Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Grace's Advice on Studying Shakespeare

When you're studying Shakespeare, there are a few things you need to remember going into it:

The first thing to remember is that you shouldn’t be scared of it. If you go in with a mindset of being intimidated, this will impede your ability to learn and really experience the text. Because ideally, that’s what happens when you read great literature—you don’t merely read words on a page. You experience it. But that isn’t going to happen if you’re afraid or intimidated by the text. Yes, it’s regarded as some of the greatest literature every produced. That doesn’t mean that you’re not up to reading it, and getting something out of it, too. I can speak from experience that the more confident you are going in, the better experience you will have, as opposed to taking the attitude of, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I’m reading Shakespeare; this is way too high-brow for me.”
The second thing to remember is that it’s not always going to be cut and dry interpretation. Literary analysis is messy. You need to tear ideas apart and piece them back together. The pieces won’t always fit, and you should expect to be confused from time to time. Just because something doesn’t make sense right off the bat doesn’t mean that you’ve failed in your reading. Great literature is meant to have its secrets, and reading it is kind of like a treasure hunt. If everything was out on the surface, it would defeat the joy and reward of reading. If you want the best experience you can get out of Shakespeare, you need to dig for it.
A third thing to keep in mind is the value of nontraditional sources. When a lot of people are studying Shakespeare, it seems to escape their memory that a great deal of valuable information and insight can be found in nontraditional sources. These sources may include social media, blogs, online forums, modern adaptations of plays, documentary series, etc. The possibilities are great, and when you consider the use of nontraditional sources, your prospects for learning and enhancement are increased exponentially.
Another thing to keep in mind is that when researching and writing about Shakespeare, you need to make sure that your ideas matter in today’s day and age. You may come up with a great idea that has a lot of promise, but ultimately, the question of “So what?” is bound to surface. When it does, you need to be able to prove that your idea can have viability in the modern world. Merely stating your point is not enough. You need to make it matter to your audience.
To sum it all up, don’t be afraid of Shakespeare, don’t be afraid to challenge your preconceived ideas and shuffle them around. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a little while for you to find the deeper meaning in the text, and don’t ignore the use of nontraditional sources. Lastly, be sure to make your research matter to your audience.

This is a great opportunity to study some of the world’s greatest literature. Don’t miss it!
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Sam's Advice on Studying Shakespeare

Dear Parker,

I must say, I'm shocked that you ended up choosing English as your major. You never seemed like an English guy to me... You'll probably take that as a compliment but I meant it entirely as an insult (love you). But now that you have chosen this road less traveled, I have a few words of advice for you that may be somewhat helpful. If you didn't get that Robert Frost allusion, get out. You're done. It's time for you to go back to architecture or math or strumming the guitar or whatever it was that you were studying before. However, if you did understand it, continue on.

Shakespeare is somebody that you are going to have to get acquainted with during this time in your life. You know, William Shakespeare? Ever heard of him? Well, it's about time you have. In my experience as an English major so far (best time of my life, obviously), I've had to learn a lot about Shakespeare and his works. I can't honestly say that I've loved every minute of it, but it has been an eye-opening experience for me.

This summer, I visited the house where Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway, grew up. I was there and I should have been in complete awe, but honestly, I wasn't. I was tired, I was longing for some alone time (that's hard to find on a study abroad), I had seen what felt like dozens of castles and houses and fields and documents and I'll be honest, it was just another old house that held little significance for me. What I'm trying to say is that it wasn't until I delved into Shakespeare's actual works that I was able to finally being to appreciate Shakespeare and understand all the hype. It's not the man's life that is impressive, but rather the creations that he fostered through ink and paper.

