How to Read Shakespeare- A Student’s Guide

Hello everyone, I missed you dearly, but I had a very refreshing vacation. My family went to Stratford, Ontario and saw a couple of Shakespeare plays, because that’s what a family as intensely nerdy as my own does for a good time. We saw a pretty decent Hamlet and Taming of the Shrew, both plays I’ve seen versions of before. It got me thinking. Because being the spawn of literary nerds, one of whom teaches Shakespeare year after year, means I’ve seen a great number of Shakespeare plays performed on stage, probably more than I’ve had to read in the classroom.

All this experience has led to me forming opinions, of all things, about what leads to the best, fullest experience of Shakespeare for the average student. There are loads of ways people try to make reading Shakespeare easier. I, as an English student, can only greatly appreciate these aids. The No-Fear Shakespeare books and comic book adaptations of Shakespeare’s works do help make these prestigious plays more approachable, and I certainly can recommend them. In all honesty though, reading comics or “translations” of Shakespeare’s works is helpful, but in my personal experience, not necessarily the best way to get a hold of his plays. Strangely enough, the best advice I can give to struggling students looking to find a way to read through this or that Shakespeare play is don’t read it.

No, I’m not encouraging you to give up on passing English Lit or becoming a cultural fancy-pants altogether. In this case though, I really think the best way to get through Shakespeare is to cave into that lazy student instinct and watch the movie version. Shakespeare’s plays are… plays after all. Watching them performed is, arguably, a more authentic experience of the art form, which is a fun little pretentious card I encourage you to play on your teacher. Even more important though, a passage that seems like a lot of confusing wind on paper can become much more clear with the emotional force of a performing actor behind it.

Don’t throw away that book though, unless you’ve got some serious experience with Shakespearean language. I’m relatively proficient in those poetic turns of phrase and obscurely ancient sexual innuendos, but for a while I needed assistance. Keeping a book on hand to read any words you didn’t pick up or explain truly confusing references or phrases in the book’s footnotes.

There are loads of film adaptations of Shakespeare’s works and some are certainly better than others. Some edit the script down more than others too. I’ve watched quite a few film adaptations of various Shakespeare plays, but I’m not nearly capable enough to write you a whole comprehensive list of these films. In all honesty, more than half of it would just be what Wikipedia and IMDb tell me anyhow. For the best results, I recommend asking your English teacher their opinions about which Hamlet or Macbeth is superior. Frame it as I have here, a desire not to cut corners on homework but to more fully understand the work and you’ll no doubt earn some serious brownie points and valuable advice.

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