Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Expos 20 | Why Shakespeare?

Fall 2020 edition


Welcome!  This research guide has been designed for student in Jeffrey Wilson's "Why Shakespeare," a Fall 2021 Expository Writing class. 

 The resources and strategies described in the sections below are specifically targeted toward Essays 2 and 3: they offer you ways to explore backgrounds, understand Shakespeare's artistry, and identify critical conversations about his works that have been produced by literary scholars.

Remember that good research is often about following up on hunches, testing out a hypothesis and then seeing where else (or to what else) it leads. You may need to try several search combinations before you strike gold. 

Please reach out to me, as your work gets underway with questions big or small. We'll triage by email or set up a time to sit down for a longer research conversation. 

Enjoy your research adventure!  

Sue Gilroy, Librarian for Undergraduate Writing Programs, Lamont Library Room 210

Image, above left: Hamlet's famous line, in the world's languages. Image originally appeared on Shakespeare Standard.

HOLLIS in a Nutshell



1.  Understand what HOLLIS is.

HOLLIS combines the extensive contents of our library catalog, the record every item owned by every Harvard Library with those of another, large and multidisciplinary database of journal, newspaper, and magazine articles. 

When you search "everything"  -- the system default --  your results represent content from both databases together, at once.  You can make different choices, however before or after you execute a search, if you want to view "library catalog" content separately.

2. Know how to work HOLLIS.

Creating search strings with some of the techniques below can help you get better results up front. 



3. Take control of your HOLLIS results.

While the broad and panoramic approach to searching HOLLIS can be mind-opening, you can sometimes find yourself overwhelmed by either the numbers or types of results your search returns.

When that happens, try one of these easy tricks:


  Limit your Everything search results set just to the items listed in the LIBRARY CATALOG.

Your numbers will immediately get smaller. Keep in mind, though, that the results will be heavily weighted toward book-length studies.


  Limit your Everything search results set to items that are identified as PEER REVIEWED ARTICLES.

You'll eliminate newspaper and magazine materials as well as books, of course, but you'll also raise the visibility of scholarly journal articles in what displays. 


  Think about limiting your results to publications from the last 5, 10, 15, or 20 years.

By doing so you'll get a snapshot of the most recent research trends and scholarly approaches in a field (or around a particular issue).


Your "default" approach to searching Harvard's catalog, HOLLIS, is probably similar to your Google approach: enter some words, see what comes up, then try again or improve from there. 

But BROWSING in the catalog is an under-appreciated research strategy, especially when you're trying to discover your interest. It helps you see how writing ABOUT an author, an idea, an event, etc. has been broken down and categorized. So instead of getting the typical list of titles, you see results in terms of sub-topics. Inspiration may lie there!


Open HOLLIS. Click on the  link above the search box. Then select SUBJECT. 

hollis browse search for subject shakespeare, william 1565-1616 with partial results displayed on click.\

 What does a Browse search give you? Click on the  image above to find out! 



Browsing subject headings lists can teach you a lot about searching, because they rely on standardized language and standard ways of qualifying or further describing a give subject.




Scan and Deliver

When an article you find in HOLLIS is not owned at Harvard, or is available in a printed journal volume but not online, you can ask us to make a PDF for you through a service called Scan and Deliver.

We'll send you an email when it's ready for downloading, typically between 1 and 4 days after you place the request. Scan and Deliver is a free service to Harvard affiliates.

Scan and Deliver is also an option if you want up to two chapters of any Harvard-owned book digitized for your use.  


What should you do if a book you find in HOLLIS and want to use is:

  • checked out to someone else;
  • declared missing or lost  in the catalog record you are looking at (alas, it happens);
  • on order (that is, coming into the library collection but not yet arrived at Harvard); or
  • in process (that is, it's arrived at Harvard but some final things are being done to get it read for the "stacks," our word for the library shelves)?

In every one of these cases,  open the full item record and look for the BORROW DIRECT option toward the bottom of the screen (under the GET IT information and just before the call number). Follow the prompts from there.

We'll get a copy of the book for you, within 4 days, from another university library. 

If the item is "in process" we'll expedite the process of getting the book ready for use and you'll be quickly notified by email. 




Finding Context: Resources for Essay 2


OED (Oxford English Dictionary)

WHY USE IT: The OED has been "the last word on words for over a century" -- the authoritative source on the English language. 

It provides you with the meaning, history, and pronunciation of 600,000 words— past and present—from across the English-speaking world. 

As a historical dictionary, the OED is very different from dictionaries of current English, in which the focus is on present-day meanings. You’ll still find present-day meanings in the OED, but you’ll also find the history of individual words, and of the language—traced through 3 million quotations, from classic literature and specialist periodicals to film scripts and cookery books.

In the OED, You can find out when and where words are known to have first appeared, when they changed meanings, when some meanings became obsolete, when words disappeared entirely from usage. 

FUN FACT: Shakespeare is the second most quoted authority for word meanings after the London Times: 32,677 times.  From this page, you can find out lots of data -- like which plays are most quoted in the OED.  


The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: William Shakespeare

WHY USE IT: The DNB is to English lives what the OED is to words: an authoritative, scholarly reference source.  It supplies detailed information on the men and women who have shaped British history and culture, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century.

