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Thread: Beginner working with Shakespeare, advice needed!

  1. #1
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    Beginner working with Shakespeare, advice needed!

    Hi all!

    I'm a student from a non-english speaking country. In the last year of school here, every student is supposed to do a large project whith your "main area" included as structure or as a theme. Mine is social studies/languages/humanism.

    For the past week I have been thinking of what I would like to do and what would be interesting enough to last the very long project (time wise) that it actually is.

    I've always been a keen reader and I've always wanted to read Shakespeare at some time in life, aswell. I realized that this would be an excellent time to dwelve into Shakespeare's plays (in english, of course) and I would like som advice and/or guidance from people who are big fans of his. I know I want to read and analyze more than one play (preferably the "best" ones) but I also need an area of focus which coincides with my "main area".

    What I now need from you are suggestions of plays to use in my project (around three should suffice) and suggestions on what path I should choose.

    (e.g "Shakespeare's influence on modern psychology", "Shakespeare's use of advanced psychology in his characters", "a beginner experiencing Shakespeare", "themes in Shakespeare and their relevance in modern society")

    To sum it all up, this is what I would really appreciate from you guys:
    Advice on good plays.
    Advice on working with and analyzing texts of Shakespeare.
    Suggestions of "themes" for the project that would fit a student with social studies/languages/humanism as his main area.

    Though I have not yet decided that this is what I'll do, (the project starts after the summer break) I think it would be fun and any inspiration you could give me would be worth everything!

    Cheers!
    //winterwarmth

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    King Lear is very bound up in a social, political, and historical context. Viewed as an allegory, it comments on differing philosophical attitudes towards society, and the moral characters that result from these attitudes. On the one hand, we have the Lear, Edgar, Cordelia, et al group holding the medieval attitude which puts society before the individual, and on the other, we have the Edmund, Goneril, Regan group holding a new Renaissance attitude which does the opposite. Unsurprisingly, with the high emphasis on "individualism" we have today, these characters in the latter camp, especially Edmund, are viewed in a strange light; while it is clear that he is an amoral character with his Machiavellian duplicity, many people today cannot help but sympathize with his rationale. When the play was originally shown, given societal values at that time, we can guess that he would have been a less awkward character. At any rate, analyzing modern reactions to the plays can give us insight about the time period wherein they were written.

    Freud and other psychologists have offered interesting interpretations of the characters. I am not keen on whether or not Shakespeare actually influenced Freud (and thus the rest of psychology), but he was definitely reading Shakespeare.

    Moreover, the story of Lear was loosely derived from history and historical texts (like many of his best tragedies), and thus adds another interesting dimension to the work.

    Anyways, I have to go for now but I'll add more later.
    Last edited by Cunninglinguist; 03-18-2011 at 04:34 PM.
    Dare to know

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    Registered User marlowe01267's Avatar
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    I am not fond of approaching Shakespeare with some particular theme or application in mind. It's a little like going to Paris for the first time with the idea that all you want to look at are rooftops. Nevertheless, let me make a suggestion of two.

    Shakespeare treats the idea of madness in several of his plays. Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear are perhaps the richest. They also represent three (or at least two) of his greatest works.

    If magic is the other side of madness, (illusions imposed upon characters by other characters) then Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest come to mind.

    If your field can include politics, well, they are everywhere, starting, perhaps with Julius Caesar, Henry IV (parts I and II), and Anthony and Cleopatra.

    Marlowe

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    Registered User marlowe01267's Avatar
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    Madness and Politics

    I am not fond of approaching Shakespeare with some particular theme or application in mind. It's a little like going to Paris for the first time with the idea that all you want to look at are rooftops. Nevertheless, let me make a suggestion of two.

    Shakespeare treats the idea of madness in several of his plays. Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear are perhaps the richest. They also represent three (or at least two) of his greatest works.

    If magic is the other side of madness, (illusions imposed upon characters by other characters) then Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest come to mind.

    If your field can include politics, well, they are everywhere, starting, perhaps with Julius Caesar, Henry IV (parts I and II), and Anthony and Cleopatra.

