William Shakespeare is often labelled as the greatest British writer of all time. His work touches on many relevant themes to the human experience; love, revenge, death, jealousy, grief and more. Even so, reading Shakespeare can seem like a daunting task you'd very much like to leave behind in your school days.
However, when you read Shakespeare in high-school or college, it's often hard to appreciate him for what he is: a fantastic storyteller. People tend to label Shakespeare as 'highbrow,' when in reality he wrote for the common folk like you and me. So, if you find reading Shakespeare daunting, here are 5 tips for making the experience more pleasurable and, yes, even fun!
1. Start with a translation
Shakespeare's outdated language is one major aspect of his work that intimidates readers. If you've never read Shakespeare, or are reading him after a very long time, it can be helpful to ease in by reading his work alongside a more contemporary translation.
Want to dive into the tragic romance of Romeo and Juliet? Or the dark family drama of Hamlet? The No Fear Shakespeare series offers these and many of Shakespeare's other original texts alongside easy to understand translations.
2. Read small sections
Shakespeare's work is famous enough that most of us have a general idea of how his plays turn out, even if we've never read them. For this reason, you shouldn't approach Shakespeare the way you would a novel. It's not about plot, or reading the work from start to finish, but about the language itself.
In order to get the most out of reading Shakespeare for fun, feel free to read out of order, cherry pick famous bits, or focus on scenes where you know there's a lot of action. Zero in on what you like, then read the passages around that. You'll get far more enjoyment out of the process this way than if you force yourself to read linearly from beginning to end.
3. Read something popular
If you haven't read much Shakespeare (or none at all), skip his more obscure work altogether and go for something really popular and 'mainstream'. Why? Because if you reach a point where you're confused, you are guaranteed to find plenty of information online to help you along.
Make it even more fun by choosing a play that has been turned into a movie. There's no lack of these. Watch this modern 90s take on Romeo and Juliet, or this dramatic re-telling of Hamlet, or this superb 2015 rendition of Macbeth. Films will help bring the story to life for you, and make reading it a more enjoyable experience.
4. Don't get hung up
If you do decide to read a Shakespeare play from start to finish the way you would a novel, don't let yourself get hung up on every single difficult word or phrase. Instead of stopping every time you encounter one of these, push on. Remember, Shakespeare was a storyteller first—as the play progresses things will start to fit together and make sense.
You can ease the way by pairing your reading with an audiobook. Listening to the audiobook as you read along can help get you into the rhythm of the work and make it easier to keep reading.
5. Don't worry
A lot of people have the perception that understanding Shakespeare serves as some sort of literary IQ test. This can put a lot of pressure on a reader to 'get' him, when you should really just be reading Shakespeare for fun.
None of Shakespeare's work ties up in a neat little bow at the end. It's intentionally ambiguous and meant to make the reader ask questions, not provide them with answers. Once you accept that even the experts have questions and that no one really 'gets' Shakespeare, you'll find it much easier to read with an open mind. And enjoy it!
Have you read William Shakespeare's work before?
What do you like about Shakespeare? What don't you like?
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