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I know Shakespeare uses archaic language and many of the customs are obscure and you have to always have a dictionary on hand, but believe me, the Bard is worth every footnote. 400 years ago, Shakespeare was able to capture the human condition. Think of your hardest days, your best days, your mellow days, your recent days and most likely, there’s a Shakespeare play about whatever you’ve experienced. This semester, Shakespeare helped me understand several issues I was struggling with. I found solace in Hamlet, humility in the Tempest, and redemption in King Lear. Yes, I know it’s surprising, since the first time I saw King Lear, I was bored to tears, but that was because I didn’t understand it’s all about the characters.
If you want to fall in love with Shakespeare, there are a few things to do before seeing the play. One, review the summaries. Get online and find out what people are saying about your play of choice. Try Pinterest, Goodticklebrain, and the RSC website. Two, read along while watching the play or read it aloud with a friend. Shakespeare was meant to be acted. There are very few stage directions, so if you don’t want to get lost, watch a production while reading. Third, pick apart the passages that touch you. Read “To be or not to be” over and over. Memorize phrases like “To thine own self, be true.” Ponder the passages that touch you. Figure out how they apply to your life.
Now, if you want to research Shakespeare, there are several great resources. Since you’re at BYU, take advantage of the English faculty. Many of them are devoted to Shakespeare. Also, go to the fifth floor of the library and chat with Robert Means. He is an expert researcher and much more personable than Google. You can also use online resources like World Shakespeare Bibliography, the Hbll Shakespeare Database, and Shakespearesword.com. Watch interviews of actors who have performed Shakespeare plays, since they have worked hard to truly understand their characters. Also, if your class provides an online messaging system, use it to bounce ideas off fellow classmates and ask questions. It will provide insight and support to your search.
My favorite way to fall in love with the text is to stay up late into the night chatting about Ophelia and Othello and Henry with your roommate. There is so much richness in Shakespeare’s texts that you can discuss until 2am and still have more to say. Shakespeare wasn’t concerned about originality when he wrote his places. He was concerned with capturing what it means to be human and how humans can change. This can lead to some very meaningful late night chats.