Everyone “Knows” Shakespeare- Or Do They?
“O, like a book of sport thou’lt read me o’er;
But there’s more in me than thou understand’st.”
~ William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida
The balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth’s fateful meeting with the three witches on the moor, and Brutus’s betrayal of Julius Caesar are just a few of the unforgettable scenes in William Shakespeare’s masterpieces. If you know Shakespeare, you will see echoes of his work everywhere; if you haven’t studied him, you will probably miss the significance of many of the allusions that have infiltrated our language and literature. Next to the Bible, the works of Shakespeare are the most necessary reading for cultural literacy.
Like any rich and worthwhile text, a Shakespeare play is challenging. Not only is the language and vocabulary archaic, the plays themselves brim with a multitude of characters, with plots, subplots, and counterplots. Shakespeare packs a lot into a single story! However, there is a way to approach the plays so you can understand and enjoy them. Here is a simple four-step plan:
1- Read a plot summary of the play, so you will know who the characters are, and how they fit into the events of the play. You can find plot summaries in Eyewitness: Shakespeare, along with a lot of information on the historical context in which Shakespeare wrote.
2- Watch the play, either live or on video. I recommend the BBC productions.
3- Read the play. It can be helpful to have an annotated edition, such as the Norton Shakespeare anthology, to define archaic words and clarify historic events.
4- Finally, watch and read the play once more. You’ll find that you get a lot more out of it than you did the first time.
The wonderful thing about Shakespeare is that the more you read each play, the more you will enjoy it. Take time to understand his works, and you’ll find them unforgettable. And you’ll really “know” Shakespeare!
Beat-the-Clock Essay Workshop- July 18. I will post more details at www.EssayWorkshop.com when they are available.
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