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Strategies for Understanding Shakespeare

By Trent Lorcher

Ho! Ladies and lords. Come hither and delight thy bosoms with Shakespearean language. Art thou ready for understanding Shakespeare? Or would thou run fro and hideth thine eyes from his delightful verse. O reader! O reader! Wherefore art thou such a coward?


Warn and encourage students of the following before reading Shakespeare:

  1. Shakespeare's plays use unfamiliar vocabulary, but that's OK because the outstanding editors at ______________ have included side notes and footnotes to help us.
  2. Shakespeare's plays use strange grammatical forms. Don't worry. There are side notes. After a while you'll get used to them.
  3. Shakespeare employs unusual word order. No problem. We'll break the sentences down and make them simple.
  4. Shakespeare uses figurative language, and we already know about metaphors, similes, and personification.
  5. Shakespeare loves puns. So do I. That's why we'll have so much fun reading them.
  6. Shakespeare uses allusions. Remember that part about side notes and foot notes. They explain the allusions.

Strategies for Reading Shakespeare

These strategies apply to all drama:

  1. Become familiar with the play's characters.
  2. Visualize the setting and actions.
  3. Pay attention to stage directions.
  4. Read the play aloud.

These strategies apply to Shakespeare:

  1. Use sidenotes, context clues, and dictionaries to help with strange words.
  2. Paraphrase difficult lines.
  3. Reword strangely ordered sentences.
  4. Evaluate puns, allusions, metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, and meosis.
  5. Did I mention sidenotes?
  6. Familiarize yourself with the play's background.
  7. Use graphic organizers.


  1. Define words and give examples that apply to understanding Shakepeare.
  2. Copy the cast of characters.
  3. Make a three-column chart. In the left column write things that make Shakespeare difficult for modern readers. In the middle column, write down specific examples of things that make Shakespeare difficult. In the right column, "translate," paraphrase, or explain the line.
  4. Write a paragraph explaining and analyzing an important passage. The paragraph should identify the line numbers, give background information, identify literary devices, and discuss the passage's overall effect on the play.