What are some tips for reading and understanding Shakespeare?

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  1. melbel profile image95
    melbelposted 6 years ago

    What are some tips for reading and understanding Shakespeare?

  2. polyglot profile image60
    polyglotposted 6 years ago

    Thank you for asking and hopefully my answer will be good! For me, I think the best way to read Shakespeare is to read him many times. What do I mean by this? For instance, if you are interested in  Lear or Richard II,etc. read the play once(reading aloud is really beneficial for Shakespeare) just to get a sense of everything. After you have read it once, dwell on specific instances that resonated with you. Whether those instances are the poeticality of the drama, the character progression, historical, philosophical, etc. Then, read it again. And after that again. I know it might sound like I am over emphasizing how much you should read it, but I think that if one wants to make any sort of argument about their interpretation or what the play "means," it will really only be validated if one has read it more than their opposition. For instance, when I was writing my essay of Kafka's The Judgment, I read it 4 times in English and 5 times in the German, and the story is only about 15 pages long. Moreover, you should NOT merely read essays about the play, but rather Literary theory. I believe that a strong theoretical backing will allow the reader a deeper insight, and by this I mean more than a reading based purely off of emotions, into the text.
    I hope I helped. If you have more questions I would love to answer them. And thanks for reading my Hub!

  3. Janis Goad profile image90
    Janis Goadposted 6 years ago

    Shakespeare's work stays alive after all these centuries because it's full of amazing stories, compelling characters, and drama of everyday life told in beautiful language.  However, for many modern readers it is hard to get past the archaic language and see the real story.  I think one of the best ways to understand the plays is to see them performed in live theatre, and to watch films, not only contemporary versions with modernized language but also classic BBC  versions that perform the five act plays in the full Shakespearean dialogue.  A few of my favourites are Imogen Stubbs in Twelfth Night, Emma Thompson in Much Ado About Nothing, and Helen Mirren in As You Like It.  I am looking forward to seeing Helen Mirren's new interpretation of The Tempest.

    Once you are familiar with the story and characters, and can grasp some of the nuances in the conflicts and political setting of the stories, it is easier to start reading the original texts.  Then Polygot's advice is good--read them a lot, over and over, and read them out loud.  As you become familiar, the langauge starts to make sense.

    Shakespeare wrote for performance, not for a reading public.  Seeing his work performed is the best way to understand it.  A reading appreciation can come later.  His plays are deep and resonate on a million levels of meaning that build on a turn of a phrase.  They are worth reading over and over.  I find as I move through life I bring my own experience to my understanding of the plays and find resonance with different characters at different stages of life. 

    Shakespeare is definitely a writer not to read once and toss aside with, "Oh, I already read that."  I find there is always something new to discover.  Stay with it, re-read and take your time.

  4. FIS profile image75
    FISposted 6 years ago

    Read copies of his work that are specifically published for students and that are annotated in such a way as to point out the meaning of words on a line by line basis. Many words that Shakespeare uses are no longer in usage so most of us don't know what they mean. Many other words no longer hold the same meaning as they did five hundred years ago. Shakespeare's  use of language is beautiful and poetic but understanding it can be difficult for someone who hasn't already studied it.

  5. profile image0
    Poetic Foolposted 6 years ago

    Purists would kill me for suggesting this but there are books available of Shakespeare's works with the original text on one page and then modern English version on the opposing page.  I found these quite helpful, especially when dealing with phrasings, imagery and colloquialisms that aren't in use today.  I've seen a couple of such books at larger book stores.

  6. wonderingwoolley profile image59
    wonderingwoolleyposted 6 years ago

    No Fear Shakespeare. It's like the other comments say- the original text is on one side, the translation into modern English is on the other. We used these in my IB English class because once you understand what's going on, you can analyze his words and style a lot faster, and easier, because you know what he meant to say. It might not be the "purist" way, but it really makes Shakespeare accessible. Also, they're like 5 bucks a piece, so totally affordable, and you can find them in the play section of your local Barnes& Noble. Good luck!

    P.S. King Lear is so much better in this version- almost funny if it weren't so tragic!

  7. Cardia profile image95
    Cardiaposted 6 years ago

    I'm currently reading two Shakespeare plays for Literature class - King Richard III and Twelfth Night/What You Will.
    Like other answers are saying, the No Fear Shakespeare by Sparknotes has saved me countless times when studying Shakespeare. Also, I've found many online guides to all acts and scenes.
    The books that I've gotten at school are ones called the 'Arden Shakespeare' which have footnotes at the bottom of each page, explaining certain words or phrases, and even the context that it was written in at the time. This has help tremendously.

  8. Suzie ONeill profile image69
    Suzie ONeillposted 6 years ago

    Read the footnotes! wink

    Shakespeare is notorious for referring to things, people, and events that a contemporary audience would recognize, but the references are lost on a modern audience. The footnotes are a life saver!

  9. profile image0
    WordsAreStrengthposted 6 years ago

    Start with one of the easier ones, like "Midsummer Night's Dream". Also you could try to get one of those "no fear Shakespeare" editions. They have the real lines on one page and a 20th century translation on other. Also, watch a movie version or two. I recommend "Much Ado About Nothing" with Emma Thompson. It takes practice to understand Shakespeare so just give it a go. Oh and the easiest of the tragedies to read I htink is "Otherllo". Just give it a go!

  10. DzyMsLizzy profile image96
    DzyMsLizzyposted 6 years ago

    Just remember this:  Shakespeare's works were written as performance pieces, as others have said.
    With that in mind, if you cannot go see one of the plays that bring the work to life, and are  reading it on your own or in a class, the best way to bring it alive is to read it aloud.  It is meant to be spoken language.
    Even if you  are reading by yourself, read it aloud.  Become each different character; be the play; change "stage" positions as you play out the characters' lines.  Make if fun.
    Likewise, in a class situation, each class member should perform a character, speaking the lines aloud.  Move the desks out of the way; create a stage space. Become the characters--get into their "headspace."  Reading a short synopsis of the play first will help with this.
    Most of all--have fun with it!

  11. profile image0
    Website Examinerposted 6 years ago

    Fellow Hubber Danielle Farrow has written a hub in response to this question. She was having technical difficulties linking to it, so here is the link:

    http://daniellefarrow.hubpages.com/hub/ … hakespeare

  12. FatFreddysCat profile image98
    FatFreddysCatposted 6 years ago

    When I was in college I was required to take a semester of Shakespeare as part of my English major. I had never cared for The Bard during high school so at first this was not an appealing idea to me at all.

    I struggled at first but then on a whim I went to the campus library and looked through the stacks of records (this was in the mid 80s when 'records' were still the norm, by the way) and found that performances of several of the plays we were covering in class were available on LP. So I borrowed these records and while reading the play, I would listen to the performance on headphones. Hearing the plays "acted out" went a long way to helping me "get" Shakespeare from that point on.

  13. Godzangel profile image60
    Godzangelposted 6 years ago

    Try to understand the emotion(s) the piece provokes within you, then try to apply it to what may be going on within the writing.  A good idea is to look at interpretations on his earlier works and you should see a pattern.  What I get from Shakespeare is a feeling of being heartbroken without answers. However, each person may see something different. You may have to read it multiple times and don't be surprised if you get something different each time that you read it.

  14. profile image57
    Brianna Stuartposted 6 years ago

    NoFearShakespeare.com, I believe this website will help you with understanding his work.


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