What finally opened my eyes to his brilliance was reading "Hamlet". In the Shakespeare class I took my senior year, we read a few of his sonnets and plays before we arrived at Hamlet, but for some reason, it took me that long to finally fall in love with Shakespeare. We read the play, I went to a screening of Benedict Cumberbatch's version (love of my life), and I watched the entirety of a David Tennant version the next day on Youtube. I was hooked. For the first time, I was seeing the variations of meaning that Shakespeare infused into his works, and how stable yet malleable they managed to be. Hamlet was three different people in those three different interactions with the text, but yet the same. I couldn't believe the emotional response I started to have by the end of my studies. I was entranced.

Parker, you're going to have to read and study Shakespeare as an English major. If you don't like the idea of that, get out of the major or just get used to it. If you choose the latter, the best way to go about that is by forcing yourself to interact with the text. Take your time. Don't expect it to read like a novel. You can't fly through his texts and come away changed. Define words. Annotate EVERYTHING. Make connections. I would go as far to say to treat it like scripture by applying it to your own life. Try to imagine yourself in the shoes of the characters, to feel what they must be feeling, to understand influences and culture that surrounds them. When Hamlet grieves his father, think of how you would feel if your father died and everyone was so determined to move on so quickly. Wouldn't that drive anyone, well, mad? Or would it? Challenge your beliefs. Define what you think and feel and then try everything you can to change it to fit the characters that you find on the page. And don't stop there. Find the rhythm and rhyme of the text and take note when it ends. Read it out loud, try to put emphasis where there is meant to be emphasis. Read outside articles, watch interviews with Shakespearian actors, do EVERYTHING you can to understand and appreciate the text. Make it come to life.

Something specific that helped me the most while reading his plays was reading the texts out loud, and looking up allusions, words, or phrasing that I didn't understand as I did so. It took me a long, long time to get through the plays. A long time. But by forcing myself to do that, I was able to hear Shakespeare's voice with my own. It took time and patience, but it was so worth it to hear his voice.

Remember that you are not alone with Shakespeare. He will never force you to sit and have an extended conversation with him without help. You have resources at your fingertips that will enhance your experience by the hundred fold. Watch YouTube videos. Search images on Pinterest. Read articles by people that may or may not know what they are talking about- they more often than not have something valuable to say. Talk to people- everyone! Whether or not they themselves know it, everyone has something to say about Shakespeare, because Shakespeare had something to say about everyone else. Relish in it. There are few things in our world that are as universally applicable as Shakespeare. All these things and more (you'd be surprised at how creative you can get with Shakespeare!) have greatly benefitted me in my introduction to the Bard, and they will do the same for you, I promise.

Love you, bud! Good luck with this.


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Stella's Advice on Studying Shakespeare

To take a Shakespeare course, or not to take a Shakespeare course. That is the great dilemma. Dear nonexistent younger sibling, I sure care a lot about you, even though I've never met you. That's why I'm here to impart a little sisterly wisdom upon you. I just finished taking a Shakespeare course at BYU and while it seemed somewhat daunting at first, I now feel as if the Bard and I are kindred spirits.

So, first of all my Shakespeare experience this semester was definitely non-traditional and while I'm typically disinclined to use any form of social media, I was required to use a social app on my phone to discuss the texts we read with my peers. I hardly even use Facebook. It's impressive that I'm even friends with our other siblings. For some reason I can never find you on Facebook though . . . strange. Anyways, I gradually began to realize that the social app, Slack, actually greatly enhanced my reading of the texts, as my peers were able to provide ideas that I had never even considered before. Some of the ideas that were bounced back and forth between myself and my peers actually resulted in questions that I proceeded to research for my papers this semester. While your professor might not use a social media app to facilitate your discussions, I would find someone in the class who you could converse with or even text with as you read your assigned texts!

We also read all of our texts on the Kindle app. First of all, my back appreciates my "smartphone" experience this semester, as the Professor came in with a rather intimidatingly large novel the first day of class and then presented us with the option of using the Kindle app instead. I don't regret this. You know that I am a bibliophile and that I love the smell and feel of a book, but I began to realize the advantages of using the Kindle app as a means of studying Shakespeare! I could highlight the passages I loved or wanted to investigate into the meaning of a little more, and then easily revisit these passages later. This was a HUGE asset when I was required to write my papers, as different themes were highlighted in different colors and it was easy to find the passages I wanted to include in my paper.

