Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why Is Shakespeare So Hard?

I saw this question pop up at the top of my referrer logs yesterday, so I guess it's popular, so I thought it would be fun to make a post out of it and try to answer the question.

My first thought is to answer, "It's self-fulfilling.  Every exposure to Shakespeare you've ever had has been telling you how difficult and boring and irrelevant he is, so naturally from the moment you cracked open the book, you thought "Wow, this is difficult and boring and irrelevant."

Let me put it in perspective.  My daughters, 3 and 5, understand Shakespeare.

Do they understand the words, or the themes?  No, of course not, that'd be silly.  But if I asked one of them to recount for me the story of "the girl on the island" they'd be able to tell me that Miranda lived on the island with her daddy, who could do magic, and there was a fairy named Ariel and a monster named Caliban....and so on.

My point?  People start in on Shakespeare from the wrong end.  They start with Act I, Scene I, line 1, word 1, and say "Hmf, I can't understand it, I'm screwed."   They lose the forest for the trees.

I say work it backwards.  Learn the story, by whatever means necessary.  Learn the characters, understand their feelings and motivations.  And then you'll find that the words are a bit easier to understand.

How do you do that?  Well, subscribe to this blog, for one :).  And I'm only half joking.  I could point you at "No Fear Shakespeare" and any other number of books that attempt to translate Shakespeare's words into more readable modern English, but that's not my point.  My point is that to understand the stories you have to break it down well beyond the words and get to the characters themselves.  Romeo's a horny teenager whose girlfriend won't give it up.  Hamlet's dad died, and he can't stand his stepdad.  King Lear wants to grow old and die in the comfort of knowing his children love him and will take care of him.  There are *people* in there, people.  If you're so busy concentrating on the rhyme scheme and pronunciation of the words, you're making it too hard for yourself.

I could write all day on this subject, but I don't have time here at work :).  Maybe we can get some discussion going in the comments?  Show of hands, how many people out there think that Shakespeare is hard?  How many think it's easy?  Why?

55 comments:

Nicole said...

I personally don't think Shakespeare is hard, but I started out with a determination that I would love it before I ever read it. I wanted to love Shakespeare, so when my brother started studying it in high school, the part of me that hungered for a challenging book sought out this man Shakespeare.

What you said about Shakespeare being hard being "self-fulfilling" is so true. All I have to do is say "Shakespeare" at a family dinner, and everyone except my husband rolls their eyes. (He knows better.) They all think I am so weird because I love Shakespeare, yet I could quiz them on any play other than Romeo and Juliet and none of them could answer a single question correctly. They don't know enough about his works to roll their eyes, yet they do.

I started reading Shakespeare in the fifth grade, with absolutely no support. There was no one in my life that was willing to explain it to me. People made fun of me and told me that it was too hard to understand. I think they thought it was a phase.

It wasn't.

Shakespeare is easy because I've made it easy. Often I watch a good adaptation on film before I attempt to read the text. Like you mentioned in the post, I find that if I get the story before I tackle the language, it makes the reading much more enjoyable.

I've also learned that the more you read Shakespeare, the easier it becomes to understand it. In my Shakespeare class last semester, we discussed methods for reading Shakespeare, and we all agreed that you have to just read it. Don't worry about understanding it on the first try, just read it. Pretty soon, you discover that you are understanding more than you think.

pastprologue said...

Shakespeare's not hard, but people assume the "language" is. As Nicole said, it gets easier the more you read it and you find the natural flow that makes it seem, well, natural. I think it's great that your kids know the stories at a young age. I hope they later grow to love the language, too. To start older kids or teens on Shakespeare, try a good Branagh film like "Much Ado". But don't you think it's funny that so many folks thing Shakespeare is SO HARD? I mean, look who he was writing for! It wasn't just for the queen or the so-called "educated" folks...he also wrote for the masses! And the little folks loved him, too! I don't think he's hard, I just think we all became stupid. Put your average American with a high school education up against an Elizabethan with no formal education and we'll see who's smarter than a fifth grader! ;-)

Elizabeth said...

I think that seeing a play performed (which, after all, is what they were written for) definitely helps. You get a better sense of the plot, without getting so tied up in the "weird" language. I think it might actually be better for new readers to see the play (or a film version) before they read it (which is the opposite of the way it is usually done, at least in my experience).

brittni said...

I began reading Shakespeare when I was in fifth or sixth grade. At the time, I thought I understood it all. Older students, or adults, would mention a title of one of his works and I would always have something to add, even if it was just, "Remember when this happened?" or "This character was my favorite!" Of course, all I understand was the series of events, in the very basic of ways. I understood love, death, ghosts, murder, anger, etc.

I just thought I was something special. Adults would always comment along the lines of, "Wow, you read Shakespeare?" and it felt so good to get that look -- of surprise and pride. Now, I can actually say I understand Shakespeare.

