For many, majoring in English Literature is a dream come true—I know it was for me. You’re able to spend most of your entire waking existence reading books and discussing them with others who love them just as much as you do. For those of us who also have an interest in writing, we have the chance to study the greats and try to incorporate bits of their technique and style into our own work.
As great as it is to spend all your time reading and studying books, those books can get awfully expensive. Luckily for English majors, there are plenty of free literature books available out there. With just a few clicks on your laptop, you’re able to read classic books online.
One of the authors you’ll be assigned to read the most as an English major is William Shakespeare. His work will show up on the reading list for at least one of your classes—if not two or three. As someone who took several British Literature courses as well as “Theory of Drama” and “Shakespeare on Film”, Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets were my constant companions throughout college. As someone who wasn’t swimming in cash at the time, I was grateful that Shakespeare’s works were so freely available to read on the Internet.
Here are 8 of the best sites where you can read and study Shakespeare for free online.
Project Gutenberg is well known for being the go-to e-library for public domain books. With over 60,000 books available, you are sure to find practically any classic book you’re assigned to read. To find any of Shakespeare’s works, just do a Quick Search for Hamlet or Macbeth, and the first link in the search results will take you to a page where you can read the play online or download an epub or Kindle file. You can copy and paste lines right from the browser version, which will make quoting plays in your papers a breeze. The site also includes The Complete Works of William Shakespeare if you’d prefer to have access to all his plays and sonnets in one place.
Another option for reading Shakespeare for free online is Standard Ebooks. Again, you simply search for a play like A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Twelfth Night and you will have the option to download the play in a variety of formats or read it in your browser. This site features modern and consistent typography, making the reading experience an aesthetically pleasing one. Each ebook is rigorously proofed and therefore tends to have far fewer errors than the ebooks in other free e-libraries.
Manybooks includes many of the Shakespeare works you’ll be assigned to read, including The Taming of the Shrew and King Lear. Manybooks’ copy of Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet includes an informative introduction with notes on the history and sources of the play. You can download the books in a number of formats or read online with the site’s easy to navigate and very aesthetically pleasing online reader. The reader also allows you to jump to a particular page, which is handy when writing papers.
Simply clicking the “Shakespeare” link on The Literature Page will take you to a page full of links to his plays. The plays are organized in chronological order with the year of each play’s publication listed, which can be a helpful reference to have available if you’re writing about more than one Shakespeare play in a paper. Like Project Gutenberg, you are easily able to copy and paste lines from the text.
5) Google Books
While you can only preview certain books on Google Books, you are able to read several public domain books in their entirety—including those written by William Shakespeare. All you need to do is search for a play like The Merchant of Venice and check “Full view” from the first dropdown menu at the top of the search results. You will see many different editions, some with informative notes and annotations. You can also search each work for certain words or phrases, which is very useful when it comes to breaking down Shakespeare’s poetic language in an essay.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare is the Web’s first edition of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry, dating all the way back to 1993. It is extremely simple to navigate the four categories of Comedy, History, Tragedy, and Poetry from the site’s main page. This is another site where you can copy and paste lines into your papers, and jump to specific scenes or sonnets.
You probably remember SparkNotes from your high school days—it’s a fantastic learning tool that summarizes chapters of classic books in ways that are easy to digest and it delves deep into the characters, literary devices, and more. There is a “Shakespeare” link right on SparkNotes’ main page. The site’s “No Fear Shakespeare” feature includes the full text of the Bard’s plays and sonnets alongside translations written in modern English. Something like this is invaluable to a reader who is having trouble grasping the old-fashioned language. Each work comes with a handy Study Guide, and plays like Hamlet and Macbeth even include graphic novel versions you can read on the site.
Like the other sites on this list, myShakespeare allows you to read several Shakespearean plays for free online. But this site also includes a ton of fun extras that will further enrich your learning experience. myShakespeare offers videos of interviews with each play’s characters, performances of key scenes, and animated videos to explore the plays’ historical contexts. You can listen to audio readings of each scene as well. If you sign up for a free account, you’ll have access to multiple-choice and written response questions that will test your comprehension as you read. You can also highlight and annotate the text.
Author’s Bio: Jillian Karger was born in Ohio but has lived in and around New York City for over a decade. Since graduating from NYU in 2009, Jill has had a long string of jobs doing things like scouting books to be adapted for film and researching trivia questions for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”.
She has done freelance writing as well for sites like Cracked.com, and had her Twitter jokes featured on BuzzFeed and funnyordie.com. Jill has also self-published two novels on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Jillian-Karger/e/B07B894DNW).
Follow her blog posts about books and writing advice, read books and publish them for free at: https://www.fictionate.me.