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SHAKESPEARE A BEGINNER’S GUIDE


Who is William Shakespeare? Shakespeare was born in April 1564 and died in April 1616. He wrote many plays (and poetry) including Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Macbeth. These plays have been adapted and performed thousands of times and in many different ways. Many quotes (such as those scattered throughout this guide) from

Shakespeare have been absorbed into our everyday language. But what is it about Shakespeare that makes his work remain so popular, so long after his death? Many people have opinions on this but perhaps the best way is to find out for yourself. What follows is a guide on how to read Shakespeare, with hints and tips to help you get past the often difficult language.

Shakespeare Quotes: To be, or not to be: that is the question". (Hamlet: Act III, Scene I) )

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Select a play. If you are able to choose your own play, pick

something easy and something you might already be familiar with to start. Most editions will have a brief synopsis printed on the back cover. If the play sounds intriguing, it might make for a good selection. 

Romeo and Juliet is often a good starting point because many

of us are familiar with the “star-crossed lovers” plot. 

Consider a comedy, like Taming of the Shrew, a play which

has been adapted to film for modern audiences. 

Macbeth is another popular Shakespearean tragedy, and if

you are interested in political intrigue, this might be the play for you.

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Choose a good edition. There are two major choices to

make. The first choice is between texts that have been modernized to smooth over the differences in language use from Shakespeare’s time to our own time, or texts that have not been modernized. The second choice is between texts that are annotated or non-annotated. Annotated texts may provide definitions, context, and value-added information that will help you to form a deeper understanding of what is going on in the play.

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Familiarize yourself with the most frequent “Shakespearisms.” Language is always evolving, and some of the words in Shakespeare's plays have a different meaning today than when the plays were written, or they are no longer in use. When in doubt, use the context of the sentence to figure out the meaning or reference an online Shakespearean glossary. Here are some examples:

 ”Thee” as “you.” For example: “When will I see thee next?”  ”Thou” as “you.” For example: “Thou art a villain.”  ”Thy as “your.” For example: “Thy name is more hateful than thy face.”  ”Hath” as “has.” For example: “He hath killed many a man.” OR “He hath a horse.

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Understand Shakespeare’s use of grammar. In Shake-

speare’s writing, parts of speech are frequently switched and "normal" sentence order is often varied, often for the sake of rhyme or meter (which is like rhythm). Shakespeare often played with standard language; some common features include:  Nouns or adjectives used as verbs  Verbs and subjects which don't agree  Omitted or implied words  Word endings such as "-ly" applied inconsistently  Tricky sentence construction. For instance, where we say "John caught the ball," Shakespeare might write "John the ball caught," or even "The ball John caught." Taken from http://www.wikihow.com/Read-Shakespeare-for-Beginners under Creative

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Enjoy Shakespeare’s wordplay. In Shakespeare’s writing, metaphors and similes may make some passages more difficult to understand. Shakespeare also heavily used puns, double meanings, and malapropisms for comedic effect.  An example of a Shakespearean metaphor compares life to the theatre stage: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts."  An example of a Shakespearean pun: after Hamlet has killed Polonius and hidden his body, the king asks him where Polonius is. Hamlet tells him he is at supper – “not where he eats, but where he is eaten,” meaning that Polonius is the supper – for worms. An example of a Shakespearean malapropism: officer Dogberry said, "Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons" (apprehended two suspicious persons).

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Gather other resources you might need. Gather reference resources that you can refer to if you have a question about something you have just read. Here are a few examples of potential resources. 

A dictionary

 A tablet to easily access internet reference material Links to websites that will help you understand the language. For example: Early English Grammar Sheets (http:// homepages.wmich.edu/~cooneys/tchg/lit/adv/shak.gram.html), Shakespeare’s Language (http://www.bardweb.net/ language.html), and Pronunciation (http://www.renfaire.com/ Language/pronunciation.html). Taken from http://www.wikihow.com/Read-Shakespeare-for-Beginners under Creative

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Read carefully and takes notes as you read. Before you start, set aside some time in a quiet area. Move through the text slowly, and don’t be afraid to use your dictionary or reference materials if you are lost or confused. You can make your notes on a separate sheet of paper, where you can write general thoughts, questions, or important ideas or plot points. If you own the text, you might want to consider highlighting key phrases or writing notes in pencil in the book. Also, consider the following questions.  What are the important main events?  Which characters are involved in the sub-plot and how does the sub-plot relate to the chief plot?  What is the relationship of characters to each other?  What motivates the characters? What is the central point or lesson of the play?