I love his language, I love the stories, and I love the characters. I even tend to love the bad guys most; you know, Cassio and Iago. But I love him and his works because ,like Nicole said, I just told myself I would.

He was different and he was known world wide. If his works are a little difficult to understand, by all means I think that is all right; I even think that is a good thing. Nothing good in life is easy, anyway. If Shakespeare makes a reader actually think about his writing, I would say he did what he wanted to do. Art, be it acted or written in this case, should move you and one way to move someone is to make them think.

Is Shakespeare hard to read? At first, yes -- it does take practice. I think what helps is a little historical knowledge of the time period in which the play is set however. This helps you understand the piece because you begin to understand the context.

I don't think, though, that people should initially turn to a film for better understanding, at least not before they have thrown themselves into the literature. I do agree completely that the reader's success is directly related to the reader's attitude. Such is the story for most events in life. Therefore, have a little optimism, give Shakespeare your best shot, and buy one of the books that translates the really old-fashion words for you. It's not cheating.

And most importanly, become a character. Every thing is better from the inside, especially gossip and literature. So relate with someone. Consider the proximity. Identify yourself with one of the emotions. In this manner, maybe you'll do more than understand Shakespeare -- maybe you will even enjoy him!

PrimroseRoad said...

In my opinion, Shakespeare is "hard" because we tend to teach his works like novels to be read, rather than plays to be heard and seen. I think students might have an easier time if we (1) gave students some of the tools to imagine a stage performance while they're reading and (2) use Shakespeare as a "way in" to genuine appreciation of live theater.

Bill said...

I think Shakespeare is hard. I've spent my life studying and teaching his plays, and I'm still working at it. Four hundred years ago, they didn't talk the way we talk. They used words in a different sense than we use them today. They knew things we don't know. They didn't know things we take for granted. It's a different culture from a different time. There are real people in there to be sure, but it's not immediately obvious what they're saying to each other.

I think that if you take the extra effort to learn how to understand what's going on in the world of his plays, then the rewards will be manifold times your effort. But the effort is still necessary. Bottom line: It's hard, but sometimes there's a lot to be gained from doing the hard thing.

I agree completely about your advice on how to make one's introduction to Shakespeare easier, and I use this philosophy whether I'm teaching Shakespeare to fifth-graders or to graduate students. You want to start with plot, character, and theme before tackling the language, though I think you do have to hit the language at some point.

One thing I like to do when working with younger students is to give them the conflict of a scene in the play and have them improvise the scene. Then, when we eventually get to the language, it is much less of a barrier.

Duane said...

Look at all the comments! I love it. I think Bill's got a point - Shakespeare is, indeed, hard. If we call it easy, we're trivializing the amount of stuff that's there. After all, people spend their lives researching Shakespeare and still come away with questions.

But there is a world of difference between somebody reading Shakespeare for enjoyment, and somebody camping out at the Folger Library for months on end, counting words, doing research for his paper on the frequency of the word "doth" as opposed to "does" and what it says about Shakespeare's religion. Anybody who asks "Why is Shakespeare so hard" is not going to end up in that latter category.

I tend to think of Shakespeare's difficulty level on something like a number line, going way way back to elementary school math. Picking up a script and reading it is like being at 0. If you go left, into the negatives, you have stuff like No Fear Shakespeare, Lamb's Tales, and so on - the stuff that takes away parts in an attempt to make it easier. But if you go in the other direction, you have the questions like whether Shakespeare was Catholic or Protestant, gay or straight, and so on. What the timing of Macbeth tells us about the Gunpowder Plot. Which pages of Henry VIII were his. And so on.

At the far left of that scale you have stuff so far removed that you can only scarcely recognize it, like saying that The Lion King is based on Hamlet because the brother kills the king and is avenged by the son. Or that every love story where the boy and girl can't be together is somehow a modern day Romeo and Juliet. On the far right you've got people chasing the unanswerable questions like who the Dark Lady was. Go read Shakespeare Wars for an entire volume that keeps coming back to the same point over and over again - "We'll never know the answer, but isn't it fun to fight about who *might* be right?"

Everybody gets to pick their own comfort zone. It's probably all over the map. It will change with your own experience. Some people will prefer Ethan Hawke's Hamlet over Kenneth Brannagh's. And that's ok.

Just... not.... Mel Gibson's. Anything but that.

:)

Evan Quinlan said...

Let me add to the advice everyone's already giving, that you understand Will the more you read his plays, by encouraging everyone to read ~out loud~ rather than silently. The first time I really understood the language was when I read Twelfth Night aloud with my brother and my girlfriend. Speaking the words forces you to understand them and give them meaning. They are, after all, meant to be spoken.

David Blixt said...

I gotta chime in with Evan. The advice I always give is to read it outloud.