Shakespeare's entry synthesizes some of the most important biographical studies of the playwright, places him with his own time -- and in ours, by tracing his influence, afterlives on stage, film, literature and the popular imagination. 


Oxford Reference Library

WHY USE IT: Sometimes you'll need something other than Wikipedia to get deep background, reliable facts, and trusted next-step research leads. 

In academic work, provenance -- the source of a source-- always matters. A press like Oxford or Cambridge (or Harvard or Yale, for example), which has built up a reputation for accuracy and scholarly excellence carries weight.  Scholars tend to regard encyclopedia entries by other, known scholars more than a crowd-sourced non-scholarly alternative, even when the facts that each presents might be essentially the same.

When calibrating your sources to your audience is essential, trade up from Wikipedia. Oxford Reference will supply overviews, quick definitions, long and detailed discussions, timelines, and more.


New Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare (2011), ed. Margreta De Grazia and Stanley Wells

WHY USE IT: Companions (often called "handbooks") are an important way that scholars help you understand the contours of a subject (in this case, Shakespeare). They contain essays that are usually carefully constructed around key themes and areas of discussion and debate.  

The New Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare contains 43 specially commissioned chapters on the critical reception of his work, its "afterlife" in popular culture, the reception, performance and "globalization" of the author and his plays.N


The Oxford Handbook of Shakespearean Tragedy (2016), ed. Michael Neill and David Schalkwyk

WHY USE IT: For many of the same reasons we recommend the New Cambridge Companion, above.  Its 54 essays are targeted to one genre in the Shakespeare canon. 

Finding Scholarly Conversations: Databases We Recommend for Essay 3


Oxford Bibliographies Online 

WHAT IT IS: This is a Harvard database that's entirely composed of annotated bibliographies on subjects, persons, phenomena, and events that are being studied across the social sciences and humanties fields  Think of OBOs as curated reading lists to help you choose wisely and efficiently  among the books, journal articles, and other sources of academic study, conversation or debate.  

WHY USE IT: In the early stages of research, it's often hard to tell one item from another in terms of its value, to know what to read, or which authors have been most influential in the scholarly conversation. OBO's address that problem much more authoritatively and much less haphazardly than Wikipedia links do: OBOs identify key texts for you to know about, key terms, and top scholars engaging with these ideas. Any item you find in an OBO can be checked against HOLLIS, just by copying and pasting the article or book title into a HOLLIS search screen. 

Shakespeare has two entries in the OBO, which you can  look at here: 

  • Shakespeare  (authored by Andrew Hadfield and Amy Kenny) 
  • Shakespeare (authored by David Bevington)  


WHAT IT IS: A trusted collection of some of the core journals in a wide array of humanities, social science, and science fields. Some of you may experience searching it from high school and know it as a go-to source for peer-reviewed articles. 

WHY CONSIDER IT: You'll get both literary-focused scholarship on Shakespeare and some interdisciplinary studies that might be pertinent -- or add depth and nuance to the question you decide to explore.

SOMETHING TO KNOW: Very recent content is often not available here, so you might need to try your search also in one of the scholarly databases listed below, just to make sure you're not missing an important voice or development in the scholarly conversation.

MLA (Modern Language Association) International Bibliography  

WHY CONSIDER IT: Every academic discipline has at least one database that's considered the gold standard for getting at the secondary source literature (i.e., scholarship). For literature across time periods, languages, and genres, MLA is that great resource. 

It covers lots of other things, too: folklore, popular culture, film and television, drama ancient and modern. Shakespeare will be well-represented in the searches you do.  We recommend you search it as part of your research for Essay 3, given its importance and the likelihood you'll find ample scholarship there. 

SOMETHING TO KNOW: MLA doesn't always provides summaries of the articles it helps you identify, so if a title seems somewhat promising, also look at the SUBJECTS as additional evidence of its fit for you.  MLA doesn't always provide the full-text of articles you find, either.  Look for a TRY HARVARD LiBRARY in those instances.  Or just copy the title of the article (or book) and paste into HOLLIS. 

World Shakespeare Bibliography

WHY CONSIDER IT:  It's entirely devoted to the Shakespeare canon  and international in scope, and the WSB provides entries for all important books, articles, book reviews, and other scholarly and popular materials published since 1960.

Try keyword searching the same way you in HOLLIS. For example:  shakespeare AND "king lear" AND adaptation

You can also browse in broad categories, like language, performance studies, sources, etc

SOMETHING TO KNOW: There's no full text linked from this database, but the work-around is simple: article and book titles can be searched in HOLLIS. If you've got a book chapter, the safest bet is to search the title of the book it appears in. 


Google Scholar

WHY CONSIDER IT: Its interface is familiar, its contents are current, and it searches full-text, which can be an advantage when you've got a very narrow topic or are seeking a "nugget" that traditional database searching can't surface easily. 

Scholar incorporates more types of information -- not just books and journal contents-- and depending on your need, comfort level, and perspective, that eclecticism can be an advantage. 

Scholar is perfectly acceptable for most general forays into scholarship; its algorithms are excellent and do return relevant results.  Occasionally, you'll get an undergrad paper masquerading as a scholarly source (that's a bot error!), but those are easy enough to recognize. 


SOMETHING TO KNOW: As with other databases described in this section, you can copy and paste the titles of books and articles right into HOLLIS to locate them.  You can also change your settings in GS to save you that step with (most) articles.  Directions are here