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Shakespeare/Understanding Shakespeare's work


Hello Randy,

I want to start reading Shakespeare's works. I have studied English as a part of my school curriculum, but Shakespearean English is different from the general English that we use and study in textbooks,newspapers or magazines. How can I go about understanding Shakespearean English? Is there any guide to reading the works and understanding it word by work or line by line? Also, can you suggest which book or play I can start with?


Hi, Pankhuri,

Thank you for calling upon "Allexperts" for suggestions on how to best learn to appreciate the genius of Shakespeare's works through careful reading and study.  A good classroom English teacher can make it relatively EASY to appreciate the beauty and wisdom of Shakespeare's works.

You are correct when you state that Shakespearean English is somewhat "different."  It uses an vastly extensive vocabulary that few writers even today can begin to employ.  Many of the words and expressions are one no one used before Shakespeare did.  In other words, he introduced many new words and expressions to our English vocabulary.  Depending upon YOUR vocabulary background, you may need to keep a good dictionary handy to understand SOME of Shakespeare's terms.  
The beauty of Shakespeare's use of the language is that he created life-like characters and true-to-life plots in several of his plays using language with METER, iambic pentameter.  He actually counted the SYLLABLES in each line of this plays and he used a rhythm to make the words BOUNCE off the tongues of skilled actors of the period.

I suggest that you look up and learn what iambic pentameter is before you read Shakespeare.

I recommend that you begin your understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare by carefully and slowly reading "A Midsummer Night"s Dream."  It is a play much easier to understand and appreciate than "Romeo and Juliet," which is often a play that some educators believe is the best "starter" play. It is NOT!

Midsummer has magic in it.  It has young lovers who elope to escape family rule just like Romeo and Juliet.  It has comical actors who stumble through lines of the play they plan to produce for a wedding.  It is wonderful!  Give it a go!

As for a book that helps to explain the words of lines in the play, there are SEVERAL that can help.  I find a book entitled "Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare" most helpful.

Its ISBN is 0-517-26825-6

Written by Isaac Asimov, the science fiction author, it assists Shakespeare readers by providing explanations of the many references Shakespeare uses to HIS historical past and it even translates some of the Latin expressions Shakespeare occasionally used.  Although it is a "healthy" book--about 800 pages loaded with helpful information, it is fairly easy reading.

Another book, MUCH easier to read, is called "Lamb's Tales" of Shakespeare's plays.
It tells the plots of his plays in short story prose, like reading a very short novel.
Although it makes the plots MUCH easier to understand, it leaves out much of the beauty of the complexities of the plots.  It fails to illustrate the beauty of the LANGUAGE of the play and the mechanics Shakespeare employs in telling his "tales."

Your school librarian may be able to suggest OTHER books to help you, but I believe that the two I have listed will work to help you best.

Best wishes as you begin.  I hope that, as you learn to appreciate how Shakespeare developed the English language to tell heartwarming and thrilling stories, you will spread the word to others so that they can also read a genius at work.

Happy trails,



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Randy Sus


I`m a retired high school English teacher from central Wisconsin. I taught Shakespeare for years and am very familiar with his writing style, his themes, his sonnets, and most of his plays. I taught Julius Caesar, King Lear, Richard the Third, and A Midsummer Night`s Dream for years. I`ve memorized many of the lines from these plays and I know many sonnets by heart. I`d be glad to respond to questions regarding Shakespeare`s life, works, and times if anyone desired such information.


I have a master's degree in education and I take most pride in having ENJOYED teaching for over 30 years. Not everyone can honestly say that. I coached undefeated high school soccer teams for fun too. I like public relations work and have served on P.R. committees for most of my professional life. I continue to do so in retirement.

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