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by coureurdebois

Tips on studying Shakespeare

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Studying Shakespeare need not be intimidating. Fear not the Bard of Avon.

Knowing a few basic facts can put this great writer in perspective and open the door to the world of Shakespeare and the height of the Renaissance.

Read out loud. Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be heard.
Read out loud. Shakespeare’s plays were
meant to be heard.

  • William Shakespeare was born and died in England.
  • Put Shakespeare in context - it all happened "right around 1600: William Shakespeare wrote mostly during the period ten years before and after 1600. Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603. King James I became King of England in 1604. The colony at Jamestown was founded in 1608. The King James Bible was published in 1611. Shakespeare died in 1616. The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.
  • “Shakespeare” often means “the writings of William Shakespeare.”
  • Shakespeare is not written in “Old English.” It’s actually considered early modern English. If it were actually written in Old English (Anglo Saxon), you might think it was German.
  • Shakespeare was still writing at the same time the King James Version of the Bible was being written (1604-1611). No wonder they sound similar.
  • If you read Shakespeare’s writings according to punctuation - not according to lines - the poems and plays will sound more natural and be easier to understand.
  • Read out loud. Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be heard. And his poems will also make more sense out in the open air.
  • Don’t bother to try to assume a modern British accent when reading Shakespeare. Besides, research has indicated that the English of Shakespeare’s day probably sounded more like modern American English, with all the hard “r” sounds, etc.
  • The use of “thee,” “thou,” and “thine” wasn’t considered a sophisticated, polite, or sanctimonious way of speaking back in Shakespeare’s day. It was common as mud. The English language just hadn’t quite transitioned to the common usage of “you” and “your” that is currently normal.
  • Shakespeare is full of puns. Enjoy the wordplay as the Bard takes on both heavy and hilarious themes.