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Tips for Reading and Understanding Shakespeare

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/17/2012

So your class has been going through Romeo & Juliet for what seems like weeks but you still don't understand what's going on? Have you tried reading the play? Follow these tips to understanding Shakespeare's language and writing style, and find further help with in-depth study guides.

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    Uncle Trentie's Tips for Reading Shakespeare

    I'm sure your literature textbook and your teacher has gone over this in class, but I've simplified them for easier remembrance. Here I present to you Uncle Trentie's tips for reading Shakespeare.

    1. Open the book. I know this sounds complicated, but it's a lot easier reading the book when it's opened.
    2. Read a summary first. "And ruin the plot?" you ask. Since you're not going to understand what you read, you won't be ruining anything.
    3. There's more to Shakespeare (and great literature) than plot. Shakespeare is considered the greatest playwrite, not because of his plots, which he "borrowed" from others, but because of the way he uses the language.
    4. Don't try to get it all the first time. So what if you miss something. There's enough there for everyone to enjoy.
    5. Listen or watch. They are plays. Plays are meant to be heard and seen.
    6. Find a study guide. There's this thing called the Internet that has all sorts of literature study guides. There are great ones at brighthub, sparknotes, and bookrags. No Fear Shakespeare contains a modern day translation to the side of the actual play.

    Most teachers will have you read Shakespeare in class. Here are some tips for in class reading.

    1. Nod your head a lot, especially when your teacher seems emotional.
    2. Turn the page when everybody else does.
    3. Volunteer for a really short part so you don't get stuck with a long part.
    4. Read according to punctuation.
    5. Read with emotion. Even if you butcher the lines, your teacher will appreciate the effort and your classmates will get a good laugh.
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    Shakespeare Study Guide Links

    Romeo and Juliet - Is there anyone alive who hasn't been forced to read this in high school by a teacher who thinks there is nothing more important in your life than the balcony scene? Get a leg up with the Romeo and Juliet study guide. The study guide contains a scene by scene summary of the play, important quotes, five major themes, an analysis of each character, and a sample practice quiz. There are also great Romeo and Juliet lesson plans you can give to your teacher so your class isn't so boring.

    Julius Caesar - Find out what motivates Brutus, why Julius Caesar gets killed, and what Marc Antony does about it with the Julius Caesar study guide. Preview the play with a summary; impress your friends with important quotes; analyze characters while on a date; interpret figurative language during lunch; or review study questions three minutes before a test. There are also great Julius Caesar lesson plans you can give to your teacher so your class isn't so boring.

    A Midsummer Night's Dream - Find out about all the goings-on in the forest with A Midsummer Night's Dream Study Guide. It includes an overview of the play and a character analysis.

    Shakespeare's Famous Tragedies:

    Hamlet - Hamlet's father haunts his former haunts. Death ensues. Learn more with this study guide.

    Macbeth - Macbeth gets a little carried away on his quest for power. Read all about his rise and fall in this guide.

    King Lear - If you thought Hamlet and Macbeth were insane, wait to you read about King Lear.

Literature Study Guides

Learn about all those books and plays you were supposed to read last semester.
  1. Tips for Reading and Understanding Shakespeare
  2. Study Guides for Important Novels
  3. Poetry Analysis Study Guides: A Collection