Monday, December 12, 2016

Kevin's Advice on Studying Shakespeare

Share it Please

Dear Alissa,

I'm happy to hear you have chosen to study English! It's a very rewarding major. Mom told me you are a bit nervous about taking English 382 (the course on Shakespeare) next semester. Hopefully this letter will help assuage your fears.

In the first unit, we studied Shakespeare's sonnets. Honestly, I initially thought it was kind of boring since, to me, they all sounded about the same. However, we were then asked to produce our own sonnet. I had never written a poem with such strict rules before--iambic pentameter, 14 lines, alternating rhyme pattern--and found it to be quite difficult. The one I wrote for class wasn't that great, but it made me appreciate Shakespeare's brilliance. Furthermore, I actually grew to really like composing sonnets--my notebook is full of them! My girlfriend likes them, too... :) It turned out to be a positive experience and probably my favorite unit. Considering how much you enjoy dabbling in poetry, I'm sure you'd love it.

Reading Shakespeare's plays were really tough. The format, the allusions, and the themes were all unfamiliar to me. Because it was so difficult to understand, researching and writing about it was even more intimidating. Nevertheless, by the end of the course I grew to appreciate (and at times even look forward to) reading the bard's excellent works. A few things that helped me out:

1.) Shmoop and Sparknotes--professors don't necessarily love to see their students run to these sources, but they really are quite helpful in introducing characters, the general plot, and themes. Don't get to reliant on these, but use them as a part of your pre-reading experience.

2.) Talk about what you are learning/reading with peers. It was a huge help to see how fellow students were interpreting the text and where they were going for research sources. Organize a reading group or an online channel (Slack) and throw around ideas.

I think one of the most helpful/insightful learning strategies I tried out was experimenting with non-traditional and social sources. I never imagined Prezis, YouTube videos, blogs, Vimeo, and even social media networks could provide information that supported an academic thesis; sometimes it was those sources that sparked inspiration or made crucial connections. When it came to social sources, I was very reserved. However, being pushed to seek out experts and enthusiasts was a great experience for me because it showed me that it is very possible to connect with brilliant minds and get quality insights. 

If I had any one overarching suggestion, I think it would be this: take chances. Don't be the introverted English major (that I sometimes am haha). Doing so will result in unforeseen learning opportunities, and you might even find yourself jumping on the Shakespeare bandwagon.

Love ya,



  1. I like that you pointed out that things that seem tough can be great. And I totally forgot to talk about how great slack was! Oh well

  2. I totally used Shmoop and Sparknotes too. Totally helped me! I guess those websites do have their place in a classroom!