Deciphering the Beautiful Language of Shakespeare
BY MIKKIE MILLS
William Shakespeare’s works play an integral role in the development of the English language. For example, the word “swag” and the phrase “Your flesh and blood” would not exist if it were not for Shakespeare. Therefore, the majority of high school and college students are forced to read at least one of Shakespeare’s works at some point during their secondary and/or post-secondary education. However, most students get so flustered with answering their challenging Romeo and Juliet study guide questions that they never appreciate the true beauty of Shakespeare; therefore, reading a Shakespearean work is probably one of the most dreaded English assignments. If students took the time to decipher the language of Shakespeare, they would have an entirely different perspective of Shakespeare.
Methods to Understanding Shakespeare
Read it aloud
Many people are auditory learners without even realizing it. Reading and hearing are two completely different ways to synthesize information, especially when it comes to reading an entire story or play. Hearing a story aloud significantly increases people’s comprehension than strictly reading a story. After all, people hear and listen more than they read and decipher.
Merely reading Shakespeare will most likely feel like reading hieroglyphics for most people. However, reading Shakespeare aloud will help a person hear the beauty of the language and increase the likelihood he or she will catch on to what is being said. While it may feel like the person is reciting gibberish at first, he or she will almost definitely catch on at some point because he or she will be hearing what is being said aloud.
- Understand the concept of inverted sentences
The motif of Shakespeare that tends to perplex people is the inverted sentences. The sentences in Shakespeare’s works do not follow our modern sentence format of the subject before the verb. Rather, the verb comes before the subject in Shakespeare’s inverted sentences. For example, the line from Romeo and Juliet “Never a day was seen so black as this” means “A day as black as this was never seen”. It may take students a while to get used to the arrangement of these words. However, it is very easy for their brains to fill in the gaps when it comes to this inverted sentence order, so it should not be long before it starts to flow easier to them.
- Value the punctuation, figurative language, and allusions
People perceive written text via top-down processing, which means people perceive written text by recognition, not by the individual letters and punctuation. However, reading Shakespeare requires people to use bottom-up processing, which means they must take into account each punctuation mark and word.
When people read modern text, they tend to ignore the punctuation and only focus on the words. In order to accurately decipher Shakespeare, honoring the punctuation marks is necessary because every comma, period, exclamation point, etc. contributes valuable meaning to what is being said. When people read the end of a line, they tend to pause. However, people should not pause at the end of reading a line unless the punctuation signals for them to do.
The figurative language and allusions are another aspect of Shakespeare’s works that perplex people because many of the similes, metaphors, and allusions are not applicable to today’s world. People should highly-anticipate figurative in every line because it is more prevalent in Shakespeare’s works than most other works. When they run across figurative language, they should take the time to try to understand it.
- Read the modern version in conjunction with the traditional version
There are modern versions of almost every Shakespearean work available. These modern versions may also contain notes to guide students to guide their understanding. However, these should not be read in place of the traditional version; they should be read next to the traditional version because exposure to the actual language of Shakespeare is essential for full understanding and there may be test questions or class discussions on the wording lines that are in the traditional version.
There is No Reason to Fear Shakespeare
Most students dread reading Shakespeare because of the unintelligible language. However, reading and comprehending a Shakespeare play is not impossible. Being able to read and comprehend a Shakespeare play requires a bit more work. If you take the appropriate measures when reading Shakespeare, you will be able to at least comprehend the major points. The extra work will be worth it when you give insight in class discussions, achieve high assessment grades, and possibly grow to enjoy a classic tale.
Mikkie is a freelance writer from Chicago. She has a passion for advanced learning, reading, and health and fitness. She is also a mother of two who loves sharing her ideas on education, learning, health, fitness and yoga. When she’s not writing, she’s chasing the little ones around or can be found at the local climbing gym or doing yoga.