I've said elsewhere that I hated Shakespeare in school until we did R&J my senior year. Since then, I've become a professional Shakespearean actor, working with great talents like Bob Falls and Barbara Gaines and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. The difference comes from what many other people have said - these are plays, not literature. These are meant to be spoken by real, breathing people. That's why reading them aloud helps understanding.

I have to disagree with one of Bill's points. Shakespeare's audience didn't understand him any better than we do today. Probably less. Why? Because he maed up one out of every ten words he used. Just created language! Eyeball, hush, bedroom - simple words that had never been written before him, let alone the hard stuff.

I compare Shakespeare, then and now, to musical theatre. It's unrealistic to have people break into song to express themselves, but it's an established theatrical style. So too is Shakespeare's language. He was creating a style, but for some reason we imagine that everyone in Shakespeare's day spoke the way people do in his plays. They did not.

However, I also have to say that it's fine to learn about plots and characters, but Shakespeare is Shakespeare solely because of his language. Take that away and you have some rather pathetic, anemic, stolen stories from history or Italian folk tales. The story for every play, he stole. I've even seen his source material for the Tempest, the one show I thought was original. It's not the stories that make Shakespeare great, but how the characters express themselves. Strip away the language, and you destroy what he is.

Gedaly said...

I agree with what a lot have said about Shakespeare being hard, but totally worth the journey. The rewards only grow as every year of Shakespeare study and performance goes by. I have found that studying Shakespeare's text opens doors. I look up certain words and those words seem to come up in non-Shakespeare situations later on. I research a little history about one thing and find that it's related to something else that I need to know about later on.

David, i have to disagree with some of what you said about people not understanding Shakespeare any better back then than they do now. Yes, Shakespeare invented words. But many, if not most, were variations on existing words. Even some words today that are unfamiliar are still understood because they are related to words that we currently use. And I don't think that Shakespeare invented ALL the words he is given credit for. Many, yeah. But his plays just happen to be the earliest surviving recorded use of those words.

In addition, the a grammatical structure/word order that The Bard used was not uncommon to the time in writing, and most likely speaking too. Shakespeare was educated in the art of rhetoric and most of his audience was familiar with it to some extent, so they followed the ideas and speeches without too much trouble.

I do want to send some kudos your way for the comparison between Shakespearean performance and Musical Theatre. I agree. Shakespeare's soliloquies are very much like your big solo number. The thought , emotion, and the words are all very interconnected and presented by the actor to the audience. I have come to realize that some of the best musical theatre actors are those that have a healthy dose of Shakespeare experience.

catkins said...

Great topic, Duane! I agree with most commentators, Shakespeare is hard (at least, harder than Michael Crichton) but well worth the effort. I also think the language does have to be tackled, but blame most editors for doing a poor job of helping the reader through it. Too often we are given either "translations" that paraphrase Shakespeare's words to give a synopsis of what is said without helping us understand the words and how they fit into the verse, or a dense volume of unnecessary explanations that disctract us from what we need to know. The reader needs concise, simple explanations for difficult words and phrases, and even the occasional simple notation that a particular line is obscure even to the best of scholarly efforts. Armed with such an edition, nost readers would find Sharkespeare not nearly as hard as they thought he would be. I have been experimenting with this and I think it is very doable (tried it out on my 19-year-old son with "Antony and Cleopatra"). And as more than one person has commented, he definitely gets easier as you get used to him.

Ram said...

I agree with Elizabeth that it's a lot easier to start with a performance. And I think it's even OK to end there. Reading Shakespeare may be a rewarding experience for some, but watching a play performed well is ...well... just about as good as life gets.

The only play I've really read is Macbeth. This was because it was the book assigned for the English Literature course in my Indian high school. It got me hooked on Shakespeare and I ended up getting a (very) high score on the exam you had to take to graduate. What it didn't do was get me interested in reading Shakespeare.

I occasionally try to read a little before I watch a play and will often look up things in the book after I've watched a play.

Maybe I'm lazy, but I feel strongly that, because these plays have been exquisitely crafted to be experienced in performance and I'm lucky enough to have access to well produced stagings of them, I don't need to read them.

If I had to read them, I would probably follow Evan's lead and read them aloud. Perhaps the only time I'd force myself to read a play is if I was preparing for a performance. I once took a class where I performed Jacques's "Motley Fool" speech from "As You Like It" (my favorite play by far) and that was a lot of fun.

In the meantime, as long as Shakespeare on The Common, or something of that ilk is around, I'll continue to savor the sublime pleasure of sitting outdoors on fine summer evening with a glass of wine in my hand and let those words from four hundred years ago take me to a different plane of existence ...

Duane said...

Ram, my friend, thanks for chiming in with the lengthy comment. And may I respectfully say that I completely disagree with you :). Or, at least, I disagree with you on one point, the whole "watch it, don't read it" thing.

