Study Shakespeare

How to Study Shakespeare Step-By-Step

Do you need to study Shakespeare but don't know where to begin? Our step-by-step study Shakespeare guide contains everything you need to know to read and understand the plays and sonnets.

We guide you through step-by-step and build your essential understanding of the Bard and provide you with helpful study Shakespeare resources along the way.

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The Complete Works of Shakespeare
The Complete Works of Shakespeare.

For new readers, Shakespeare's language can seem daunting. Initially, it can seem difficult, ancient and impossible to decipher ... but once you get used to it, it is actually very easy to read. After all, it is just a slightly different version of the English we speak today.

But for many, language is the biggest barrier in understanding Shakespeare. Bizarre words like “Methinks” and “Peradventure” can cause problems - but this handy modern translation of the top 10 most common Shakespearian words and phrases will help you overcome your confusion.

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Shakespeare's Sonnets
Shakespeare's Sonnets. Photo by Lee Jamieson

Iambic pentameter is another term that frightens off those new to Shakespeare.

It basically means there are 10 syllables in each line. Whilst that may seem a strange dramatic convention today, it was readily excepted in Shakespeare's time. The key thing is to remember that Shakespeare set out to entertain his audience - not confuse them. He would not have wanted his readers to get confused by iambic pentameter!

This straightforward guide reveals the main features of Shakespeare's most commonly used meter.

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Performing Shakespeare
Performing Shakespeare. Vasiliki Varvaki/E+/Getty Images

Do I really have to read Shakespeare aloud?

No. But it does help. Understand

Shakespeare was an actor - he even performed in his own plays - so he was writing for his fellow performers. Furthermore, it is unlikely that he ever intended for his early plays to have been published and "read" - he was writing for "performance" only!

So, if the idea of performing a Shakespeare speech fills you with dread, remember that Shakespeare was writing in a way to make it easy for his actors. Forget criticism and textual analysis (the things you should be scared of!) because everything an actor needs is right there in the dialogue – you just need to know what you’re looking for.

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Wooden O – Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Wooden O – Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Photo © John Tramper

Now you know what iambic pentameter is and how to read Shakespeare aloud, you're ready to put the two together and start speaking Shakespearean Verse.

This article will help you really get to grips with Shakespeare’s language. Remember, if you speak the text aloud, your understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare's works will quickly follow. 

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The art of Erzsebet Katona Szabo
The art of Erzsebet Katona Szabo. Image © Erzsebet Katona Szabo / Shakespeare Link

In order to study Shakespeare's sonnets, you need to know the defining features of a sonnet. Shakespeare’s sonnets are written in a strict poetic form that was very popular during his lifetime. Broadly speaking, each sonnet engages images and sounds to present an argument to the reader, as this guide reveals.

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How to Write a Sonnet

Shakespeare Writing
Shakespeare Writing.

The best way to really get 'under the skin' of a sonnet and fully understand its structure, form and style is to write your own!

This article does exactly that! Our sonnet template guides you through line-by-line and stanza-by-stanza to help you really get inside Shakespeare's head and fully understand his sonnets.

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The Three Witches
The Three Witches. Imagno/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You are now ready to start studying Shakespeare’s plays. This set of play study guides will provide you with all the essential information you need to study and explore Shakespeare’s most popular texts including Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Macbeth. Good luck and enjoy!