365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

243. How to study Shakespeare

with one comment

I am a self-confessed Shakespeare nerd and a college student, so I have spent plenty of time analyzing the works of the Bard. I took two year-long Shakespeare classes in high school and have taken three semester-long courses in college, each time with a different professor, which has given me a lot of experience with different methods of studying Shakespeare.

If you are looking for a few tips on how to delve into the iambic pentameter, look no further! Here are my best study tips to help you get a grip on Shakespeare:


This seems obvious, but even I am prone to skimming if I get bored. It is tempting to skip to the most famous speeches and ignore the rest, but doing that is the easiest way to lose track of the plots and get confused. Read each line of text, out loud if it helps, and re-read if necessary. It is arduous, but worth it in the end.


Invest in a lexicon that covers Shakespeare’s words (such as this one). It will help you with the context and in discovering the true meaning behind the words and quotes that may prove the most incomprehensible otherwise. I swear by these study aids!


This advice might sound a little strange coming from a literary snob such as myself, but the truth is that Shakespeare’s plays, as with any script, are meant to be seen acted out. They often make much more sense when played upon the stage. So if there are no local productions of what you are currently studying, find a film version. It may be best to try and find the BBC versions of the plays, which are a little dry for my taste but which are easy to follow and avoid excessive cuts or unnecessary effects that may distract from the true meaning. And don’t watch the Mel Gibson version of “Hamlet” – there is a lot that is changed and put out of order, in particular the “get thee to a nunnery” scene! Go with the Kenneth Branagh versions of the films if you cannot abide the BBC interpretations. His “Much Ado About Nothing” is downright hilarious (Michael Keaton’s performance alone is worth watching it).


It is a little extra work, but jotting down a sentence or two that summarizes each scene can be a hugely helpful thing to do. It will help keep your thoughts organized and remind you of what has happened previously if you should forget, saving you the need to flip back and forth.


The best way to study Shakespeare, I have found, is to really savor the scenes. Read one scene, take a couple of notes, and then walk away from it for a few minutes before returning to the play. It helps keep everything fresh and will help you avoid becoming bored, which leads to skimming. You are also less likely to get discouraged if you allow yourself a little time to  break in between scenes.


Written by Caroline Mincks

June 1, 2010 at 9:37 PM

One Response

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  1. Some useful advice here and I look forward to exploring your blog further.

    I hadn’t seen that Lexicon before, will keep an eye out for it now.

    Also very useful is this online site with works and glossary by brilliant father and son team David and Ben Crystal:

    Your mention of reading ‘out loud if it helps’ is rather important, I think. The sounds of words can help so much with their meaning and in really understanding their sense and affect. Shakespeare is wonderful at using language that reflects emotions, such as sharp, spitting, cutting sounds when a character is angry and loving, murmuring sounds for romance.

    I am passionate about the performance of Shakespeare and just starting to blog practical advice about this. Should you be interested, you’d be made very welcome over at actingshakespeare.wordpress.com.

    Best wishes – I will return!


    January 5, 2011 at 5:45 PM

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