If you see a performance, you're basically saying "Ok, tell me how this is supposed to go." You get somebody else's interpretation of all the key points. This is the reason why all of our high school english teachers always told us "Don't see the movie!" before assigning us a novel to read. Because the movie would snip and rearrange and take liberties, and once we got that vision in our heads we would never appreciate the complexity of the original source material.

You saw a performance of Macbeth. Tell me, what did they leave out?
Would you know? Different question, would you care? It would bother me. I've seen one performance of King Lear. And I was very disappointed in the title role, because having read the source, I had a vision of my own for what I hoped, and the director's version wasn't as good.

If all you ever do is see a performance (or several), then your appreciation and experience of the play are equal to the sum total of those performances. But if you dig in at the source? The possibilities are *infinite*. Rosenbaum (Shakespeare Wars) had a great quote comparing a line of Shakespeare to an atom, and how "the energy that can be released is infinite - if we can split it open." By watching performances, you're waiting for someone else to do it for you. By reading it, you're doing it yourself.

I continue to miss the point when people say "They were meant to be staged, therefore you should see them staged." They were MEANT to be staged by SHAKESPEARE AND HIS PEERS, 400 YEARS AGO. People today have no freakin clue how to stage a Shakespeare production. Didn't everybody see that satirical piece on The Onion where they ran the joke news story about a controversial director who set a production of Macbeth in the time and place Shakespeare intended? See a performance, and you see two things - you see people delivering words, and you see them delivering those words in a setting created by the director (and others). Shakespeare only contributed to a part of that. The words. So why the fear to read the source material? If Shakespeare's the genius, wouldn't people want to get closer to the genius? I side more with Rosenbaum and the infinite energy to be found in each line. I don't want some random director to snip out Rosencrantz and Guildenstern completely because he's decided that he doesn't need them. On the contrary - I want to know every possible way that Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Cordelia's deaths so I can decide which one works the best for me. Did Gertrude know that Claudius killed her husband? Why should the director be the one to tell me? Why can't I decide for myself? (I think she doesn't.)

See performances. Absolutely. See many. But when you say "I don't think I have to read them", that's where I'm always going to jump in and try to convince you of what you're missing.

ren girl said...

Shakespeare is, for a given measure of "hard," harder than some other things, but at least for me, this only lies in the words that people (me in my own case) don't know. I have to go look up "fardles" to really understand what Hamlet's talking about, sure. But I don't have to know the exact meaning of that word to understand what he's getting at. I think the language is trickier to get at first go, but the more you read it, the easier it becomes to understand the flow and style.

I think a lot of it depends on how said person is approaching Shakespeare. Actors, lit students, history students will all do it differently, & one is not necessarily any better than the other. (I say this because I am all of the above.)
However I love Shakespeare first and foremost as an actor, so I want to both read it AND see it (or, y'know, be in it, which is even better).
I fully agree that the director & team shapes the play in certain ways, sometimes more drastically than others. I'm not sure that I would compare it to lit teachers telling students not to see movies, though; movie adaptations of books are just that, adaptations to a different medium; Shakespeare's medium, as much as we teach him as lit, is actually the theater. That being said, a lot of productions take stances and liberties--but if it's a director worth his or her salt, he or she won't be doing anything they can't find in the text.
This is why I say do both--because you get so much more out of hearing the words and seeing actors use them; but you can also understand the base text they began from by reading it on your own.
(I totally agree with Evan that reading aloud is the way to go!)

David--I agree that Shakespeare created a theatrical style, but I'm not sure I'd agree that people then understood him less than we do now. I don't know that his made-up words constitute that much of a barrier to understanding.
However I'll agree with you completely that the language is what's so great. A lot of the stories themselves are pretty pathetic. But some aren't. And what's so enthralling to me is that he's managed to use incredible language to pull out wide and deep human themes that still resonate. (God, I sound pretentious!)

Duane--sure, they were meant to be staged by Shakespeare's peers, 400 years ago; I'm willing to bet Shakespeare didn't even imagine that we'd still be performing his plays at this point (if he even thought of the year 2008, which is doubtful). However, do you really think that we have "no clue" as to how to stage any of the plays? All of the language that we extoll gives the actors and directors clues--yes, we act in a different style, but I believe we can access the same emotion and storytelling capabilities. And while we don't know everything we'd like to, we know an awful lot about Elizabethan theater in general. Shakespeare may be exceptional in many ways, but I bet he produced theater a lot like everyone else did. No, I don't think we can ever re-create an authentic, exact experience; but do we really need to, to gain good understanding of his plays in performance?
I'm not saying you shouldn't read the plays, or decide things on your own (I do! Everyone should!). I just think we can have faith in some theater people these days. :)

I'm sure I could go on and on, but this comment is probably long enough.

Duane said...

