5 Tips for Reading Shakespeare

For a beginner, Shakespeare can sometimes seem like a bunch of strange words put together in no sensible order. Once you learn to read and understand Shakespeare, you'll understand the beauty of the language and find out why it has inspired students and scholars for centuries.

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Understand the Importance of "Getting It"

Shakespeare's Hamlet: To Be or Not to Be quote in red

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It is impossible to overstate the importance of Shakespeare’s work. It is clever, witty, beautiful, inspirational, funny, deep, dramatic, and more. Shakespeare was a true word genius whose work helps us see the beauty and artistic potential of the English language.

Shakespeare's work has inspired students and scholars for centuries, because it also tells us so much about life, love, and human nature. When you study Shakespeare, you find that human beings haven’t really changed all that much over the past several hundred years. It's interesting to know, for example, that people from Shakespeare's time had the same fears and insecurities that we experience today.

Shakespeare will expand your mind if you let it.

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Attend a Reading or a Play

Actors perform excerpts from Shakespeare's Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice during a media preview of the Pop-up Globe on August 28, 2018 in Sydney, Australia.

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Shakespeare really makes more sense when you see the words come to life on stage. You won’t believe how much expressions and movements of the actors can demystify Shakespeare’s beautiful but complex prose. Watch the actors in action and gain a deeper understanding of your text.

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Read It Again—and Again

Vintage Title Page: 'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare'

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As you progress in school and into college, you must realize that every subjects gets more challenging. Literature is no different. You’re not going to be successful in your studies if you think you can get through anything quickly—and that is triply true for Shakespeare.

Don’t try to get by on one reading. Read once for a basic understanding and again (and again) to do it justice. This is true for any book that you read as a learning assignment.

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Act It Out

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Shakespeare is different from any other piece of literature, in that it requires some engagement and active participation. It was written to be acted.

When you actually say the words out loud, they start to “click.” Just try it—you will see that you can suddenly understand the context of the words and expressions. It's a good idea to work with another person. Why not call your study partner and read to each other?

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Read a Plot Summary

A young woman relaxing and reading a hard back novel at home.

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Let’s face it—Shakespeare is tough to read and understand, no matter how many times you go through the book. After you have read the work, go ahead and read a summary of the piece you’re working on if you’re completely baffled. Just read a summary and then read the actual work again. You won’t believe how much you missed before!

And don’t worry: reading the summary doesn’t “ruin” anything when it comes to Shakespeare, because the importance lies partly in the art and beauty of the work.

If you are worried about your teacher's opinion of this, be sure to ask about it. If your teacher has a problem with you reading a summary online, you should not do it!

Don't Be So Hard On Yourself!

Shakespeare's writing is challenging because it comes from a time and place that is completely foreign to you. Don't feel too bad if you have a hard time getting through your text or you feel like you're actually reading a foreign language. This is a challenging assignment, and you are not alone in your concerns.

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Fleming, Grace. "5 Tips for Reading Shakespeare." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/tips-for-reading-shakespeare-1856965. Fleming, Grace. (2023, April 5). 5 Tips for Reading Shakespeare. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tips-for-reading-shakespeare-1856965 Fleming, Grace. "5 Tips for Reading Shakespeare." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tips-for-reading-shakespeare-1856965 (accessed May 29, 2023).