I know you're thinking "okay, but how can I contribute to the vast research that has already been done and Shakespeare and all his works?" I have toured the vastly inauspicious shelves of the library, and I too wondered how I would ever find a topic that had not been absolutely exhausted. Yet our use of social media in studying Shakespeare helped me to recognize that our contemporary world still explores Shakespeare through modern means. I did a rather traditional character analysis for my final paper, but there were many students who explored how Tumbler or even Pinterest affect or even transform our understanding of Shakespeare's timeless texts.

We were heavily encouraged to use non-traditional sources throughout the semester, so as I researched my own paper one of my favorite non-traditional sources were audiobooks and theatrical productions that were posted on YouTube. Both audio and video performances can be your best friend, as these are plays that are intended to be SEEN, not simply read! So get out there and watch performances and see how they are able to enhance your understanding of the plays you read. Even pictures were helpful as I cited them in my paper, as they helped to convey my argument in a visual manner.

I know you've probably fallen asleep by now, but perchance you are still not convinced that you should enroll in a Shakespeare class, I want to tell you about one of my favorite experiences this semester. After reading Henry V, we watched several short clips from different films in class and we interacted on a google doc as we watched the videos. We wrote down our observations concerning the lighting, acting, props, dialogue, and the camera angles and shots and interpreted how these different elements contributed to the play's meaning. I LOVED this in-class assignment!

Well, this class should be added to your schedule by now. I know that you'll learn to love the bard just as much as me, dear non-existent younger sibling. He's a pretty funny and dramatic dude, so he'll probably catch you off guard quite often.

Love ya!

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Riley's Advice on Studying Shakespeare

Dear Rees, 

I'm thrilled that you decided to study English (I confess, I was a little taken back since I know you hate to read...). But I understand that you signed up for a Shakespeare course - which can seem a little daunting at first. But don't worry, it’s perfectly normal to be nervous. Nevertheless, I thought I’d take this opportunity to pass along some of my wisdom. 

Shakespeare and his many works are timeless and therefore lend themselves to so many different disciplines. So, if you're human and you have interests (which, if I remember correctly, you are and you do...), Shakespeare can as easily apply to your life as it has mine.

 In my Shakespeare class, my teacher emphasized the use of media; so, we read the plays via e-books, we engaged in a weekly group chats, and we used a blog to discuss our insights. The ability for Shakespeare to exist in your pocket and on your iPhone, can attest to that unquestionable timelessness. If you ever have a question, or a concern, there are hundreds of others like you who are studying Shakespeare that can be reached within minutes. For example, I wrote a paper this semester linking "Romeo and Juliet" with hip-hop. That topic may sound like a reach; nevertheless, I was able to talk with countless people (friends and strangers) about it on the internet. Shakespeare is being taught and studied around the world - and it's such an asset to tap into that shared collective experience.

Therefore, as you go about in your personal research, you can reach out to various formal and informal sources to help you formulate your thesis and provide new insights and perspectives. I would suggest that if you have a more modern take on Shakespeare (by the way, a quick search on google found tons of sources about Shakespeare and The Beatles and even some on Simon and Garfunkel *wink *wink) informal sources can help you determine how Shakespeare is being either talked about now or appropriated for modern audiences. However, formal sources can help you situate your argument around pre-existing criticism and the World Shakespeare Bibliography can help you locate those sources. However, using informal media sources can also help you in your understanding of the plays as you read them. Kindle books can let you see what passages people are highlighting in the play and what’s being said about it. Similarly, websites like Sparknotes and Shmoop can help you explicate passages which are confusing and use archaic and/or dense language.