Thanks for the comment Ren! All I meant by the no clue comment had more to do with intention than stagecraft. We know nothing for fact about shakespeare's religion, or his relationship with his wife, to name just two, things that could be argued would surely inform performance if only in subtle ways. It's not like we have greatly detailed stage directions from the man himself. Everything we have comes back to the words, and for the most part no matter how confident we are in our understanding, we have ... little ... clue about what was going on in his head at the time.

ren girl said...

How much is it important that we know Shakespeare's intentions/create historical authenticity, vs. the importance of what the plays mean to us now, what we can learn, & what they can tell us?
(This is especially interesting to me just because at the moment I've been studying the big debate in history on what our focus should be: do we owe it to the past, to recreate it, or to the present/future, to learn or take from it?)

Duane said...

I agree completely Ren, which is exactly why i think the plays should be read as well as performed. Why limit your understanding and appreciation of what it means to you by only experiencing what it means to someone else?

ren girl said...

...I think we're pretty much agreeing on the same thing from different directions.
I completely think you should read the plays and make your own descisions. I'm just standing up for modern theatrical practice, is all. :)

David Blixt said...

Duane,

You ought to take a class in Folio technique. For someone who enjoys reading the plays more than watching them, it's a tool I think you would really groove on. It emphasizes the use of spelling, rhythm, and punctuation in the original Folio edition as Shakespeare's "directions" to his actors. Modern editors have cleaned this all up, to "stadardize" (bastardize) his language.

When I was preparing to do Mac again last summer, and as I prepare R&J for the fall, it's all about the Folio.

The best Folio story I have is of an actor I'd been working with for a few years. He's great, I mean really skilled. Then my wife sat down with him at his request and worked with him through the various elements of Folio technique. He used it as he memorized Cassius. Two days later he called us up to say, "This is freaking me out. I feel like Shakespeare is directing me."

Just a thought.

haugenl21 said...

Shakespeare is thought-provoking, I must admit that. Hard? I would not say that it is hard to understand, but it is not a simple by any means. In fact, Shakespeare created something much like Rube Goldberg in his machines - they made something so simple much more complex and artistic. Do I enjoy Shakespeare? Not really, I would rather sit down with a book [or play] that fiddles with the senses in a different way. I do not mean to say Shakespearean writing is not of worth, but it is all in personal taste. Not everyone who does not enjoy Shakespeare is too dimwitted or shallow to understand it. I went into my Shakespearean studies with a very open mind with a teacher who loves everything Shakespeare. I was excited to have an opportunity to study with an open mind from and open mind, but that does not always do it.
I suppose I will reiterate since I strayed from my point. Shakespeare is a simple message made complex in an artistic way. I do not enjoy all the paintings you enjoy. I do not enjoy the same books you enjoy. I do not enjoy the Shakespeare you enjoy.
I feel I am probably in the minority for all posters, but it never hurts to give a new perspective on things. After all, that is how Shakespeare would do it, right?

Anonymous said...

I am a teacher of 3rd and 4th graders. I have taught Shakespeare to them for the past 3 years. We have read "A Midsummers Night Dream" and "Taming of the Shrew". To help keep the characters straight we create puppets for each to give them a face. They look sort of like muppets by the time we are done with them.
These puppets are brought out as their appear in the story, it really helps them keep the characters in order.
We also usually have a writing project to go along. Last year with Shrew we created our own stary based on Shakespeare but put the characters in situations the kids would understand. Instead of young adults the characters became kids in school. The setting was our home, the school was ours. They loved it.
It is my hope they will not fear Shakespeare when they encounter it in high school.

Adam Grossi said...

All I have to say is there is nothing else comparable in all human thought, emotion, or experience to compare to the opening soliloquy of Richard III. If it takes some linguistic study to understand it, so be it.

Anonymous said...

Shakespeare is quite easy, being a man so engrossed in human nature and expressing it, he naturally sought a way hard of criticism to display his view on these emotions, creating characters not as points, but them and their actions as merely events to make their flaws obvious. Hamlet ended in tragedy for a single purpose, that Hamlet was so longing to see his father again that he saw a ghost. As soon as he did something as illogical as believe in the possibility that his minds attempt to pander to him was a real person, the illogical thought that the ghost was real, he became consumed with this thought in absence of logic, and his thoughts became that of one obsessed with revenge to the point it reached all illogical reaches and stretches, seeking death for emotion rather than just punishment as a deterrent, and was thus doomed. People don't want to know themselves, and so it is their long standing bias and lies they have told to themselves that prevent them from understanding Shakespeare, not the words, which understanding would without fail improve the quality of their English.

Bridget D. said...

