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How do I approach classical/Shakespearean texts?

The first thing to do, when approaching a Shakespearean text, is to become accustomed to the rhythm and intonation of verse - and the best way to do that is to speak it aloud. Speaking aloud brings attention to the things which don't 'feel right' or are uneven: these are moments which you can then look at in more detail. Some of the most famous lines in Shakespeare are because they are rhythmically distinct: "To be or not to be / that is the question" breaks from the surrounding verse, which is predominantly in steady iambic pentameter.

Knowing the terms and vocabulary is the next step. Once you have identified things that are unusual or different, you need the correct terminology: this is true across contemporary poetry as much as classical works, so the more you practise using the correct terminology, the easier it becomes - you will find you can use it in a wide variety of contexts.

I would always recommend seeing the play, if possible. Shakespearean plays are written to be seen: with a wide world of both live theatre and film adaptations of Shakespeare, it will always help you to see in the medium it was designed for!

These are just some of the first ways that can help when approaching Shakespeare. The biggest mistake you can make is being afraid of it: Shakespeare is filled with great beauty and deftness, and can be truly exciting! Have courage, and keep persevering - it will all make sense in the end.

Emma M. A Level English tutor, 11 Plus English tutor, IB English tuto...

8 months ago

Answered by Emma, who tutored A Level English with MyTutor


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