For many students, being handed their first Shakespeare play of the year is a dreaded event. “Shakespeare’s boring!” “I don’t get it!” “Why are we learning about what some dead white dude wrote hundreds of years ago?”
However, with the right frame of mind, Shakespeare can be incredibly enjoyable.
So there are a few things to do while reading Shakespeare that can help make it more enjoyable:
1. Remember that Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be enjoyed by EVERYONE.
While many today view the bard’s plays as highbrow, serious affairs, back then those same plays could be raucous celebrations with audience participation, gratuitous violence, and lots of food and beer. Approach any of the bard’s plays as if you are someone from Elizabethan times: a play is a chance to party.
2. Don’t worry about trying to read Shakespeare in some posh British accent.
Many believe that an American accent is more akin to Shakespeare’s English than modern British is (it’s all about that rhotic ‘r’). So don’t worry about trying to imagine the words of Macbeth or Hamlet as spoken by Patrick Stewart (although that would be pretty cool). Instead, remember that your voice IS Shakespeare’s voice.
3. This is probably the least-like option–study up on Old English vocab.
The English language flows and changes like a river through time; things get picked up, put aside, become murky, or even change altogether. Thus, a passage from Shakespeare that at first glance seems rather bland is actually rich with meaning and wordplay (especially puns! Oh, so many puns!). Find the fun in the words and your enjoyment will increase tremendously.
4. Remember that Shakespeare is RELEVANT.
Many of Shakespeare’s plays touch upon timeless themes that you have either experienced for yourself of have seen in pop culture around you. Jealousy, ambition, love, lust, greed…Shakespeare explores them all in his works. And you might have also seen quite a few of them already, just in a different guise. Fore example:
The Lion King = Hamlet
She’s the Man = Twelfth Night
Warm Bodies = Romeo and Juliet
10 Things I Hate About You = The Taming of the Shrew
In conclusion, remember that Shakespeare intended for his plays to be enjoyed by everyone. So the next time you find yourself with a copy of “Much Ado About Nothing”, take a deep breath, keep an open mind, and you just might find yourself falling in love with the bard.