Highlights, Underlines, and Footnotes, Oh my!

I have previously shared that text analysis is an important step in speaking Shakespeare. There are infinite ways of going about it, the best way will most likely be unique for each person. I thought I’d share an image with you that will give you a rough idea of my process.

I’m a very visual person, so my scripts are always littered with lines, arrows, pictures, different colored highlight marks, notes, abbreviations, and other gibberish that only I can understand.


This is a short monologue from I.i of Love’s Labour’s Lost, spoken by Berowne. About one minute long and comedic, if you happen to need a comedic one minute piece for a man. So here’s a rough outline of my process:

I almost always prefer to have a digital copy of the script (full play, scene, monologue… whatever I’m working on) first. I’ll download it from whatever site I get to first and paste it into word. Then I head to my Facsimile edition of The First Folio and compare the texts. I change the punctuation and capitalization in my document to match that of the First Folio. I don’t want to have other editors messing with my work. Then it’s time to print. I could do most of the rest of the work on my computer, but it feels good to mark up a paper with pens and highlighters.

I start by highlighting all the verbs, which are the real action and story-telling parts of the piece. Just a little reminder to emphasize these. I’ll usually emphasize the punctuation marks that are there with pen to make sure I see them. I highlight (in various colors) repeated words, comparisons, big shifts, and other things I think need to be emphasized. I’ll determine whether a line is full of vowels or mostly consonants – emotional or rational. I’ll count syllables, decide on any elisions, mark words that I need a definition next to (and then look up the definition and write it off the side), note any changes in the rhythm of the meter… it goes on.

I will do this for every line in a show that I speak. If I’m vocal coaching or directing a show I’ll try to do it for the whole show, but that might not always happen. Now you’ll notice that this example monologue takes up the entire page. I don’t actually do that when working on an entire show, that would be a waste of paper. But if I’m working on short piece – perhaps for an audition – then it’s nice to have larger text to look at. More room for scribbles, too.

By no means do I require or recommend that anybody does exactly this. If you can just look at it and be a brilliant actor, awesome. But if you’re not a genius then I would suggest that you experiment with different ways of emphasizing the important parts of a text.

I did say that I would do this for an entire role, and quite possibly an entire script. Yes, it takes a very long time to do all that, but the reward for the work is immense. That means I’ve spent hours and hours on the text. I almost always speak it aloud as I work. When I’m done I am very familiar with the text and have a pretty good understanding of what’s going on. You really own the text after spending so much time with it – and a performance won’t be great until the words are really yours.

You have to love language to do this sort of thing – this is how I express that.