I think that people think that Shakespeare is so hard just because the English language nowadays seems a lot more simple than the language that Shakespeare uses. Often we look at the words and the way they are arranged and we just want to give up and not even try to understand what's going on. However, I agree that if you understand the characters and plot, then the story will all come together in the end and make sense. I agree with Rengirl because I think that Shakespeare's difficulty is measured by the words that we don't know. However, if you use the dictionary, you can understand the context better. I also think that Shakespeare is difficult because it was written in a theoretical style since each story was a play which may become confusing. His writing is basically a script but if we understand the plot and the emotions and identities of the characters, then it will make sense in the end. I also agree with catkins because if we are given an English translator for the story, then that's all we will use. Obviously, if we have our own style of language sitting right in front of us, then we will not bother to read Shakespeare's actual version of the story.

Bridget D. said...

I think that people think that Shakespeare is so hard just because the English language nowadays seems a lot more simple than the language that Shakespeare uses. Often we look at the words and the way they are arranged and we just want to give up and not even try to understand what's going on. However, I agree that if you understand the characters and plot, then the story will all come together in the end and make sense. I agree with Rengirl because I think that Shakespeare's difficulty is measured by the words that we don't know. However, if you use the dictionary, you can understand the context better. I also think that Shakespeare is difficult because it was written in a theoretical style since each story was a play which may become confusing. His writing is basically a script but if we understand the plot and the emotions and identities of the characters, then it will make sense in the end. I also agree with catkins because if we are given an English translator for the story, then that's all we will use. Obviously, if we have our own style of language sitting right in front of us, then we will not bother to read Shakespeare's actual version of the story.

Ellen H. said...

Shakespeare is often made out to be more difficult than it is and that it is just words on a page, because that is they way people see it and interpret it. I will admit, that I have often times given up on Shakespeare, because I do not want to take the time to inerpret the true story and find its meaning. Shakespeare was an amazing writer, and just because we have simpler means of reading and understanding things now,does not mean we shouldn't read Shakespeare. I want to read his plays/writing and understand it and know the meaning. That is why I also think it is very important to understand the story and the characters perhaps before you read. Shakespeare created these pieces of writing for a purpose, and we should find a purpose to read them.

Ellen H. said...

I agree with Nicole. You cannot overthink something , you just have to actually start reading it. Ofcourse we will all have questions, but if we read it with the intent of understanding it, then perhaps we will. If we read it, like Nicole said, for enjoyment and then tackle the language it will be much easier. Shakespeare is a challenge, Although people assume it is too hard to understand, but they just assume that and they have never really read it. With the right intentions when reading Shakespeare, perhaps the outcome will be just right.

Danica M said...

I think Shakespeare is hard, again because we are already going into it with a bad mind set. If the reader would keep an open mind, and focus more on the story instead of getting caught up in the old English and the awkward play set up, it would be just like any other story. Just like with any other story, the reader should try to relate with the character’s emotions and put themselves into the story. The plot and characters should be the most important part of reading any story, regardless of the author. Then, after the actual story is understood by the reader, they can go back and determine how the play setting influences the meaning of the events. I agree with Bridget because it is important to use a dictionary to help you understand the parts that may use unfamiliar words, and she also brings up a good point that Shakespeare writes in a theoretical style, which also can make it confusing. But, with perseverance Shakespeare can be read just like any other story.

Danica M said...

I think Shakespeare is hard, only because we are already going into it with a bad mind set. If the reader would keep an open mind, and focus more on the story instead of getting caught up in the old English and the awkward play set up, it would be just like any other story. Just like with any other story, the reader should try to relate with the character’s emotions and put themselves into the story. The plot and characters should be the most important part of reading any story, regardless of the author. Then, after the actual story is understood by the reader, they can go back and determine how the play setting influences the meaning of the events. I agree with Bridget because it is important to use a dictionary to help you understand the parts that may use unfamiliar words, and she also brings up a good point that Shakespeare writes in a theoretical style, which also can make it confusing. But, with perseverance Shakespeare can be read just like any other story.

Dylan Richards said...

I have always found Shakespeare difficult because of the phrasing that he uses. It is written in old English and in the form of a poem. Modern day poets sometimes have to use filler lines or filler words just to make it flow better, so I am sure Shakespeare did a little of the same. This makes deciphering his meaning and themes that much more difficult. I agree with Elizabeth in that seeing it as a play, which was the original intent, versus having to read it, makes it much more entertaining and easier to understand.

Ashton Monheiser said...

I have always thought Shakespeare was difficult. Then again i always did exactly what the original blog post said, I would spend too much time figuring out the complicated words and not really getting to know the characters. I think Elizabeth makes a good point that if I saw one of Shakepeares play then i would really get a better understanding of the plot and the point that Shakepeare is trying to get apart. During this reading I really thought about how i want to read the tempest. I will really get to the bottom of how the characters really are. I will also not spend all my time figuring out what all the rhyming means and all the fancy words that are associated with the difficulty of Shakespeare. Shakespeare is a common theme in school and i have been reading it for a long time. I think its about time to really understand what he is trying to say in his plays. I will not use any No Fear Shakepeare especially because we are reading as a class, and I really think I will understand it really well when we discuss.