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Reread the text. Do not be discouraged if you must reread passages several times. Even literary scholars often return to key lines. Each time you read a passage you will gain a deeper understanding of what is going on in the play. Remember that reading the play you’ve chosen should be fun. Push on through and keep reading. Don’t let outdated language or references stop you from enjoying the play.

Shakespeare Quotes: "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?". (Romeo and Juliet: Act II, Scene II) Taken from http://www.wikihow.com/Read-Shakespeare-for-Beginners under Creative

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Perform or speak the play. Shakespeare's plays were written as dramatic literature and were meant to be performed and heard aloud. As a result, reading the play out-loud or performing scenes with friends might give you insight that you would have otherwise missed during a quiet reading.[9] Discuss the text or an individual scene with your friends. If you are reading on your own, make use of internet discussion boards for feedback. Feel free to ask your friends or people on the discussion board the questions that you wrote down in your notes.

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Watch a play, a movie, or listen to audio recordings of Shakespeare’s work. Do this after you’ve read the play on your own. If you have finished reading one of Shakespeare's more popular plays, there is a very good chance it has been produced into a film. There are also a wide variety of Shakespeare’s plays on audiobook that you can download to your iPod or another device. But remember, modern plays or film adaptations might give different meaning or be shown in a different context than the original play. Think about the below questions when you watch the play or film.  How does the performance compare with your perceptions of the play?  Was there something the actor provided that you did not consider? Was there something you would have done differently? Taken from http://www.wikihow.com/Read-Shakespeare-for-Beginners under Creative

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Read a plot synopsis. After you are done reading, find a plot summary or synopsis. Try to find a synopsis that incorporates passages from the play directly into the discussion. These summaries and synopsis will help correct any misunderstanding that you might have after reading the play. Alternately, you can read the synopsis before you’ve read the text.

Shakespeare Quotes: "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble." - (Macbeth: Act IV, Scene I). Taken from http://www.wikihow.com/Read-Shakespeare-for-Beginners under Creative

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A LITTLE ABOUT SHAKESPEARE SHAKESPEARE'S LIFE Very little is known for certain about William Shakespeare. What we do know about his life comes from registrar records, court records, wills, marriage certificates and his tombstone in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon -Avon. William Shakespeare was baptised on 26 April 1564 at Holy Trinity in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Traditionally his birthday is celebrated three days earlier, on 23 April, St George's Day.

Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon Š Royal Shakespeare Company. Text taken from https://www.rsc.org.uk/shakespeares-life-and-times [11 April 2016]


Shakespeare’s birthplace

SHAKESPEARE'S BIRTHPLACE John Shakespeare married Mary Arden, the daughter of Robert Arden, a farmer from the nearby village of Wilmcote. In 1556 John bought the main part of the house in Henley Street which is now known as the 'Birthplace' and their family, including William, grew up there (see photo). John's principal business was that of a glover, but he also traded as a wool and corn merchant, and he is recorded in 1570 as being involved in moneylending.

Š Royal Shakespeare Company. Text taken from https://www.rsc..uk/shakespeares-life-and-times [11 April 2016]


SHAKESPEARE'S PARENTS William's father, John Shakespeare, was an affluent glove maker, tanner and wool dealer who owned property in Stratford. For a number of years he played a prominent role in the municipal life of the town. He served on the town council and was elected bailiff (mayor). However, around 1576 John Shakespeare was beset by severe financial difficulties and he was forced to mortgage his wife's inheritance. William's mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of a prosperous farmer, Robert Arden, who had left her some land in Wilmcote, near Stratford. John and Mary Shakespeare had eight children: four daughters, of whom only one (Joan) survived childhood. William was the eldest of the four boys.

