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Shakespeare Resources

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However, at Union County College Libraries, the most comprehensive and complete resources for Shakespeare can be found in the Cranford Reference Book collection. 

Shakespearean Criticism  ( REF 822.33 DSH ) is a multi-volume set of critical essays from books, journals, magazines, and newspapers.  Search this set using the character index, the theme index, or theme-by-play. 


Finding Your Subject

One of the hardest things a student must do is finding a subject to write about.  The subject must be narrow enough that you can cover it in just a few pages, yet broad enough that you can find sufficient resources. 

No professor wants to read a paper that could be titled "All about XYZ."  Those papers are boring, and besides, encyclopedias do it better.  Instead, try to ask a question about the Shakespeare work that you are assigned, and answer it in your paper.  Think about the characters. Why do these characters feel/talk/behave as they do?

  • Does Cordelia (in King Lear) really love her father?
  • Is Desdemona (In Othello) naive?
  • Is Caliban (in the Tempest) truly evil?
  • Is Antonio (in the Merchant of Venice) an anti-Semite?
  • When does MacBeth become evil?

There are many ways to read a work of Literature, and depending on how you view a Shakespeare play, you might have different research needs.  Research questions like these will lead to sources beyond the play itself.  You may find  yourself exploring history, psychology, religion, or other works of literature.

  • Do you think Hamlet is about power politics?  You might want to expand your research to include Machiavelli and the political theories of the 16th century.
  • Do you read Hamlet as playing off the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden?  You might want to look at Biblical commentaries.
  • Do you think Hamlet is a study in Freudian psychology?  Learn more about Freud.
  • Do you think Iago (in Othello) is the devil?  You might want to learn more about medieval morality plays.  And you might want to read about Machiavelli.
  • Could King Lear be translated into another continent?  Another culture?  Another time period?  To what extent is Lear like an older person of another culture?  Are there any universal values in this play?  
  • How is King Lear like or unlike Eugene O'Neill's Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman?

If you're having trouble finding a manageable topic, talk to a Reference Librarian.  Whatever your topic or interest might be, a Reference Librarian can help you manage the scope of your topic and find resources.

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

  • Primary sources for Shakespeare would include those things Shakespeare himself wrote: his plays, his sonnets, his will [In Shakespeare's case, these are transcribed and printed by others, as very little in Shakespeare's own hand has survived].   In addition to Shakespeare's own writings, primary sources might also include relevant documents from Shakespeare's lifetime written by others. Any document written in Shakespeare's lifetime that sheds light on the politics, religion, medicine, fashion, social conditions, or any other ideas that might have influenced Shakespeare, could be considered a primary source for Shakespeare. 

    The best places to find primary documents are in print, in the Library or bookstore.  Current print editions, such as the Folger, Riverside, Longman,  Norton, or Penguin editions, have been carefully reviewed by scholarly editors and have been compared with the surviving early print editions of Shakespeare's works.   Sometimes there are footnotes that help explain the meaning of words or the context of the writing.   Shakespeare's works are also available online through MIT (, the 1914 Oxford edition of Shakespeare (, and others.
  • Secondary sources for Shakespeare interpret, analyze, and comment on Shakespeare's works. Most literary criticisms are considered to be secondary sources.  Secondary sources are written in a time after first-hand observation is no longer possible, but they are invaluable in explaining to modern readers the circumstances in which Shakespeare wrote and his works have been received.   Students frequently find that reading secondary sources will give them a lens through which to view a particular Shakespeare work that makes the whole work more meaningful and interesting. 

    The best places to find secondary sources are books, reference books, and journal articles.  Union County College Libraries contains many Shakespearean criticism books that can be found through the Library Catalog. Or, you can browse the shelves at 822.33 for criticism on the Shakespeare topic of your choice.  The Shakespearean Criticism set from Gale (REF 822.33 DSH) can be searched by character, theme, or theme by play to find essays by known critics that will enhance your understanding and jump start your literary research paper.  Most contemporary secondary sources are copyright protected, and therefore not available for free on the Web.  However a few secondary resources can be found at sources like Palomar College ( 
  • Tertiary resources include encyclopedias, bibliographies, textbooks, or indexes.  You go to a tertiary source to learn where to go for additional information.  An encyclopedia, such as Britannica (in print or online) or Wikipedia, will give an overview of the subject and then list other sources to use.  A bibliography is a list of books, articles, and other resources.
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