Thursday, October 4, 2012

Understanding Shakespeare: 4 Simple Tricks

This semester I was forced to take a 300-level Shakespeare class. It's a requirement for my English major, so I figured I might as well get it out of the way so I don't have to take it senior year.

Is it fun? No. Am I getting through it? Yes, but it's been a painful experience.

For those of you who don't understand Shakespeare either, I thought I'd compose a list of the tricks I'm using to survive the class. These tricks can be applied to any English book that you're required to read.

1. Use Post-It Notes to summarize each page
In class, we go through the plays page by page. I use post-it notes when I'm reading to keep track of all the major events, characters and lines on each page. Not only does this keep me from falling asleep when I'm reading, but it also means I don't have to write all over my rented Shakespeare textbook.

2. After reading, write down a brief summary of each scene
I don't know about you, but these plays are confusing. It's hard to keep track of everything, so right after I'm done doing the reading assignment I write down what I remember about the plot. It's great to study off of for our oh-so-wonderful weekly reading quizzes.

3. Check to see if your interpretation is correct on Sparknotes
Okay, I'll admit it, sometimes I don't do the reading for classes and rely on Sparknotes to help me out. BUT I find that Sparknotes is actually a better tool for when you've done the reading but aren't sure if you understood it or not. For instance, I got completely stumped by a passage in The Merchant of Venice, but Sparknotes helped me get through it by summarizing the meaning of the passage for me. Don't rely on Sparknotes, though--use it sparingly.

4. For help with specific lines, check out No Fear Shakespeare
"No Fear Shakespeare" is a series of books that translate traditional Shakespearian plays into "modern-day" English (Shakespeare technically did write in modern English, but I won't bore you with that story). If there's a specific line that I don't understand, it's great to look up the "modern" translation of it so I can understand it better.

I'm curious: do we have any fans of Shakespeare out there?


  1. I haven't had to read Shakespeare since high school but these were exactly the tricks I would use to master it!

  2. I'm a massive Shakespeare fan! Im actually re-reading macbeth at the moment :) I used to find writing out themes and key quotes showing those themes to be helpful :) if all else fails watching the movie adaptation is a good way to see the overview of the play as a whole. Definitely missing doing English :(


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