    Marlowe

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    Quote Originally Posted by marlowe01267 View Post
    I am not fond of approaching Shakespeare with some particular theme or application in mind. It's a little like going to Paris for the first time with the idea that all you want to look at are rooftops. Nevertheless, let me make a suggestion of two.

    Marlowe
    Fortunately, I'm not going to study only the rooftops. I intend to experience the whole of Paris to the best of my ability. However when it comes to the written part of the project, I think I will have to limit myself to the rooftops. Luckily, I've heard there are some great rooftops over there, Notre Dame among others. =)

    If we ignore the applications of a certain theme, what plays would you recommend in general as "must-reads"? Also, what play(s) would you recommend as a "warm up" read?
    Thank you for your advice!

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    In the probable order that they were written:

    A Midsummer Night's Dream
    Romeo and Juliet
    The Merchant of Venice
    Hamlet
    Othello
    King Lear
    Macbeth
    Tempest
    Dare to know

  7. #7
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    I would probably go with Romeo and Juliet. Love and psychology are easy to write about

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    The Body in the Library Thespian1975's Avatar
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    Julius Caesar

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    Registered User ralfyman's Avatar
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    The references to madness, magic, and politics are part of themes.

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    Shakespearean xman's Avatar
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    I recommend Henry V, Romeo & Juliet and King Lear. Perhaps more than any other plays they show us Shakespeare's perception of Elizabethan morality. All have characters who are clearly pursuing virtuous ends in difficult circumstances and Romeo & Juliet has the added advantage of having some of the most poetic language ever written anywhere.

    Avoid Othello, Merchant of Venice and Taming of the Shrew. They're difficult, largely misunderstood and overanalysed.

    Find out about Iambic Pentameter and other classical poetic forms and pay close attention to Shakespeare's use of imagery.
    He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. ~ Douglas Adams

  11. #11
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    If you're doing social studies, you could perhaps look at power- how each society in the play is governed. That leaves you a pick of the Histories (they're not really my thing as my knowledge of monarchs is rather poor, but Richard III is good). Julius Caesar would be a good example- lots of political rhetoric in there and easy to draw parallels with modern society- and Measure for Measure would also make a good study. What is the effect of trying to eradicate vice?

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    www.yourdailyshakespeare.com

    You may want to visit the site
    www.yourdailyshakspeare.com
    for a new angle on Shakespeare's use and quotations

  13. #13
    King of Dreams MorpheusSandman's Avatar
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    As for advice on working with/analyzing the texts, the best advice is to get a good critical text to start with. Shakespeare is so rich that one really needs more than one version of his best plays. Those produced by Oxford, Norton, and, especially, Arden all offer a lot of critical essays and insight into how critics throughout the years have viewed these plays. Arden's are probably the most thorough and respected, but Norton and Oxford are great as well.

    As for advice on themes, narrowing it down to broad categories like "social studies, language, and humanism" isn't really narrowing it down at all. Shakespearean language is a topic all its own. If you're really interested in language, then Love's Labour's Lost is probably his richest in that regard. In terms of social studies, the History Plays all have a lot of social interest in their study of the relationship between kings and lower classes. Works like As You Like it and Twelfth Night explore gender themes. You could look at madness in Macbeth, Leer, and Hamlet. The latter has the advantage of being three of his best plays, but studies of madness in Shakespeare have become a bit cliched these days.

    As for "advice on good plays," one really isn't hurting for choices from The Bard, but it may be interesting to look into some of his more neglected plays like Coriolanus, Troilus & Cressida, Measure for Measure etc. as they haven't been exhausted quite like the major works have.
    "As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being." --Carl Gustav Jung

    "To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the devil his due." --Neil Gaiman; The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists

    "I'm on my way, from misery to happiness today. Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh" --The Proclaimers

  14. #14
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    For a beginner, it might be best to get "school" versions of the plays rather than academic versions, which can be a bit daunting. The school versions (I think the Cambridge series is the one I used) guide you through the text and provide you with interesting questions, as well as giving you some photos from productions of the play.

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