidney Lee] Read on ...