MonicaRenee said...

Well, to answer the original questions..I personally think Shakespeare is difficult but like most things in life, it wont come easy unless you try. What I mean by "try" is to basically put in some extra effort to beget an understanding of Shakespeare's work, such as grasping the language used and even background information to what ever piece of work of his you are reading.
Another thing, upon reading someone elses response to the blog post , i realized its also dependent on what type of reader you are and your taste in literature. So all in all , i think Shakespeare can be disputed all day long but in the end everyone's taste in literature and capability of comprehension of such work is so different that there couldn't possibly be a clear answer to whether Shakespeare's work is difficult of easy.

Emma Dickson said...

This is extremely true for me. When I have come across Shakespeare it has always been from the wrong angle. The language is so hard for me, so I always check out without giving it a chance. I have always felt burdened by having to read it in class and have felt like it was to much for my brain to understand. I feel like if I think of it more as actually story and give it a chance it will have more of a connection with me. I shouldn't be scared of reading it and actually try to connect with it.

Emma Dickson said...

This is extremely true for me. When I have come across Shakespeare it has always been from the wrong angle. The language is so hard for me, so I always check out without giving it a chance. I have always felt burdened by having to read it in class and have felt like it was to much for my brain to understand. I feel like if I think of it more as actually story and give it a chance it will have more of a connection with me. I shouldn't be scared of reading it and actually try to connect with it.

Snap Palmer said...

For ages Shakespeare has been hard for kids in school to understand because of the phrasing and older type of languague he uses. Students are always looking for an easy read that goes quickly and that they understand so they can get their work done for that class and thats it. Shakespeare does not offer that to students because his meaning is in an underlying message that takes time to understand. I believe that Shakespeare is difficult because that is what he wanted it to be. I think Shakespeare wanted his writing to be a challenge for people because giving the reader that type of challenge makes the reader want to look harder at the piece. When people are looking harder at pieces of writing and studying it that is when they find the true message that Shakespeare is trying to get across and i think that was his goal.

Lauren Edwards said...

Shakespeare to me is like reading a foreign language. It has to be broken down into a variety of ways for me to even begin to comprehend it. Once I do begin to understand it though, I can string the pieces of the puzzle together to finally interpret the message. Shakespeare's messages in his stories are still relatable to situations people encounter on a daily basis. I am usually glad I took the time to figure out what Shakespeare was saying bcause I get something out of it. Not just a story, but a life lesson.

Lauren Edwards said...

Shakespeare to me is like reading a foreign language. It has to be broken down into a variety of ways for me to even begin to comprehend it. Once I do begin to understand it though, I can string the pieces of the puzzle together to finally interpret the message. Shakespeare's messages in his stories are still relatable to situations people encounter on a daily basis. I am usually glad I took the time to figure out what Shakespeare was saying bcause I get something out of it. Not just a story, but a life lesson.

Duane Morin said...

Hi Everybody! This is Duane, and I run this site. I'm quite pleased to see this old post getting so much conversation! Can I ask how that happened? Was this a class assignment of some sort of you all ended up here after googling the topic?

Lake McGill said...

This post really shed a lot of light on my frustrations with reading and studying Shakespeare. Before, we would start at line 1, with only background knowledge consisting of what an amazing author Shakespeare was, and the complexity of his works; so not much. Then as we would start to read the text, all the complicated language and poetic elements began to make the entire message overwhelming and hard to comprehend. I love the idea of really looking at the story before you begin to read the lines, and trying to get familiar with the characters and plot before diving in.
I agree with Dylan R, that the generational gap of language between Shakespeare and now makes it much more complicated to understand. I think that the best way to deal with that is to summarize each page after reading to make sure you get the basic idea!
Duane: We have to do this for a High School English class. Awesome assignment right?:)

Duane Morin said...

Thanks, Lake. I wish I'd known, I could have made you a top level area to have this discussion. Once a post gets this old and archived, I have to approve every comment (prevents spam). So you're all posting your comments 3 times because they don't show up for you until a few hours later when I get them out of the queue!

Megan R. said...

Like everyone has said, I have also given up on reading Shakespeare just because i'm concentrating on the wrong thing. I get so caught up in trying to understand the language that I forget to focus on his stories as a whole. In the past, it has really helped me personally to read Shakespeare as class because we discuss the important aspects of the story. That way, the majority of the class is on the same page and we're not worrying about the little details of Shakespeare's writing that distracts us from really appreciating the meaning of his stories.

Alec Forbis :-) said...

After reading this blog post, i really have a new insight on the works of Shakespeare. Before, when i would read Shakespeare, my teachers would always focus line by line on the translations of every word. Iwas never really able to focus on the over arching themes and characters so i had a hard time focusing on what was presented over a chapter or section. By being able to look at the bigger picture andbackground of the story I will now be able to understand the story instead of the words. I agree with what Lake and Dylan said in terms of language. By being able to gwt past that factor, I'm sure the story becomes much more understandable and relatable. I will be sure to do my research before reading this novel.