I assure you, whatever question you may have about Shakespeare, there is someone, somewhere with the same question. So, I challenge you this next semester to interact with nontraditional sources in order to satisfy your curiosity (who knows what has been said about Shakespeare and The Beatles) and to ease your worries. Shakespeare has great potential to help us understand the world around us – but that’s only possible if were willing to have those conversations with others and share our unique insights.  

Best of luck, 

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Brett’s Advice on Studying Shakespeare

Hey kiddo, 

I had a really good experience studying individual plays with my partner. We studied Othello and because I had never read that play before, I really enjoyed studying it with freedom to focus on what I found interesting. However, it was also nice to have a framework within the class to refer back to, and a partner with whom I could converse. I encourage you to find a friend in the class who you can trade papers with for rough draft editing, who you can ask questions to without feeling dumb, and who you can touch base with when things don’t make sense. Regardless of what you are studying, this is SUPER helpful in college!

I suggest reading summaries of Shakespeare’s plays online before addressing the actual play—this might feel like cheating a little, but don’t worry! It is important to understand the plot before diving into the rhetorical and character analyses. Not only will it help you enjoy the story, but it will also help you enjoy the language Shakespeare employed. In approaching writing and researching about Shakespeare, I encourage you to start informally and move toward the formal articles. It is helpful to start with language that is approachable and understandable. In doing this, the more formal articles become easier to access mentally.

I really liked Slack and have enjoyed building comra1dery with my classmates. I don’t even know or recognize some people from a few of the classes I’ve taken this semester. It makes work boring and also makes it hard to learn if you don’t have anyone to discuss things with. By always having a large group of people to converse with, I have been able get any questions answered quickly and with multiple viewpoints.

I have also really learned from nontraditional sources. Don’t be scared to engage with sources like YouTube, Pinterest, Wikipedia, Spotify, etc. There is a massive world of Shakespeare on the internet, and so many people who know more than you do. Before this class, I wouldn’t have thought to research Shakespeare through video or media, but I have learned to filter sources for reliable, mostly reliable, and probably not reliable (but usually very interesting). Both nontraditional and social sources have helped me engage more with the contemporary conversation going on around me, rather than just looking at old books and articles. 

All my Shakespearean love,
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Abby’s Advice on Studying Shakespeare

I understand your apprehension over your required Shakespeare course for next semester. Before taking my Shakespeare class this past semester, I was a little bit worried about being able to understand the “archaic” language.  I was nervous about the requirement to write a sonnet, and I was insecure with my personal writing ability. My limited exposure to Shakespeare in high school left me with the belief that Shakespeare was inaccessible. However, through the course of this semester, my perspective has changed and I would like to encourage you not only to approach Shakespeare with an open mind, but also with the belief that you can do well by deciding that studying the Bard is worthwhile.
One positive part of the term was creating and strengthening relationships with like-minded students that helped me to consider interpretations of the text completely different from my own. This was mostly done over the instant messaging, social media platform called “Slack.” While studying the text on my own, I tuned in to see what other students thought about each play. This helped me to watch for specific points in each story, as well as to develop their ideas by contributing my own discoveries. It helped me to become more comfortable recognizing formal elements and rhetorical devices because I could draw on the knowledge of my classmates for help.
One especially positive experience on Slack was when we separated into small groups for studying individual plays. Mine turned out to be a group of two studying Julius Caesar. For both of our discussions, we weren’t very far along in the play (which was reassuring that my partner moved at the same pace that I did). We both contributed research relating to the historical time period and cultural context of the play, and then moved on to do an extremely close reading of the play, looking for formal elements. It was really cool to be able to throw out ideas to one another and then develop those ideas into thesis that we used in our eventual term-end research papers.
Something that really helped in that process was looking up a summary of each play ahead of time – before reading the text at all. After I had ensured that I knew what was going on with the plot, it was a lot easier to focus on the truly fascinating parts of Shakespeare. While the plots are interesting, I would argue that they are not necessarily what make Shakespeare special. Rather, it’s the language that creates the scene. When I didn’t have to worry about understanding the plot, I could focus on formal elements that set up characters and interactions. Before, I could talk about character motivations and themes, but now I can evidence those through formal elements in order to show larger truths about society at large. I know this seems a little bit silly to be so excited about, but it really helped to improve my writing by identifying rhetorical elements and considering their purpose. Or, to feel like an idea was being conveyed and then discover how it was accomplished through rhetorical devices. It made the language much more accessible.
I also saw my writing improve by creating a tightly focused question that not only required an organized response, but also was interesting enough to divide an educated audience. This required me to have specific topics to research, as well as to keep my writing extremely organized in order to tie back to that question. It also helped to keep me focused as I studied the text. If I had something specific that I was looking for in order to find evidence for my idea, I would pay much better attention to the text and discovery new ideas in the process.