Shakespeare Quotes: "All the world 's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts" - (As You Like It: Act II, Scene VII)

Š Royal Shakespeare Company. Text taken from https://www.rsc.org.uk/shakespeares-life-and-times [11 April 2016]


Shakespeare’s classroom

EDUCATION William almost certainly went to one of Stratford's 'petty' or junior schools where he would have learnt his letters with the help of a hornbook. From the age of seven or

thereabouts, he would have progressed to the King's New School where the emphasis would have been on Latin, it still being the international language of Europe in the 1500s. Shakespeare probably left school at the age of 14 or 15. Shakespeare’s plays reveal a detailed knowledge of the curriculum taught in such schools which were geared to teaching pupils Latin, both spoken and written. The classical writers studied in the classroom influenced Shakespeare's plays and poetry; for example, some of his ideas for plots and characters came from Ovid's tales, the plays of Terence and Plautus, and Roman history. © Royal Shakespeare Company. Text taken from https://www.rsc..uk/shakespeares-life-and-times [11 April 2016]


MARRIAGE AND CHILDREN In 1582, when he was 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. She was 26. Anne was the daughter of a wellto-do farmer, Richard Hathaway of Hewlands Farm in nearby Shottery. Their first child, Susanna, was born in May 1583. Twins, Hamnet and Judith, were christened in February 1585. Anne’s home, now known as Anne Hathaway's Cottage, still stands in the village of Shottery. From 1585 until 1592, very little is known about Shakespeare. These are generally referred to as 'The Lost Years'. But by 1592 we know that he was in London where he was singled out by a rival dramatist, Robert Greene in his bitter deathbed pamphlet, A Groats-worth of Witte.

Shakespeare Quotes: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer's lease hath all too short a date" (Sonnet 18)

Š Royal Shakespeare Company. Text taken from https://www.rsc.org.uk/shakespeares-life-and-times [11 April 2016]


Detail from Visscher's View of London, 1616 Š Image from Library of Congress (out of copyright work).

DRAMA IN SHAKESPEARE'S STRATFORD In Shakespeare's youth, Stratford was often visited by travelling troupes of professional actors. These players probably sparked his interest in the stage, and he may have entered the London theatre world though contacts made with them in Stratford. We don't know when or why Shakespeare left Stratford for London, or what he was doing before becoming a professional actor and dramatist in the capital. There are various traditions and stories about the so-called 'lost years' between 1585 and 1592, a period for which there is virtually no evidence concerning his life. Š Royal Shakespeare Company. Text taken from https://www.rsc..uk/shakespeares-life-and-times [11 April 2016]


Shakespeare before Sir Thomas Lucy in the hall of Charlecote. Oil on canvas by Thomas Brooks, 1857. © RSC Theatre Collection – Image Licensing

Shakespeare Quotes: "If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?". - (The Merchant of Venice: Act III, Scene I). © Royal Shakespeare Company. Text taken from https://www.rsc.org.uk/shakespeares-life-and-times [11 April 2016]


Shakespeare Quotes: "The course of true love never did run smooth". - (A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Act I, Scene I).

WRITING AND ACTING Plague broke out in London in 1593, forcing the theatres to close. Shakespeare turned to writing poetry. In 1593 Shakespeare published an erotic poem, Venus and Adonis, dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton, a young courtier and favourite of Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare's earliest plays included Henry VI Parts I, II & III, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Titus Andronicus. The sonnets were also written about this time, though they were not published until 1609. In 1594, Shakespeare became a founding member, actor, playwright and shareholder of the Lord Chamberlain's Men. Richard Burbage was the company's leading actor. He played roles such as Richard III, Hamlet, Othello and Lear. Under James VI/I, the company was renamed The King's Men. They performed at court more often than any other company.

Š Royal Shakespeare Company. Text taken from https://www.rsc..uk/shakespeares-life-and-times [11 April 2016]


WEALTH Whereas John Shakespeare had lost a fortune, his son managed to amass great wealth in his lifetime. In 1597, he bought New Place, one of the largest properties in Stratford. In 1598, he is listed as a resident of Chapel Street ward, in which New Place was situated. In 1601, when his father died, he may also, as the eldest son, have inherited the two houses in Henley Street. In 1602 Shakespeare paid £320 in cash to William Combe and his nephew John for roughly 107 acres of land in Old Stratford. He also bought a cottage and more land in Chapel Lane. In 1605, for £440, Shakespeare bought a half-interest in a lease of many tithes which brought him an annual interest of £60. When he died in 1616, he was a man of substantial wealth.