Elijah Rodriguez said...

When it comes to reading and understanding Shakespeare, I will have to agree with what Lake has shared. While Shakespeare is and always will be a respected as one of the best all time writers, the generation gap definitely plays a large aspect. I also agree that in addition to understanding the entire story before reading it, I believe it would make it much easier to understand if a summary or recap on main point of each page were discussed. Over all I believe everyone interprets Shakespeare in different perspective, so to all be on the same page is critical.

Lemon Tree said...

I don't think that Shakespeare, even his language, is THAT HARD. It's unusual, maybe, but hard, I don't think so. English is not my first language, and I try hard to master it, more and more. But Shakespeare is one of the first English fiction that I read. I read Romeo and Juliet, original play, with footnotes, when I was in 10th grade. I didn't think so much of its difficulties, I thought it was very beautiful, more beautiful than any English book I had read then.

True that Shakespeare's words are sometimes very hard to understand. I don't think every word he used exists in standard dictionary. But for me personally, language is a matter of mindset. Once you put yourself into Shakespeare's "vocabulary set," everything becomes a lot easier. Words that once don't mean anything start to make sense. Many people think that Shakespeare is heavy, full of philosophy and serious stuff, but few realises that some people (like me) read Shakespeare for fun. Shakespeare was a funny guy.

That's why now I'm working on Shakespeare's Bad Translation (you can find it in my blog), that is a translation to my native language. It's "bad" because it's not professional (I'm just a fan) and because rather than focusing on doing word-to-word or poetical translation, I try to grasp and impart the essense of the dialogeue and, if possible, the emotions and the jokes in it. I hope it will change people's paradigm on Shakespeare, even if it's just a bit.

Anonymous said...

I personally find Shakespeare to be quite easy to understand. I will admit that some of the words or phrases he uses might be hard to understand. When I do not understand what Shakespeare is trying to say, I analyze the text surrounding the part that I do not understand. Once I somewhat understand the context of the scene I am able to use logic to decipher what Shakespeare is trying to say.

Meg Blaze said...

Some tweeted a response instead and some just wrote a paragraph. Check out #mvtempest on twitter.

Todarus said...

Jacob H: I think that Shakespeare is very difficult. He seems creepy to me and his plays do not capture my interest. When he uses others characters lines to complete his iambic pentameter It gets confusing because I skip lines. Rearranging the words to fit the pentameter is hard to understand. There are to many weird contractions and I do not want to decipher the text. I feel that Shakespeare is lame. I dislike nothing more.

Matthew Overman said...

Matthew Overman: I think that Shakespeare is so hard because the language he uses we are not use to. If we lived in the time that Shakespeare did we would be able to understand it like we understand english today.

Anonymous said...

Matthew Overman - I believe that Shakespeare is so hard to read/understand because we are reading something that we aren't use to. The language he uses is understandable in his time period, but because we aren't from the age of Shakespeare the style of language is unfamilular. Making Shakespeare very difficult.

Caleb Guillo said...

For me, I take any kind of reading in stride. Including Shakespeare. This being said, I don't find his writing to be hard, per-say. Does it require you to tune in and be more concentrated? Absolutely. But if you do that, then it can be a piece of cake. Also, reading more slowly definitely helps, so that you don't have to read the same sentence more than once. You cannot expect to just blast through it, like you would blast through "Green Eggs and Ham" and expect not to be confused. Take your time.

Anonymous said...

I think the fact that everyone keeps saying that watching a movie or play before attempting to read Shakespeare proves that there is a difficulty to his writing. I agree that because most people are taught that Shakespeare is difficult then our minds are made up that we can never fully understand what Shakespeare is saying, even though that is not the case. I think learning about Shakespeare and his style is very helpful before reading because I found that knowing many words were out of place or abbreviated and such so that Shakespeare could use Iambic Pentameter helped me to connect the dots as to what Shakespeare was trying to express.

Brittany Sisneros said...

This helped me understand why i would get so frustrated with trying to read Shakespeare. I would focus on what he was trying to say and words that I could not understand rather than trying to just get to the point and understand the story. I agree with Caleb Guillo about how you should take your time and focus on the words and and story not just try to get it over with and hurry through the book.

Brittany Sisneros said...

This helped me understand why i was having so many difficulties reading Shakespeare. i would focus to much on the words and not try to get the story behind them. I would rush through and not get the main purpose of the story. I agree that people should take their time reading or they lose the purpose and just get frustrated and give up.

Romeo said...

His English is of Elizabethan Period and of course the English of that period was really at its highest level.

Romeo said...

Shakespeare's language is so hard as his English was of Elizabethan period and it was at its highest level in that period.

:-(