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Thread: How to read a Shakespeare play?

  1. #1
    Registered User Like_Herod's Avatar
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    How to read a Shakespeare play?

    By 'read' I don't necessarily mean interpret, but actually how you would read it on a literal level.

    The only Shakespeare play I really know is Othello, having studied it at college. In studying it we read it slowly, analysing and discussing it as a class, picking apart bits that were tough to understand. We also watched several different versions of it to see how it would be performed and produced.

    Now, if I want to pick up a Shakespeare play for my own enjoyment, what would be the best way to read it? If I pick it up and read it straight though I think I may struggle with understanding some of it. Would it be better to start by watching a performance to get a feel for the play?

    I'm interested to hear what others would do.
    The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. The motions of his spirit are dull as night, and his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted.

  2. #2
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    Shakespeare just works.
    You may see the plays, you may already know all that happens (For example Romeo and Juliet), you may have read some version... There is no much rules, except you not stopping to think "how silly, people dont talk like this even then..."

  3. #3
    The Body in the Library Thespian1975's Avatar
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    I'm blogging at the moment on reading shakespeare. I thought about doing them all in a year as I've seen other blogs do but I decided to take a bit more time (probably a month per play) Basically I read it in 3 weeks or so then re-read it in a week.
    It's best to read little and often, taking time for it to sink in and to ask yourself questions.


    As for physically reading the plays, I find reading aloud really works and the words take on a life of there own when spoken. You find where the stresses are and brings deeper meaning to them .

    My blog is in it's infancy so come join me reading shakespeare.


    http://readingshakespeare.wordpress.com/

  4. #4
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Get a student version that has a glossary. It even explains to you what's happened on each page. After that, watch a film version and maybe do some background reading.

  5. #5
    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    It's fun to follow along a faithful adaptation (the BBC has done a number of them that are only slightly abridged if at all). Shakespeare, for me at least, is easier to follow in performance than just reading it. At times, when reading the first time through it can be hard to concentrate on the beauty of it while you're focused on just working out the plot.

    Sometimes watching a play has completely reversed my opinion of it, I never quite got King Lear until I watched it.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
    - Margaret Atwood

  6. #6
    Registered User My2cents's Avatar
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    Obviously you're reading Shakespeare for the poetry but you have to see it--the poetry-- in its context--the drama of the play--and because of the archaic syntax that can be a chore. Watching a film (of a play) will help, but really there's only one way to really get a handle: close, multiple readings of the play(s).

  7. #7
    Registered User Like_Herod's Avatar
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    Thanks for the suggestions - I'm starting with Hamlet as I have a Penguin copy that has a commentary to go with it, which looks to be helpful. After reading it I'll look to see it and study it a bit closer. Slow and careful reading definitely seems to be the key to a proper understanding/appreciation.

    Thespian - I'm not sure I'll try anything as ambitious as reading all of them just yet, but will certainly read your blog to see how you're getting along. Out of interest, where in Hampshire are you based? I live in Portsmouth
    The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. The motions of his spirit are dull as night, and his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted.

  8. #8
    Shakespearean xman's Avatar
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    I just read them, but there can be no doubt in my mind that they are better read aloud in a group. Everybody gets assigned some roles to read (even at the start of each scene and the roles can change from scene to scene) and you all read together. It's great fun, you get to hang out with some friends for a few hours and share some wine and cheese or whatever, even talk about it after and maybe clear up the muddy parts that you didn't quite get, but someone else did. Give it a try.
    He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher... or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. ~ Douglas Adams

  9. #9
    I like love poems
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    Find summaries to get a gist of the plays

    Hi Herod, I would read a few summaries of some of the famous plays like macbeth, king lear, henry V to see if you like the look at them.
    Having said that, Hamlet is probably the most interesting to start with anyway, so I'd stick with that
    If you like, I wrote a short and humorous summary of Romeo and Juliet in my blog. Its mostly for fun, but you can get a gist of the themes of tragedy in the play.
    Check it out at Shakespeare love poems - Shakespeare for kids
    Last edited by shakeyourspeare; 08-30-2011 at 05:53 PM.
    Who likes Shakespeare love poems?

    http://www.shakespearelovepoems.com

  10. #10
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    I may be against the "Shakespeare reads itself" conception, but you can actually enjoy and value his works more with some basic knowledge of his era. This will make it more complex, but if you ever have the time, it can be useful. If it gets in the way of your enjoyment, just don't.
    My blog about literature (in spanish): http://otrasbentilaciones.wordpress.com/

  11. #11
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    I am in the midst of reading all of Shakespeare's plays (I have 10 left) and have devised a great approach in getting as much out of the play as possible. It's time consuming, but I feel satisfied about really understanding each play by doing it this way. Here are my steps:

    1) Read the summary (Sparknotes, Wikipedia, etc.) for the plot and characters. I don't read Shakespeare to be surprised by the plot, so I don't feel like I'm ruining the experience. The language is tough sometimes, so knowing crucial points about what is happening helps me gets through the text.

    2) I highly recommend the Arden edition for the text of the play. I first read the dense introduction of Arden with all the interpretations, themes, etc. The text itself is packed with footnotes that covers vocabulary and it also gives you great scholarly perspectives that provide a much richer read.

    3) After reading the text, watch the play online, DVD, etc. BBC productions of most of the plays are available online and on DVD. I usually watch the play with the text in hand. Watching it live as I'm re-reading the text gives me a fuller understanding. The play was meant to be watched, after all, not read, so it's good seeing the words in action, so to speak. Of course, seeing it live is even better.

    4) Read other scholarly work about the play. Marjorie Garber's "Shakespeare After All" is a great supplement to my reading experience. She's a Harvard professor and has devoted a chapter for each play. Harvard Courses online has about 15 of her discussions about his plays online:

    http://www.extension.harvard.edu/ope...arjorie-garber

    Also recommended is Harold Bloom's "Shakespeare - The Invention of the Human," although Bloom is a bit curmudgeony for some.

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