Shakespeare Quotes: "Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them". - (The Twelfth Night: Act II, Scene V).

© Royal Shakespeare Company. Text taken from https://www.rsc.org.uk/shakespeares-life-and-times [11 April 2016]


Shakespeare Quotes: "This above all: to thine own self be true". (Hamlet: Act I, Scene III). LAST YEARS Shakespeare's elder daughter, Susanna, married a physician, John Hall in Stratford in 1607. Their only child, a daughter, Elizabeth, was born in 1608, the year in which Shakespeare's mother died. Judith Shakespeare, his younger daughter, married a vintner, Thomas Quiney in 1616. They had three sons: Shakespeare Quiney, who died in infancy; Richard (1618-139) and Thomas (16201639). Sometime after 1611, Shakespeare retired to Stratford. On 25 March 1616, Shakespeare revised and signed his will. On 23 April, his presumed birthday, he died, aged 52. On 25 April, he was buried at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. Shakespeare's widow, Anne, died in 1623 and was buried beside him. Shakespeare's family line came to an end with the death of his grand-daughter Elizabeth in 1670. In 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, John Heminge and Henry Condell (two actors from The King's Company) had Shakespeare's plays published by William Jaggard and his son, Isaac. This first folio contained 36 plays and sold for £1. Š Royal Shakespeare Company. Text taken from https://www.rsc..uk/shakespeares-life-and-times [11 April 2016]


And Finally... This last section will provide information on some of Shakespeare’s works, presented in more accessible forms. They can be a great way to get into and appreciate the stories without needing to be an expert on the original language. As mentioned earlier, these versions differ in context from the original plays and different creative decisions have been made for each; certain scenes, characters, or even entire settings may differ depending on the adaptation. Consider these supplements (not replacements) to the original plays.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, this proverbial comedy has seen several TV adaptations. This BBC interpretation certainly divides viewers - some see it as too serious, whilst others think it’s the definitive screen adaptation. Whichever way you feel, seeing a Shakespeare play on screen can be a great way to get familiar with its story and characters. It can also help to show the dialogue in action, rather than just reading it from a page. If you would like to see a more visual interpretation of a beloved classic, give this one a go. Taken from http://www.wikihow.com/Read-Shakespeare-for-Beginners under Creative

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Macbeth: The Graphic Novel GN SHA

This graphic novel version of Macbeth maintains the original words of Shakespeare but presents them in a style you’d expect to see from Marvel.

The illustrations effectively tell the story and tie in seamlessly with the dialogue, bringing the epic tragedy to life in a completely unique way. The story follows Macbeth, a respected general pushed over the edge by a lust for power. His ruthless actions are spurred on by both his wife and by prophecies whose meanings are very dangerous to misinterpret. Taken from http://www.wikihow.com/Read-Shakespeare-for-Beginners under Creative

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Shakespeare

Made Easy

Othello The Shakespeare Made Easy series features Shakespeare’s plays in two forms: on the left page is the original script, and on the right is a version of that same script translated into modern-day English. Despite the name of the play, the character Iago Othello’s trusted ensign is really the main focus. In a interesting case of a villain protagonist, we follow Iago, delving into his raging jealously of Othello and his wife Desdemona. He manipulates everyone else in the play, playing on their weaknesses to turn this happy marriage into an imploding disaster. Taken from http://www.wikihow.com/Read-Shakespeare-for-Beginners under Creative

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Romeo and Juliet GN LEO

This one really speaks for itself: the story of Romeo and Juliet told through the style of Manga. Despite the change of setting to modern-day Tokyo, the words of Shakespeare remain, with few cuts to the original script. If you’re familiar with manga/anime then this version might be the perfect way to get into this iconic tale of romance, violence, and betrayal.

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Shakespeare Quotes: "Good Night, Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow." - (Romeo and Juliet: Act II, Scene II).

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