Because I am a social learner, “Smartphone Shakespeare” was a very positive experience. Discussing with students online enriched my experience with the text in a unique way that reading on my own and then discussing in class does not. For me, it seemed more approachable. I was more willing to share my ideas because I didn’t have to come up with them on the spot. I wasn’t afraid of missing something important in my note taking my participating. I know that is another silly thing to worry about, but it’s a true struggle that I have. By socializing the course through online participation, I was able to have a better experience than with my other literature courses. It also helped me to realize that literature is a human experience. Its not only meant to connect the reader and writer, but also to connect various communities of readers. Shakespeare can be universally applied to many situations, and it allows for human connection.
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Christopher's Advice on Studying Shakespeare

Dear Distressed Sibling,
I heard that you're a little anxious about your upcoming Shakespeare class.  I will admit that Shakespeare can be a wee bit daunting, but I think in the end you'll find it one of the most rewarding classes you'll take.
This semester, in my Shakespeare class, I had some wonderful experiences interfacing with these plays and sonnets on a deeper level.  One of these experiences was when a classmate and I used the online chat website slack to collaboratively read The Merchant of Venice.  We set aside time to be online at the same time and comment on Slack in real time as we read.  As we were reading, she and I were able to respond to each other's insights and commentary, which improved my understanding of the play.  She helped me notice how Shakespeare uses formal elements like meter to develop his characters.  This play is now one of my favorite plays because of this positive experience.
I believe that to get the most out of any Shakespeare class, you should know how to approach understanding Shakespeare.  I found that annotating my ebook copies of his plays as I read them helped me notice overarching themes and ideas I wouldn’t have noticed if I had been reading a paper text.  Once you start noticing these patterns, it’s much easier to enjoy Shakespeare.  When I was reading my e-book copy of King Lear, for instance, I found even more depth in my favorite play.  I was able to notice interesting contradictions in the character of Edmund and this was invaluable for my final essay.
Hopefully you will learn more about writing on Shakespeare as well.  One valuable lesson about writing on Shakespeare I learned is an increased appreciation for the intersections of his work with modern pop-culture.  With my final paper, for example, my professor had us look at performances, images and media sources suited for defending our argument.  I was able to find some interesting 21st century performances which gave me valuable evidence for my claim.  Look beyond the text when you’re writing about Shakespeare.
You may have noticed that many of the strategies which I used this semester to enjoy and discuss Shakespeare involved nontraditional sources such as Slack conversations and performances.  While I sometimes felt like class was spent more on learning how to use technology than actually reading Shakespeare, I ultimately found it worth it.  An example that comes to mind are the blog posts we used for many of our assignments.  At first, I treated the blog post as I would a normal essay for class.  Over the course of the semester, however, I understood more the value of tailoring my posts for an online audience. When we wrote sonnets at the beginning of the semester, for example, it was interesting writing and formattign them with the expectation of feedback.  Nontraditional mediums of education were key to my appreciation of Shakespeare this semester.
Well, good luck!  Let me know how it goes!
Your brother,

Chris M
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