How to Read Shakespeare Effectively

2:08 AM Lokesh kumar 0 Comments

Reading Shakespeare is a challenge for most high school students. In fact, students generally struggle with the Shakespeare unit more than they do with any other English unit. This is not much of a surprise: Shakespeare is filled with archaic language and complex plot elements. These things can act as barriers that prevent true understanding. However, I have some advice for overcoming the difficulties of Shakespeare so that you can really appreciate and enjoy his plays. After all, Shakespeare’s plays would not have survived for so long if they were not enjoyable!
  1. Summarize in Your Own Words
After you finish reading a character’s part, go back and summarize what they said in your own words. This will help you to keep better track of what is going on. Make sure to have a handy glossary or dictionary (like the OED) by your side as you do this. Devote extra attention to a character’s monologues and soliloquys, as key moments of insight often occur here. If you take the time to summarize each character’s part in your own words, you will be amazed by how much clearer the play suddenly becomes.

  1. Evaluate the Main Points and Ideas
After you finish reading each scene, make brief notes on the main points that occur. What important events take place? What new ideas come up? Which new characters are introduced, and what do they add to the play? Making notes on all of these things will help you engage with the play as you are reading it; you will start noticing patterns and motifs, and you will have a better awareness of important details that you might have otherwise missed.

  1. Look for Themes
Each Shakespeare play has at least 4-5 important themes that you need to be aware of. Some examples of the common themes that you might find are: “masculinity and femininity,” “appearance vs. reality,” “madness,” “religious tension,” “free will vs. fate,” and “attitudes towards love” – but there are many more. After you finish each act, note down the main themes that come up and compile a list of quotations that link back to these themes. This will help you understand the bigger picture of the play – i.e. the lessons or insights that we can gain from reading it.

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